The Trouble with Knives
The trouble with knives is that they are made to cut, made to slice, made to sever. The trouble with knives is that they must always be sharp. The trouble with knives is that there is no such thing as a kind knife, a soft knife, a knife that gives. That is not just a bad knife; it is not a knife. Three days ago I stood with a blacksmith over his knives. When we’d met he’d described to me the pleasure he took in making something as hard as metal take form. Now I had come to see. The knives were lined up flat on a table like fish at a monger. Their blades gleamed like scales. Blade by blade I lifted each to the bare bulb light as the blacksmith watched me. On the side of each knife a wave pattern shone, formed from thin sheets of steel pressed and then folded and then pressed again, until the many echoed back and became the whole. Like time, I said. The blacksmith nodded. The knife I liked best was eight inches long and heavy with the force of intent. Anger, I read aloud off its side. The word was stamped into every knife, small and tight. Ahn-zhay, he said, correcting me. French. My last name.
But anger in French is colère. Ahn-zhay has no meaning, is just soft syllable, so the word read could have only one intent. Like the blade. What’s this used for, I asked of the knife I was holding. My favorite. To cut, he said. To cut what, I said. This looked like a sword, had a nub for the thumb to steady the blade. I could not imagine wielding it in the kitchen, that place—for nearly vegetarian me—of nicety. The Japanese once cut their vegetables with swords, he said. When in the 1800s the new emperor forbade the samurai from making swords, even from wearing them, they practiced their art in secret. They sold their blades for the kitchen. His voice was hushed and deep and in it I could hear the wide proud faces of the samurai, the labor they loved and the objects born of it, their quiet honor. And the women who took the blades in like children. The blacksmith crossed the room and put his hand on my arm, warm and heavy. There was pleasure in his voice; he liked this story. He liked the subverting of the ban: the sword, renamed, becomes a knife. Possibly he liked me. But I heard the story differently: the kitchen became the place of the sword.