Interviewed by John Haggerty

Read Steve Passey’s fiction piece, The Rooster

The scenes with the Rooster and the coyote are enormously vivid. How did those scenes come to you? 

They are one-hundred percent the product of my imagination. That said, the song “The Rooster” by the band Alice in Chains was on loop while I drafted “The Rooster.”

“They’ve come to the kill the rooster/but he ain’t never gonna die.”

That may account for the tone in some sub-conscious way. Mind you, not everyone is an Alice in Chains fan, and someone listening may say no, that’s not it at all, this is the wrong song for the piece. These things are subjective. But the scenes as presented/described are just me riffing.

The Buddhists say, “All buildings end in ruin, all meetings end in separation, all births end in death,” which is the sort of thing that sometimes makes them sound a little bit depressing. But they’re right—the coyote is coming for all of us. The most popular responses to this unfortunate fact are nihilism and denial. Which is your favorite? Do you have any better ideas? 

Although nihilism and denial are the mustard and mayo on my sandwich of life I never thought of “The Rooster” specifically in those terms. I mostly thought about the story as being born out of the mother’s anger towards the father seeking some sort of agency, something to act on her behalf, and the metaphor for this desire for agency manifests in the coyote coming for Rooster. If nature is nihilistic it is structural—a part of nature itself—denial is probably a more human construction, manufactured more consciously.

The narrator’s father tells his mother that their initial love should at least entitle him to civility. The corpse of love seems to be the thing we fling away from ourselves with the most violence. Is he right? Love is a beautiful thing—should we treat its memory with more respect? 

We should. (Probably, possibly, maybe.) The Gottman Institute identifies four specific negative communication patterns that predict divorce—these are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The idea of contempt is very present in this story in regards to the mother’s feelings for the father. I am fairly sure that contempt has the longest shelf-life of any of these patterns.

In the end, the Rooster is either complicit or indifferent to its fate. Should we see this as a victory or a defeat? 

The Rooster concedes to the inevitable only as much as he has to because he is too broken to fight the battle again. But while he could fight it, he did.