Paul Benney, Game Over, 1983, oil on photosensitized canvas, 60 × 84 inches. Courtesy of PPOW.
For Christmas, my father gave me a set of four knifes. Carbon steel, they were heavy, greasy, and wrapped, for safety, in newspaper. The largest was like a short sword: the blade was 12 inches long, and very broad. There was an eight-inch one, and a boning knife, stronger, with a curve. Finally a little knife, paring. They were all very sharp indeed. I had asked for a knife to chop parsley.
That same Christmas my step-mother gave me a reticule: a disco bag. It was dark red leather, soft, woven, on a long string, to hang, symbolic pocket. I examined: oh a vagina just what I’ve always wanted.
I was stunned by my father’s overkill, and carefully took the largest knife, and the boning knife, back to the shop. When I told him this, laughing I told him I was too frightened by these knives to use them, and besides I wasn’t that serious a cook, he said, angrily, but that’s what you wanted, you asked for a vegetable knife. Instead I got—an enamel colander, a jug, a cake tester. Harmless.
But when I thought of coming to New York for a few months, I—I would invariably think, I must take my knife. I restrained myself.
But when I got here, I looked at knives, to buy. I didn’t buy any: none were quite right. It seemed a bit excessive. My wish embarrassed me.
Then I dreamed—that I was still wanting, to buy a sharp knife, one really sharp knife. In the dream I opened a drawer and there they were, surprised, a set of knives.
Knife in the Leg x 2
Lying in bed with you, my hand on your leg, you warn me of a wound in your thigh. You tell me, as I gently feel a lump, that you stuck a knife into your thigh last week, that you just took the stitches out, you sent them, Christmas gifts, to your friends. It is cold, dark winter, we lie together under confused covers, telling, listening to these stranger tales. You were with your friend David, and his girlfriend, Anne, you have worked with both of them, art work, you describe the work. You were with them, on the beach, cold, winter white, you were hacking chocolate with a swiss army knife, the chocolate balanced on your leg, and just as David said, you’re going to put that knife through your thigh, you did. I laugh, I interject but surely one breaks chocolate, you do not stab it. You refer to your swollen scar as a burial mound. You drove yourself to the hospital, until you realized there was too much blood. Laughing, I say and why aren’t you in analysis.
Lying in bed with you, kissing your long feet, dark, winter, windowless, closed, I come upon a long scar, shiny, scissoring up your leg, through your calf. It is extreme. You tell me years ago you were at art school, you picked up a bag, you didn’t realize, a scalpel was sticking out of it. You picked up this bag by its handles, and as you lifted it, the scalpel tore through your flesh, your leg. You go on to tell me about the time you got run down by a car, accidentally on purpose. I laugh, kissing your knee.
I am struck, so cold and dark this winter, both these men scarred deep, leg wounds, self inflected, denied. At least when I stuck the knife through my hand I knew what I was doing.