Fifth Anniversary Update: Sheila Squilante

December 9th, 2013

Here There Be Monsters and Mothers
By Sheila Squillante

In my essay, “Student/Body,” which appeared in Mama, PhD, I tell the story of how one of my business writing students suggested, upon hearing that my ultrasound revealed the sex of my child to be male, that we name him Beowulf. “Because, you know,” I remember him saying, “you’re a writer.”

We did not name our son after the hero of that epic poem, though he certainly grew as a heroic part of my imagination while he was gestating, and has grown to become an equally heroic part of the last eight years of my life as a mother.

In 2011, Dancing Girl Press published my first chapbook, A Woman Traces the Shoreline. Something between poetry and prose, it’s a lyric meditation on the experience—body and mind—of being pregnant for the first time. In it, I figure my unborn child—my son– as both the sea monster lurking just off the map edge of my known world, and as the alien lobbing potatoes (which I suppose symbolized the various, endless, sometimes humiliating and ridiculous physical travails of pregnancy) at me in the overly-strange rooms of my pregnancy dreams.

The book is tiny—more like a pamphlet in size—and it would take a reader something like five minutes to read all the way through, slowly.

But, like the Anglo-Saxon poem with its hero and its monster, it is also, at least to this mother, absolutely epic in scope. It is my whole body. The entirety of my mind, which includes my personality, my fears and foibles, neuroses, curiosities and all my joy which I had, until that moment, no idea would expand so hugely to accommodate the love for this vanquishing force inside me.

Thankfully, all 60 lbs of his second-grade self is outside of me now, as is his kindergartner-aged sister. I’ve written about her, too, though not in a lyric way, not with the nuance and ambiguity of poetry. Her infant battle with serious reflux and my own with the post-partum depression that accompanied her first year commanded the knife-edge clarity of prose. I carved my way through six months of near continual confusion and crying for us both in my essay, “Cry, Baby,” which was published in Literary Mama in 2010.

My body is a generative, heroic force and my children are the only delivered-whole ( and, yes, even holy)-to -the-blank-page works it has ever produced.

Sheila Squillante is the associate director of the MFA programs at Chatham University and assistant professor of English. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry and a full-length manuscript due out with Tiny Hardcore Press in 2014. Her poems and essays have appeared in places like the Rumpus, Brevity, Barrelhouse, Quarterly West, Thrush Poetry Journal and Literary Mama. She is an associate editor for PANK Magazine and serving this year as editor-in-chief of The Fourth River, Chatham’s literary journal for nature and place-based writing.

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