Carving Your Future
My mother said I’d never make it selling knives
though she said once I ought to be a dictator
of a third world country.
Well I found that country.
I found my people and I waved my sword: a knife,
double-edged and fork-tipped, complete with fish-scaler,
and the first thing I told them, speaking through a mike
clipped to my shirt collar, was that I don’t sell knives.
I sell pardons, and relics, and talismans. I sell hope,
belief, faith, and self-esteem. I save marriages
and battered kids. I sell knives out of a wooden
booth I’ve pulled behind my pick-up from Fryburg, Maine
to West Point, Mississippi. I work agricultural
and harvest fairs in most counties — my knives
and all those blue ribbon pies — and I’ve spread the word
inside and out of Sears, K-mart, Wal-Mart and some
Jordan Marsh stores.
I hold up a knife and say,
“Friends, any number of kitchen utensils will do
the food miracles I am about to perform.
I know most of you have carrot peelers,
onion-slicers, apple-corers, melon-ballers, and enough
culinary accoutrements to arm a small
yet lethal S.W.A.T. team. If you don’t mind opening
a drawer and pulling out half a dozen or so
steel, wooden, and plastic preparatory tools
and if you don’t mind spending the extra seconds
putting one down and picking up another — hell,
who would mind? — then you might, and I stress the word, might,
you might not need this knife of highest quality
stainless steel finished in Switzerland and shipped here
in bulk so I can sell it for twenty dollars
minus one penny plus tax and still pay my bills
with a small profit. I sleep well each night
dreaming of my happy customers making palm trees
from carrots and green peppers, or, less aesthetic-minded,
but more pleasing to the pallet, the dream
of a fine lady I met in Goshen, Vermont,
a Mrs. Lucius Babcock, who makes a fine five-bean salad.
I never forget a customer. And I’ve sold
15,000 of these hand-honed, flame-tempered,
one-sixteenth of an inch thick PVC plastic super-
filet-knife-graced, all purpose, never failing kitchen knives.
I’m an honest man, friends, and it wouldn’t be right
to not tell you that seven of my knives have failed;
more specifically, the handles failed. I replaced
all seven. Still, you might, and I stress the word, might,
you might not need this knife. Not if you go to bed
with a smile on your face each night. Not if you look
at friends and foes alike: straight in the eye.
Not if the young and the old both love and trust you, and grace
is a condiment you seldom reach for in life
so well cured and evenly simmered are your days.
No, you upright, respectable, hardworking folks,
you might not need this knife that can chop coconuts
in half and hull strawberries and open raw clams
and oysters and whittle oak and pry off fan belts,
hub caps and flat tires from wheel rims and fly true
as a brass-tipped, feather-tailed dart and skin
seals, bears, and rattlesnakes and perform C-sections
and tracheotomies(instructions are engraved
in the blade to assist with these emergency
procedures). Yes, my friends, you might not feel a tinge
of guilt for turning down such an affordable
life-saving device. But as I said, folks, I’m not
here just to sell you knives.
We’ve all got too many knives
already, don’t we? But this isn’t just a knife.
Excalibur wasn’t just a sword. Jim Bowie
didn’t wield just any old knife. Aztecs
didn’t cut pulsing hearts out with butter
knives!(pardon me folks, I’m getting excited).
Surgeons need more than God to save babies;
they need knives, scalpels, miracle workers.
And this here is a miracle knife.
Trust in the stainless steel, the sharp edge, the sure grip.
Isn’t it attractive? Doesn’t it gleam
with all you have yet to do? . . . Radishes
trimmed expertly, a watermelon carved
into a green striped billboard for the church picnic:
‘He Is Risen!’ . . . A chain-link fence, sawed through,
wire by wire, as you escape from an oppressive,
most likely communist institution. You’re with me,
my friends, if you’ve ever been inspired
just by looking at a photo or picture
of a loved one. You’re with me if the sun
rising each day is an invitation.
You’re with me if you think each American
should stress the two words in the last four letters
of the word, ‘American’: ‘ . . . I can.’
Now, my friends, take a few seconds
after the show; I’ll demonstrate for you,
one-on-one. I’ll show you how to remove
wine corks, filet a Northern Pike, spackle
a ceiling, pick locks, cut diamonds,
and notch a Lodge Pole Pine. That’s $19.99.”
Carving Your Future first appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 61, #4.
Poem, copyright © 2005 by Douglas Woodsum
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse