I picked it up on a minor island, the one with the grimy harborfront, I think, and the spine of useless mountains like a broken back along its northern coast as if it had been stepped on. The guidebook called the inhabitants a joyous and friendly people, and perhaps they are to one another. Their fruit was good if not always clean. They certainly appeared to love Jesus. I pitied them one minute, admired them the next. At home, when I reflect on what I’ve seen, one or the other impression will usually fade, often depending on whether I’ve gotten what I came for. In the dusty general store, displayed along the pegboard, the blades of the local machetes gleamed like garden tools oiled against rusting, and so they were made and sold to be used, though I knew in the hills, in certain hands, they enforced a fearful peace. The local merchant showed me handle styles and lengths of blade. The wooden handle was painful to grip; the hard rubber handle had no understanding of fingers. The handle of bone was warm like something living and fit like a handshake. She saw how much I liked it and while smiling drew her finger across her throat in a gesture that locally must have meant something else. I bargained, got the best of her, and paid. The blade is a razor that sings when I withdraw it from its cowhide sheath; ssssing and it slices the young calf’s throat; sssssing and I skin it by turning it inside out. I’m clearing the poison ivy from my yard with deep hacking cuts when I notice the blood on my shoes, and then on my pants, then my shirt. I put my hand to my neck and I dare not look.
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