The Sum of a Man
In autumn, facing the end of his life, he moved in with me. We piled his belongings— his army-issue boots, knife magazines, Steely Dan tapes, his grinder, drill press, sanders, belts and hacksaws— in a heap all over the living room floor. For two weeks he walked around the mess. One night he stood looking down at it all and said: "The sum total of my existence." Emptiness in his voice. Soon after, as if the sum total needed to be expanded, he began to place things around in the closets and spaces I'd cleared for him, and when he'd finished setting up his workshop in the cellar, he said, "I should make as many knives as I can," and he began to work. The months plowed on through a cold winter. In the evenings, we'd share supper, some tale of family, some laughs, perhaps a walk in the snow. Then he'd nip back down into the cellar's keep To saw and grind and polish, creating his beautiful knives until he grew too weak to work. But still he'd slip down to stand at his workbench and touch his woods and run his hand over his lathe. One night he came up from the cellar and stood in the kitchen's warmth and, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, said, "I love my workshop." Then he went up to bed. He's gone now. It's spring. It's been raining for weeks. I go down to his shop and stand in the dust of ground steel and shavings of wood. I think on how he'd speak of his dying, so easily, offhandedly, as if it were a coming anniversary or an appointment with the moon. I touch his leather apron, folded for all time, and his glasses set upon his work gloves. I take up an unfinished knife and test its heft, and feel as well the heft of my grief for this man, this brother I loved, the whole of him so much greater than the sum of his existence. Norah Pollard