Russell Edson, The Rooster's Wife
(BOA Editions, Ltd., 2005)
are meant for closing, right? Yes, and the screws, for
screwing. Agreed, screws for screwing. But what of the
hinges? The knobs? None of it matters if we don't close the
it from the hinges, let the winds move in. And child, it's a
strange wind tonight. A knowing wink may be mistaken for a
nervous tic, or vice versa. On the mantle a candle is
extinguished and a ragdoll has taken up the wick, its hair
turned to fire; they exchange insurance information. This is
the Great Collide. While we lose something in the handoff—someone good with numbers, most likely: an accountant? an
actuary?—we gain a second shadow to do with as we please.
make it in this new world, you're going to need a copy of the
Bible and The Rooster's Wife. Bible optional. This is a
place of our own making, consequences no more damning than the
original decisions. The Rooster's Wife is a lessonbook
in responsibility/accountability. "Now that each stair is
whacking you back, breaking your calcium tree, you would have
thought then to have walked more carefully…" ("The
it a cruel father of a reading. Whereas earlier Edsons often
found their central character caught in some unsuspecting,
often surreal situation, 2005 finds them trapped in a box of
their own folding. Sometimes, they marry that box—after
habitual opening and closing of a box, the son is confronted
by his father:
"…His father said, Why don't you get married so you
don't have to be doing that with that box?
am married, this is my wife, said the man.
Congratulations, said his father, But why didn't you tell us
you were married?
Because I thought you might be a little disappointed that I
didn't marry the girl next-door, said the man.
there's no girl living next-door, said his father.
know, that's why I didn't marry her. I hope you're not
at all, said his father, It's just that box is a little
should all live life by such hard edges. Things don't seem to
spill on their own, as in previous Edson works. Everything is
nicely contained, until we begin playing with the scales, we
begin scratching at the paint. In The Rooster's Wife, a
man plays a violin too hard and is left with "hands full
of kindling and gut"; the Jacks from children's rhymes
(Horner, Sprat, et al.) have been left behind only to drink
and reminisce; and an old man has broken his cane and brought
it to Doctor for repair. The punchline? "My wife, said
the old man, Her head is uncommonly hard…"
and effect, cause and effect. Here it's boiled down more than
ever. Perhaps with good reason. This isn't Edson sailing
through uncharted territory, this is Edson responding to our
current situation. The prose-poems in The Rooster's Wife
are blunt, lessons harsh. It couldn't be more American or more
appropriate. A country awash in its actions of the last two
terms continues to sink in its own unsettling consequences
(we've already faced its absurdity). And we can say we told
you so, even while we're busy picking up the mess. Suck it up,
America. We're no longer the Hollywood of the World. Happy
endings have found a new home, but we're still getting their
mail. Oooh, look, a copy of Maxim.
took the mirror but they left us with The Rooster's Wife.
So let's take a look, see what we've got. A home with clean
corners and dusty centers. Skeletons wearing flesh costumes.
Masturbation as respected an institution as marriage. It's not
that things aren't what they seem; they're simply more than
they seem. Edson's wor(l)d is one of extended shadows. Back to
back cul-de-sacs. Try as you might, there will always be a
remainder. No erasing will undo it.
ahead, hammer away the once-accepted shape of things. Build
yourself a steel drum only you can play. We're going to need a
soundtrack in the new world. A land where sex organs are
treated as they should be: playthings. Not as oddities locked
in a curio cabinet. Science and experience may want to shed
light on the subject, but some things are best left to the
dark. Anyone who's surely been to the farthest reaches of the
human body understands this. Edson reached the edge of the
map, and rather than returning with news of civilization, or
instilling fear with the rumor of monsters or dropoffs, he
penciled in the call to arms: "Here There Be
last we knew, strange winds still fill sails.