Another book I picked up at the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair, Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures by Vanessa Gebbie, with lots of b/w illustrations by Lynn Roberts, is a slim, elegant little volume recently released by Cinnamon Press‘s imprint Liquorice Fish Press. It would make a good gift, I think, for anyone interested in poetry / hybrid genres / short fiction or, generally, animals.
Each page shows Ed’s wife, Suze, as a different creature. While the segments do form a larger story, they can be read in pretty much any order, and for the most part they can stand on their own. Each ‘entry’ is accompanied by an illustration of the creature, often in a minimalist, yet evocative style.
It’s a quick read, in part because it’s just over 100 pages, with every other page taken up by an illustration, but also because these entries are just fun to read. The title of this post is taken from p.46, “Spider,” where Suze hides in ‘dark, shadowy places, forgotten corners” and Ed has a difficult time finding her. “Sometimes,” we learn, “she lets him know where she is by creating something artistic and placing it near her hiding place. Something shimmering and lovely, delicate but deadly. Ed finds neatly wrapped packages secreted away, packages that definitely have not come from the supermarket.”
This pretty much sums up Ed’s relationship to his wife: an adoring fascination mixed with a (sometimes more, sometimes less) vague sense of foreboding. Incarnations of Suze that particularly stood out to me were the chameleon (8), the mantis (38), the gall mite (78), and the cricket (116). This list already makes clear that Gebbie did not pick the usual suspects when it comes to animal metaphors for women — there are a good number of oddballs in the mix, and not a single doe or kitten in sight.
While all the entries of the main part can be read in any order, the last three — gathered in their own section titled “Three Stages in Learning to Fly,” definitely belong at the end of the book, because they leave the reader with a hint, a suggestion of closure. This is from “Cricket”:
“Then, that day arrived and she became a sound in the grass. Perhaps she was a cricket. She’d always been a little person, self-effacing. Ask anyone. They’ll all say, ‘Who?'” (116)
For me, this tried back straight to the entry for “Ant” which precedes it. There, we learn that
“One night in August, Ed’s wife became an ant. He found her on the pillow in the morning. He smelled the pillow; it smelled of his wife.” (114)
Ed carefully marks the ant with a tiny line of Suze’s nail polish and then, gently, moves it to a flower pot on the terrace, where he’s seen other ants. And then? Apparently, his life goes on as usual, except that “sometimes, when Ed’s reading on the terrace, he finds himself watching these ants. Sometimes he sees his wife.”
By the time I finished the book, I wasn’t sure Ed ever had a wife in the first place — while each entry is, on the surface level, about the wife, it really says much more about Ed than about her. We learn what Ed does or does not like, what he notices (that, for example, she’s put on weight, but that for him that’s okay because she’s also willing to exercise), what worries him, and the overall impression I walk away with is that he is so self-centered, even the eventual disappearance (or escape?) of his wife does not really faze him.