Cotton Xenomorph is a new literary journal produced with the mission to showcase new, and ecstatic art while reducing language of oppression in our community. We are dedicated to uplifting new and established voices while engaging in thoughtful conversation around social justice.

Knife Skills

by Samantha Frank

The freshmen culinary students serve trifle into Cool Whip containers, sit down to eat
sliced strawberries and bananas set in vanilla pudding over Nilla wafers.
I hit play on the VCR and the intro music is gauzy, muted
like someone’s draped a wool sweater over the speaker—what year is this?
2001 doesn’t look like the numbers belonging to the year of half-my-age-ago
but here we are. I was sixteen when this instructional video was made
“Your age,” I tell the class. They shrug.
The celebrity chef is mid-thirties on screen—clean-shaven, upright, vaguely east coast
white half apron on a runner’s body. I’d swipe right.
I’ve learned to be careful with the earnest ones. They want to fall in love.
He demonstrates the polished black handle of a chef’s knife in various grips:
Thumb on top. Thumb parallel. Open palm overhand.
Apparently you don’t hold it like a microphone.
Your opposite hand is a spider that retreats the length of the peeled carrot
never feed toward the blade, always always retreat
keep the knife in conversation with the knuckle.
When he slices an onion it’s like typewriter keys clacking
so fast! in three seconds he turns one fat white bulb into many nested crescent moons
and I’m thinking I could add knife skills to the list of stuff to dabble in post-divorce.
Practice a little on a wood block Sunday mornings.

“He looks like a dude whose wife leaves him for a richer guy,” says Anna
a girl who’s been arrested twice already—shoplifting maybe, vandalism—
and now I can’t help but picture him staggering back to bed
after his wife—god, ex-wife—curled her pink fingernails around his arm apologizing.
I want to say, none of us knows each other’s private midnights
pairing slice after slice of American cheese with vodka
cutting to bits the Egyptian cotton sheets. I want to say Jesus that’s not funny, Anna
but it’s just a dated VHS on a half day so instead I say, “that’s savage,”
because that’s what kids say now and it thrills them when teachers use it right
like a mustachioed walrus clapping, like a draft horse kicking a field goal.

The chef pares away the face of a red bell pepper
a glossy ghoul’s mask of a fruit with hollow cheeks like Munch’s screamer
rocks his knife back and forth until it’s a pile of ruby matchsticks. “Isn’t that beautiful?”
It’s not his handiwork he marvels at but the julienne itself
and I know this is not a man with a broken heart.
Notice how the blade obeys his hand, the grip loose but comfortable
the cold steel whispering in the service of order.

I can’t figure out how to say that my ex-husband is getting married.
Life is trying to teach me not to be a small petty bitch and frankly
I don’t want to learn. I can already tell it’s about precision of language
and generosity. Do your best and leave the rest, I tell kids at school, but probably I should also
tell them that hunger will make you stupid and mean if you let it.
I am trying to be grateful for happiness. Even if it’s not mine.
On screen the chef is twisting his knife behind the King salmon’s head
through the pin bones, unzipping the flesh from the spine.
“Hear that?” he says. “Now we’re in the zone.”

Samantha Frank holds an MFA in fiction from Pacific University and a BA in creative writing from Western Washington University. Her work has appeared in Grow Northwest Magazine and Yes! Magazine. When she's not writing, she's watching culinary competitions with her kids. 


for their tongues