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The Knife

by Richard Tillinghast

What was it I wonder? in my favorite weather in the driving rain that drew me like a living hand What was it like a living hand that spun me off the freeway and stopped me on a sidestreet in California with the rain pelting slick leaves down my windshield to see the words of my brother's poem afloat on the bright air, and the knife I almost lost falling end over end through twenty years to the depths of Spring River— the knife I had used to cut a fish open, caught in time the instant where it falls through a green flame of living water. My one brother, who saw more in the river than water who understood what the fathers knew, dove from the Old Town canoe plunged and found his place in the unstoppable live water seeing with opened eyes the green glow on the rocks and the willows running underwater— like the leaves over clear glass in the rain— While the long-jawed, predatory fish the alligator gar watched out of prehistory schooled in the water like shadows unmoved in the current, watched unwondering. The cold raw-boned, white-skinned boy curls off his dive in deep water and sees on the slab-rock filling more space than the space it fills: the lost thing the knife current swift all around it and fishblood denser than our blood still stuck to the pike-jaw knifeblade which carries a shape like the strife of brothers —old as blood— the staghorn handle smooth as time. Now I call to him and now I see David burst into the upper air gasping as he brings to the surface our grandfather's knife shaped now, for as long as these words last, like all things saved from time. I see in its steel the worn gold on my father's hand the light in those trees the look on my son's face a moment old like the river old like rain older than anything that dies can be.

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