The Knife



for David 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.


© 2008 Richard Tillinghast, All Rights Reserved