Three American Women and a German Bayonet

Outweighing all, heavy out of the souvenir bundle
The German bayonet: grooved steel socketed in its worn 
   wood handle,
Its detached and threatening silence.
Its gun-body lost, the great knife wrested to a personal 
   particular violence--
Now bared shamelessly for what it is, here exposed on the 
   American kitchen table and circled with the wreath
Of his three women, the hard tool of death.

And while Mary his mother says 'I do not like it. Put it down'
Mary the young sister, her eyes gleaming and round,
Giddily giggles as, the awkward toy in her left hand,
She makes impertinent pushes toward his wife who stands
Tolerant of child's play, waiting for her to be done.
His mother says 'I wish he had not got it. It is wicked-looking. 
   I tell you: Put it down!'
His wife says 'All right, Mary: let me have it--it is mine.'
Saucily pouting, primly frowning
The sister clangs bayonet on table; walks out
And her mother follows.

Like a live thing in not-to-be-trusted stillness,
Like a kind of engine so foreign and self-possessed
As to chill her momently between worship and terror
It lies there waiting alone in the room with her,
Oddly familiar without ever losing strangeness.
Slowly she moves along it a tentative finger
As though to measure and remember its massive, potent length:
Death-deep, tall as life,
For here prized from the enemy, wrenched away captive, his 
   dangerous escape and hers.
Mary his wife
Lifts it heavy and wonderful in her hands and with triumphant

From the anthology Poets of World War II, edited by Harvey Shapiro. Copyright © 2003 by The Library of America. Reproduced with permission of The Library of America. All rights reserved.