For a year and a half, I have been raising a baby. For a year and a half, I have been reading books and crafting long essays for the comprehensive examination requirement in my doctoral program, which occupies the majority of my writing life. The entanglement of these timelines and processes materializes physically in my workspace: home.
While I type entanglement, baby R sleeps in her crib in an adjacent room, which pulses with womb-like noises to obfuscate my work on the other side of her door. While I type in clipped intervals stretched across time and space (at my kitchen table, in my living room, at the desk in our office), a parallel script nags me—what to cook, how to entertain a toddler on these grey and glacial winter days, words like night-weaning, sovereignty, extinction burst. Each day, my mind splits to tend to—first—the physical fact of a child’s life, that child’s urgent body and voice, her needs, her totalizing otherness, which enter whenever and however they please. And work spills into any narrow aperture that otherwise appears—as if it had been hovering politely and yet impatiently overhead.
Today, for instance, I read the portion of Jane Eyre in which she hungrily roams the countryside near Thornfield while I am sitting on the toilet, and hearing the baby repeat “mommy” outside the bathroom door, I abandon its world. Hours pass in which we play “kitchen” (we cut and stir wooden carrots), go out for pancakes at Sweet Melissa’s, and visit Little Shop of Stories. All the while, the protagonists of Charlotte Brontë and Frances Burney bob near me like anxious little spirits. Abridged clips of their dramas play in my mind: silhouettes of women’s bodies that move through others’ homes, attempt to pass thresholds or travel foreign terrain safely, and are everywhere blocked. I wash baby R’s sticky dishes. When I finish, the same images follow me to my desk. My astigmatic eyes glaze. I refocus. I gather an outline: carriages, class, claustrophobia, moral economies of space. Words hang in loose constellations. The filament between each object of thought remains too distant to make out—a pulsing fog. I observe that light and must, for now, let it withhold its puzzle.
Like all of my work, today’s is bookended and paralleled by care for the baby, who, even when not calling, calls.
Sara Renee Marshall’s work can be found in places like Colorado Review, jubilat, OmniVerse, chapbooks, and elsewhere. She’s pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at University of Georgia. Sara lives in Atlanta with Thomas and Rosa Bernadette. She recently had two chapbook manuscripts accepted by above/ground press for 2018 publication.