How those killers thrilled me,
looming above Grandma's fireplace,
bayonets in their sheaths,
there with the Christmas cards,
candles, hand-made pine cone wreathes
and two ceramic squirrels.
American-made relics from a lost war,
they rust on nails now in my garage.
Russians used them against Japan, 1905.
In the Solomons, 1942,
Japanese aimed them at GIs.
History always comes home.
She'd pull one down.
At 12 I could barely lift it
it was taller than me.
I'd seen pictures of soldiers hunkering
through mud or oil or scorched island sand,
the dead washed ashore like kelp.
I'd reverently pull off the sheath.
The foot-long knife still gleamed,
still sharp, its edge nicked by...what?
Along the blade ran a deep groove,
a channel in the bright steel.
That's the blood gutter, this grey-eyed
lover of dahlias explained, who had read
to me Peter Rabbit, Red Riding Hood,
and The Pirate Don Derke of Dowdee.
She'd ram home the bolt.
I'd squeeze the trigger. Click.
The scarred cherry stock
glowed like burnished cordovan.
And what did those four notches mean,
cut with a pocket knife
just beyond the raised sights?
What's it like to shoot and see
a person sprawl? Hours I'd cradle
in my lap this heavy artifact
of family history,
this weary world traveler.
It ended as scrap in a dockside
pile, Okinawa, fall of '45,
Hiroshima and Nagasaki still smoldering.
From alders back of the guest house,
deer would step into Grandma's orchard
to browse on pears, strip the bark
from apple and cherry. Jays would squawk
as if they owned July. A bear
lived in those woods.
I'd lie awake in a top bunk
and listen to rafters whisper,
the rasp of wind in cedars.
I'd lope with my rifle through mud
or oily sand, throw the bolt and fire
at shapes in the guest house window.
Nowhere was lovelier
than Harper Hill in winter.
Snow erased all roads.
With the blue arrival of night,
smoke rose from stone chimneys.
Window lamps cast squares
of light across the drifts.
Inside, the tree she cut herself
bore its tinsel, colored balls
and star. Over the bright fire
hung the rifles, their bayonets
grooved with blood gutters.