“First Song” (titled after the Galway Kinnell poem) is a much-revised version of one of the first stories I ever wrote.
I was twenty-four and pregnant and had just quit the doctoral program in English at Princeton. My husband’s consulting job was taking him west, and we’d decided to move to Arizona to be closer to family. Friends and teachers were stunned I was leaving the program—You’re giving up your fellowship?! But secretly I was relieved. What I’d told no one, not even my husband: I didn’t want to write about literature. I wanted to write literature.
In Arizona, in an actual house (not a dorm or apartment), I had no job, no friends. I was home alone, just waiting to have this baby. I kept myself busy by writing. “First Song” was an exercise in “what if”: What if I’d stayed at Princeton? What if the baby came early? What if I had to have a C-section? What if the baby wouldn’t nurse? What if my husband and I didn’t agree on things like bottles and pacifiers? None of that came to pass, but the story, I now see, was a way of working through those fears.