Dawn Raffel

Yosemite and the Range of Light

Where the poster came from I don’t know. It’s a framed Ansel Adams print, an image you might find in any dorm room. Because we moved into our house the same week our son was born (our closing was delayed by a month and the baby came early), the household was haphazard. Boxes sat unopened, rooms went unpainted, and items of uncertain origin appeared on walls and shelves. The poster hung in the sitting room outside our bedroom where I used to nurse the baby in a second-hand chair in the middle of the night. I was unwilling to use the popular Ferber method, in which you let the baby cry for set increments of time until he learns to sleep through the night. Self-comfort was the concept. I couldn’t wait it out, couldn’t comfort myself while the baby was crying. And so I was up at two and four and six a.m. and off to work in the morning, bleary-eyed, hormonal, night and day. Sometimes I sat with the lights off but more often they were on, set dim, and I was looking at that picture, made impressionistic by myopia and extreme astigmatism. With every waking and would-be sleeping moment spoken for, and with my body, though no longer harboring a fetal secret sharer, not my own, that poster opened up a cold bright world of possibility. I sang in the night to my son in that chair. I dreamed while awake, began a novel in my head. That was a world--a universe, not just a room--of my own, where, as my son took what he needed from my body--his weight in my arms, his heat on my chest--I made all the rules.

Now I sleep through the night. The novel, committed to paper, then printed and bound, stitched up, became a fact, never again to have the potency it had when it resided in my head. It is finite now, its possibilities contained. My son is bigger than I am. But I can still feel in me that great range of light -- the call of the world, the child’s insistent suckle.

Dawn Raffel's second short story collection, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, was published in March by Dzanc Books. This piece is from a newly completed book titled The Secret Life of Objects.