Guest Blog, "In the Fullness of Time"
Poet Antoinette Brim is also a mother who teaches college courses full time. I asked her to do a guest blog on how she was able to finish her debut collection of poetry given her busy schedule. The collection, Psalm of the Sunflower, is forthcoming from Willow Books September 1, 2009.
In the Fullness of Time: On Writing with (in spite of/around/in between) Children
by Antoinette Brim
I can barely hear her. I am eager to hear every word she might say, but the children – my youngest son, my only daughter, and her best friend are singing along with Sponge Bob and Plankton at the top of their lungs. I am still straining to hear her, even as I entreat the children to be quiet. But, they playfully ignore me and continue singing. I am not angry because no one is whining that their inalienable right to respect as the oldest/youngest/keeper of the Corn Pops/Custodian of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch has been violated. These are happy sounds and I’ll take them.
And I’ll take this call here in front of my computer because we are talking about my book - searching it for errors, lest any make it through to the final printing. Hers are one of the seven sets of eyes that are proofreading and challenging punctuation and word order to the very end. I am eager to see my words through her eyes. I’ve looked at this manuscript for seven years now and it is easy to see past the words on the page, to miss what I’ve written because I know the back-story.
When I began the book, I didn’t even know I had in fact begun a book. I knew that I had entered an epoch. I could feel a thickness, a spot of turbulence in time. Back then, I was married with young children. And, the poems were just bits of longing. Rough and rudimentary, at first. Actually, I had been tugged into writing by invisible hands. My dying mother-in-law made me promise things. A local creative writing professor, after reading my fledgling poems at a local poetry day, asked me: What are you doing with your life?
And, having no answer for him or myself, I chose to take a road trip on a Greyhound from Little Rock to New Jersey with my then five year old daughter. We ate greasy bus station food, watched the landscape rise into skyscrapers and fall into ruin against the backdrop of day and night, until we found ourselves in my Nana’s loving arms. It was on that trip that Psalm of the Sunflower began to germinate. Those early poems, written on that bus ride, became my new beginning.
I grew over time. The children grew. The book grew, too. However, the marriage did not. But, mothering the children and the book somehow soothed me. I would sit the children around the table and we would ‘do our homework’ together. Tiny Thomas wrapped his chubby fingers around his oversized Crayolas. Waverly colored daintily, while supervising her younger brother. Roland-Michael was the only one with ‘real’ homework. He did not let that point go unmade. All the while, I wrote - sometimes feverishly, sometimes contemplatively, sometimes not at all, while we sat together.
And when divorce forced us from our home and into an apartment, I worked in a corner of my bedroom while my laughing children bounced on my bed. Sometimes they watched television, spilling popcorn and cookies crumbs between the sheets. They lay on their bellies with their feet in the air, doing their homework with fat pencils and then as time passed with more slender ones. My bed was their island. My desk was my own world of poetry and papers to grade. They’d often times fall asleep in my bed. I’d often fall asleep at my desk.
I learned how to rise early to write. I found that 4:30 AM was a good time to coax the coffee pot into making coffee. The world was still and I could hear the poetry in my head. Those two solid hours of silence proved fertile ground for metaphor. Late nights or early mornings were the time for new work - the work born of tears and quiet panic. Such is often the late nights and early mornings of newly single mothers. The children’s waking hours were reserved for the children and stolen moments of revision.
In those days, fun had to be cheap: Tandy’s 50 cent movies, my purse brimming with candy from the Dollar store; grilling hotdogs in the park; visiting friends. And, when the children were settled exhausted into silence. I’d push the shut-off notices out of sight and read Tagore, Senghor, Amichai, Trethewey, Cisneros. And, then I’d write. As the children grew, I grew. And, the book grew, too.
I learned how to pull apart the layers of sound that filled the house, lifting the questions that I must answer from the uneven roar of the television. I learned to find the strips of silence that I needed for concentration. I learned to say: Mommy is writing now. And, the children learned to entertain themselves, sometimes. They grew to talk on their cell phones, to discover Facebook, to sleep-over and camp-out. And, I wrote and learned to love again the stranger that was myself. And in this manner, seven years passed.
And now, in the fullness of time … I can barely hear her. I am still straining to hear her, even as I entreat the children to be quiet; they playfully ignore me and continue singing. But, these are happy sounds and I’ll take them.
I find myself smiling because after all, it’s all for them. They will not remember this moment, this day that is so important to me. Perhaps they will remember that they were happy. That is all that they really need to remember. But, the book will remember my nuanced pain, Thomas’ wonder at the moon and the life we lived before this life we live now. And, when I, too, am a memory, the book will tell my children the stories they will have forgotten.
Antoinette Brim teaches Creative Writing, Composition, and World Literature at Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock, Arkansas. A Cave Canem Fellow and a recipient of the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Scholarship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Antioch University/Los Angeles. She is also the recipient of a Pushcart Prize nomination. Her work has appeared in various journals, magazines, and anthologies. Psalm of the Sunflower is her debut poetry collection.
For more, go to antoinettebrim.com