The Tormented Mirror

The Tormented Mirror

by Russell Edson

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This is the first book in the Pitt Poetry Series by this popular and enigmatic poet, considered the foremost writer of prose poetry in America. In eleven collections over thirty years, Edson has created his own poetic genre, a surreal philosophical fable, easy to enter, but difficult to leave behind. In The Tormented Mirror, Edson continues and refines his form in seventy-three new poems.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822979814
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
Publication date: 02/22/2001
Series: Pitt Poetry Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 96
File size: 792 KB

About the Author

Russell Edson is a playwright, novelist, and poet. He is the author of numerous  poetry collections, including The Tormented Mirror, The Reason Why the Closet-Man is Never Sad, The Wounded Breakfast: Ten Poems, and The Tunnel: Selected Poems.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


    Now the house of earth was not always a house. There was a time when nothing rotted. A time only of sanitary atoms. There were no smells, no blood clots, no flowers, no mice. And the earth was with egg or sperm.

    Death arrived with life. They were lovers from the beginning. They fed each other. Life fed death, but death also fed life. It was their habit, they could not live without the other.

    The God said, let there be life, but let it be guarded by death ...


    Elephants like burlap underwear. It wears better than silk and has more style.

    They're shy about this appetite. Underwear embarrasses them.

    When the desire overtakes them they head for the secret graveyard of elephants. No one knows where that is. They feel safe there.

    Surrounded by the bleached bones of their ancestors they shyly submit themselves to the delicious feel of burlap. They feel more naked wearing it. They don't know why, and so they giggle.

    Of course they cannot reenter the forest wearing underwear. A hyena might laugh. Tarzan is another thought ...

    Sadly they must leave their underwear in the bones of their ancestors.

    They remember to murmur brief prayers as they leave ...


    One night a man's shadow died. Slumping, it groped its heart and dripped down the wall into a dark stain on the floor in the shape of a man who died in his bedroom alone ...

    The man writes home: Dear mom, my shadow is dead. I may have to be reborn, if you and dad are up to it, and have a new shadow attached ...

    His mother writes back: Dear Ken, please don't count on it. In truth, dear, given another chance I think I would ask for an abortion ...


    After certain difficulties a family decides to become a cast of characters in a play. The setting to be the interior of a house much like their own. In fact, exactly like their own.

    They'll go on living their regular lives, but now their lives won't be real. Father will play the father, and mother will play the mother. Dick and Jane, their real children, will play Dick and Jane, their stage children ...


    An old woman had given birth to a litter of mice. They were all over the bed.

    In the morning when she awakened she saw that she was mistaken, and had given birth to a litter of rats.

    Rats, mice, what's the difference? cried her husband, our bed's infested with baby rodents.

    Because when I give birth to mice I like them to be mice. Not all of a sudden discover they're rats. Rats are okay, it's just that when I give birth I like to know what I'm giving birth to ...

    What about all these clams? cried her husband.

    That was another night, the restaurant was dark, but the waiter had promised oysters ...


    A woman is asked if her baby is a boy or a girl.

    I don't know, I've never looked. I don't think it right that one invade the privacy of the diaper, that place of genital secrets.

    But wouldn't you like to know if it's a boy or a girl?

    If it develops whiskers I'll call it Henry. And if it doesn't I'll call it Henrietta, said the woman.

    But supposing it develops feathers?

    Then I'll put yesterday's newspaper on the floor of its cage and offer it a cracker, said the woman. But should it develop whiskers I'll call it Henry. And if it doesn't I'll call it Henrietta and offer it another cracker ...

Excerpted from THE TORMENTED MIRROR by Russell Edson. Copyright © 2001 by Russell Edson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Contents 1 The Haunted House The Secret Graveyard A Letter From Home Characters An Old Woman’s Children Genital Secrets Monkey Achievement That . . . Sweet Tooth The Babies The Flowerpot The Glandular Condition The Key The Laws The New Father The Position The Sleeper’s Dark The Tormented Mirror Where Charity Begins 2 The Antiques Shop Accidents Baby Pianos Balls Madam’s Heart Meanwhile . . . Pork Chops Sleep The Academic Sigh A Redundancy of Horses The Alfresco Moment The Bloodworthy Correspondence The Breast The Clock The Horse of Fashion Sunset Urinating On the Writing of a Prose Poem 3 Poetry Bread Feathers Medical Stew Nocturne One Who Bathes in Moonlight Symmetry The Fruit Bowl The Joy Attendant on the Little Journey The Message The Passion The Rabbit Story Night Song The Square Wheel The Stuff of Dreams The Traveling Circus The Veterinarian Under Great Light Flooded Clouds 4 The Grinding Allegory Angels An Observer of Incidentality Sanity Round Chickens Nice The Encounter The Bath The Night Invaded The Method The Reality Argument The Theory The Twilight of the Gods Thus Spake Polly The Rule and Its Exception Wings

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