What is a haunting in popular imagination if not a ghost inhabiting a house, refusing to leave or to let go of its human presence there? Why? Something there remains unresolved, undone. By this logic, we know the house becomes the structure to contain the no-longer embodied, atemporal being of a person no longer living.
The ghost, as we know from countless popular texts, refuses to leave the house because it contains remnants of its past. Memories and resonances, we suppose. This resistance can manifest itself in any manner of disturbances, material and non-material. Freaky, notable shit happens, begging for a narrative account from the living.
What is the felt presence of an absent loved one, a significant other or child, if not a form of haunting in one’s singular house of skin and bones? Psychologists term this feeling of being haunted by another’s personality introjection, the unconscious adaptation of the ideas and attitudes of our parents or anyone else with whom we bond, respect and depend upon. This might feel both wonderful or terrible, depending on the moment, life phase, psyche and the temperament of the introjected other. That moment when the child must go away from the parent or caregiver, as we know from experience, often causes separation anxiety and an intense longing to reunite. While away, the child will carry the voice and emotional attitudes of the parent as a structure of their consciousness. An neural entanglement of impressions and memories. The presence of the parent soothes and keeps the child company. As young and even mature adults, our earliest caregivers still leave home with us and remain when we return to unlock our doors. What even is the voice and remembered home-life of an adult’s inner child without the voice and embodied presence of one’s inner parent or caregiver? It’s hard to say but worth attempting in a poem or lyric essay, as Hagood has done in this piece.
And what is a lyric essay if not an attempt, a trying one’s hand at finding answers from the gray matter, past and present? From the writer’s self-made observations and those made by other writers internalized during close readings?
In this recording excerpted from her book-length essay, originally appearing in Bear Review, Volume 5, Issue 2, you’ll hear Caroline Hagood (a proficient and dynamic poet, essayist and now novelist) reflect on motherhood as a form of haunting or monstrousness. From her source materials, she pulls the thread of “women writers trying to find themselves as mothers, again and again.” In these sources, Hagood finds a kinship with writers from the past, and these voices begin to haunt her self-reflexive prose, at home with the kind of introjection of idea and emotional state that circulates through the body and mind of a mother who situates herself in a literary history of motherhood. Her own mother haunts her psyche like a ghost in a gothic house on a hill. Or like a small bird who has slipped through a window in her psyche; she perches and flits about as a loving presence there, “but it hurts a bit”. You’ll also hear in Hagood’s exploration of motherhood how her sense of being haunted by others has been complicated by her always feeling alone, even while surrounded by people. The only time she hasn’t felt at least somewhat alone, she says, has been while pregnant, when she could do more than sense the introjection of a beloved other--she housed another body and being inside of her own.
Caroline Hagood is an Assistant Professor of Literature, Writing and Publishing and Director of Undergraduate Writing at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. She has published two books of poetry, Lunatic Speaks and Making Maxine’s Baby, one book-length essay, Ways of Looking at a Woman, and her novel, Ghosts of America, will be coming out October 15, 2021. Her writing has appeared in The Kenyon Review, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, Salon, and the Economist.