My dad kept a shoebox full of knives
in his closet next to several boxes
of shotgun shells and his .38 revolver—
it was all on a top shelf
and out of our reach.
Sometimes he would take it down
for us to look at
since some of the knives in that box were mine
or otherwise my brother’s.
We each had a Swiss Army knife in there
which held a small blade
tweezers, a nail file, scissors
and a little plastic toothpick
you could pull out of that glossy red handle
with your fingernail.
Then there were two folding knives
with varnished beechwood handles
where our initials
had been engraved with a woodburning tool
its orange metal tip smoldering
until there was a dark brown D.A. on mine
and a B.A. on my brother’s.
But my favorite knife was one
I got at the parish fair one night
as we were walking down
the dusty, haystrewn midway
my dad in front of us
his faded brown boots
stepping over myriad rills
of spilled drinks
cigarette butts and Coke cups
over endless yards
of orange and black extension cords
through which all the power flowed
lighting up the drooping strands of bulbs overhead
and the yellow and red ones on the Ferris wheel
and the many blinking lights
on the Gravitron, the Scrambler, the bumper cars—
all encircled by metal barricadesand lines of people waiting in the balding grass
to get on, the tips of their cigarettes glowing
like lightning bugs.
As we walked by
there were grizzled men in booths
calling out to us from behind a scrim
of neon-lit cigarette smoke
the smell of funnel cakes
telling everyone to take a chance:
one dollar one try
three dollars five tries.
You could win it all, they said.
Stuffed animals, posters
a balsawood plane you launched
with a rubber band.
But my dad ignored them
pitching his own cigarette
into the dust
and we kept walking
stopping only when we saw some knives
hanging from a sheet of pocked corkboard
in one of the painted wooden booths.
These were Bowie knives, he told us
and he wanted my brother and me
each to have one.
It was important, he said
that we each had some good knives
in our collection
and that we knew how to use them
to revere them for their power
and what they could do to you
if you weren’t careful
(he had been stabbed when he was a kid
playing around with a switchblade—
the one with the pearl handle
that he still kept in the shoebox
in his closet next to ours).
Then he bought us each one of the knives
from that carnival barker
handing us the little box they came in
and he let us keep them clipped
to our belts for the rest of the night
though later they would end up in that shoe-
box with the others, only to be seen
every once in a while.
Lord, I can still remember
that knife’s black leather sheath
how it was cracked and faded
around the edges
how it snapped shut
over the brass crosspiece
to keep the blade from slipping out.
I remember the way the wood handle
felt in my hand—the heft of it—
how the blade sounded when you slid
it out the sheath
and when you put it back in.
Now that my dad’s been gone
some fifteen years, if you can believe it,
I wish I still had that knife
wish I knew what happened
to that shoebox it was in
if for no other reason
so that I could show it to my kids one day—
keep it on a shelf in the closet
hidden in a shoebox, like my dad did—
until they are old enough and ready
to understand its significance.