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Still Life With My Father’s Knives

ISSUE:  Autumn 2001

  For all the years he worked as a pattern cutter
in the denim sweatshops of Los Angeles,
  my father never spoke of what it was he did.

  My mother simply verified that this trade
of his had been learned in Cuba, after he resigned
  from the police force after Castro came to power.

  End of story. Not once did I accompany
him to the factories, though I once heard
  him explain the process to a friend: how layers

  upon layers of denim (hundreds) were laid
down on a table, stacked, and then my father came
  through cutting with these extra, extra sharp

  blades, a machine not unlike an electric turkey
slicer, but bigger, heavier, black as a vulture’s wing
  in his hands. His arms always ached, and my mother

  rubbed Tiger balm into his biceps, shoulders,
neck muscles. My father sat in the kitchen
  with his eyes closed, perhaps keeping visions

  of cut fingers, veins, sinew out of his mind.
My father always slaughtered with his hands.
  Now, exactly four years after his death,

  I stand in the darkened garage with his opened
tool box, an open mouth, on the cracked cement floor,
  these razor-sharp knives he made from the cutting

  machine’s blades that he brought home,
and I stand here thinking I can become a knife
  thrower, a professional cutter too, a slicer of memories.


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