Inheriting the Knife - Meg Cowen

While slicing shallots with
a cleaver I wonder if
I’ll ever wield it at my daughter
—and if I can blame that
flick of the wrist
on genetics.
My grandmother chased
my mother through a hallway
with a kitchen knife after she
said she was moving out.
Sometimes, when I’m alone,
I want to check

under all the beds; wake up
before the neighbors and run out
into the snow just to lick
the tracks that appeared overnight
and decide, for myself,
if they’re human or animal.  I keep

my hair pulled back just so I can
hear things correctly.  When I get old,
I’ll rent a third floor apartment
and wear soft-heeled shoes.  Possibly
dust the floors with talcum powder.
My mother

used to dream of a blood stain
crawling down the bodice of her
wedding dress.  She wrapped
the kitchen knife in flannel and hid it
behind the fridge.  Some days

she says she’s ready to buy a trailer
and park it where no one will find her.
I refuse to take the blade for now,
unsure if I’m the kind of person
who would put a price sticker on it

and lay it out on a blanket in the yard
next to a ceramic bean pot I’ve never used.
If my mother hasn’t done this already,
there’s little hope for me to do anything

besides peel my own head off the floor
when my kid says she’s leaving;
to reach behind the fridge and say
the quiet is getting too thick, baby.
I have to let it bleed out.



This incident between my mom and grandmother had been stewing in my mind for about a year after I found out about it.  My mom regretted telling me the story because she didn’t want me to have negative memories of my grandmother–and I don’t.  This poem, while not defending the violent outburst, is my way of understanding the thought process behind it–I do believe there was one.  My concern wasn’t whether or not I was going to inherit a mental illness, but an extreme dependence on other people for my own sense of well-being; a fear of being alone.

The idea most likely came up because now that I’m in my thirties I’ve been thinking about motherhood and asking myself honestly if I’m up for it–if I’m ready to give up much of the free time I now spend writing, painting, dropping everything and going for a bike ride.  My grandmother had great ambitions for herself as well.  She wanted to be a dancer, according to my mom, not a divorced woman raising three kids in the 1950′s (before child support existed).  In a sense, I can sympathize with her resentment of being “tied down”, whereas my mom is far more selfless, possibly by virtue of her having been a substitute mother for my uncle.

My mom had that recurring nightmare for a long time, and I admire her ability to get past it and forgive my grandmother–who eventually relished the independence of her last years.  Seven years after moving out, I’m still having that “come get your stuff or we’re getting rid of it” battle with my parents as they clear out their closets.  That kitchen knife is one item on a very small list of things I’ve been able to hang on to without actually having to take it home with me.




Meg Cowen‘s chapbook, “When Surrounded By Fire,” is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in 2012.  Recently, she was awarded the Elizabeth Curry Poetry Prize and has new work appearing in Louisiana Literature, Barely South, Stone Highway Review and other journals.  She has received a teaching fellowship from Southern Connecticut State University, where she edits Noctua Review.