About the Author

Jill MacLean

Shortly after the publication of her 2003 poetry collection, The Brevity of Red (2003), Jill MacLean‘s nine-year-old grandson Stuart asked her to write him a book with hockey and Skidoos in it. The result was The Nine Lives of Travis Keating (2008) which won the 2009 Ann Connor Brimer Award, was shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children, 2010 Hackmatack, Silver Birch and Diamond Willow Awards, and was a KIND Children’s Honorable Mention Book for the Humane Society of the United States. Its 2009 sequel, The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy, won the 2010 Ann Connor Brimer Award. Both books are set in Newfoundland, where Jill’s family lived for eighteen years.Jill now makes her home in Nova Scotia, which is the setting for her third novel. Always an avid reader, she is delighted to rediscover the world of children’s literature. In her free time she gardens, canoes and hikes.

Books by this Author
Brevity of Red, The
Excerpt

A Stranger in the House

I wish I’d written poems when my daughter was young. Making wine from dandelions, I might have glimpsed how heroism can be quiet, like a child’s breathing. I have no pencilled scraps, confetti of an ordinary life. In an old photograph, she stands beside a little girl, this woman with my name; I invent dialogue, embroider the minutes cushioning that split second. The woman stares at the one who transfixed her. She dreams of rescue, polishes the furniture so no fingerprints remain. She loves her daughter in- articulately, fears a baby might be as easily dismembered as a doll: anoints with lotion, offers oats and milk, knits scarves that curl inward tense with prayer. She picks wild lupins, bringing aphids into the house; month after month, watches ravens enter the openwork of boughs. On the wall, inked lines show how her daughter grows.

Beloved Grotesque

Your gills seal shut. You’re pushed beyond fish, and — once my waters break — into the air. The tidal pool, dependable the whole summer that you’re two — you’re half in water, half in air — that great salt lake, the prolonged sighing past the range of sand. Sea trout slippery in your father’s net, do you see only silver backflips and not the desperation? Do you remember capelin funnelling to the estuary, so many they’re flung upon the shore?

Straps over your swimmer’s shoulders held the weight of your breasts. You were driving — highway shimmering in the heat — until your eyes swam with sleep.

Do we bury the young as though the earth were water, wait for them to come up for air? After your tumbleturns, you surged from the end walls of the pool, palms to thighs and toes pointed, bubbles tasselling through turquoise.

Twenty years have passed. I go on the assumption that bones are what’s left: fossae and foramina, your once- supple spine. The rest of you propels hydrogen through the mitochondria of root hairs, sends out small flares from the yellow rafts of dandelions. My loafers lapped by the grass beside your grave, I breathe in the pleasures of blue sky: you’re still anchored, you can’t entirely float away.

The Day after Father’s Day

It’s water under the bridge…rough trestles over field runoff, a magnet for the rusty splinters of swallows. Estranged implies I treated you as a stranger. No. I was too adamant. We were raccoons, masked, clawed and ingenious. Now that you’re dead, other old men shuffle down the street, their eyes afloat under distorting lenses. Why didn’t I snap the precisions of your slide rule, yellowed like the nicotine on your fingers? I wanted you cruising Mykonos, planting swirls of Orange Wonder tulips. We were matching portraits on parallel walls. Once, you came to stay with me, tripped over a cord. The lamp crashed to the floor. That’s not a good beginning, you said. In the nursing home, you swept the air with your stick. Why can’t I go to Florida? A snapshot from your mediocre boarding school: your mouth clamped, desk gouged. Years later, I knitted you diamond socks in your school colours — sky-blue, red and purple — and you wore them. You apprenticed as an aeronautical engineer. Young and able-bodied, you took the train to and from work for the six years of the war. You were sole provider for a family of four; held animated conversations with yourself. You sent your two daughters to university: girls should have something to fall back on. When I came to tell you my sister, your daughter had died, you said I feel lonely. The only words from the heart you ever spoke to me and I left, left quickly, left you alone. Grief is a burden; regret goes backward through weeping toward speech. You retched as you eviscerated our wartime, fondly named hens. Near the end, I fed you creamed chicken. I love you, I said, from across the private room, the words flavorless yet firm. You replied in kind. It was a formality. Swallows drink on the wing from water the colour of their nests.

Many Years after Your Death For Ann, my sister, whose name means grace

Don’t the scars on our bodies matter? Between the lines in my palm a punctuation mark neither turquoise nor mauve, too blurred to end a sentence: when I am five and you eleven, you stab me with a pencil, consider me a worthy enemy. Later, you wrestle with no one but yourself, conceal your dislocations, fold your voluptuous feathers. Your shoulder blades, at the last, are sharp as harrows in thin, yellow soil: you grow in your own way toward your name, listening for the blue trumpets of morning glories, honeysuckle’s pale trombones. You were my vanguard and my elder, whole chapters of my story vanished with you. Among the blemished leaves, fragrance of pears, soft bedlam of the doves.

Coda

Years after my sister’s death, her daughter and I travel to a funeral. We’re wearing black, my jacket fuchsia, hers burnt orange. Afterward, we drive north to the beach. It’s a day for children: blue sky, green fields, flocks of dandelions. Great blue herons in a cove, their antiquated patience, the throat of one tumoured with a living fish: it’s a day for the dying. Grey wings scattering light’s silver scales. Winter rye in rows of undotted i’s. The black paws of a red fox. She asks about her mother’s illness. I tell her what I remember. Then I tell her about the portrait I saw years ago at my uncle’s house in Surrey: head of a Japanese man surrounded by red and purple anemones. And how, recently, I saw the painting again. Around the man’s head are seedpods of lotus, sienna and mud-brown, oriental characters elusive as salamanders: it’s a day for memory, for chameleon and shaman. We take off our shoes, shed our jackets, spread our arms like the wings of cormorants. It’s a day for my niece and me. Orange and pink banners. The white breakage of ocean.

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Home Truths

Home Truths

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The Nine Lives of Travis Keating

The Nine Lives of Travis Keating

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tagged : bullying
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The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy

The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy

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