Thistledown Press

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The Manãna Treehouse

Kish has a state-of-the-art bullshit detector. It’s finely tuned and has kept me on my toes over the years. I know that it has been activated when she cocks her left eyebrow and shifts into her Gallic shrug. What gives this detector extra clout is that it speaks pidgin French. It’s another inheritance, along with the voice and the Gallic shrug, from Grandmamma Constanze. After settling in Victoria, she made the transition from French to English with the aid of such expressions as c’est le gros boo-ul shee-it. She also Anglicized the word grand-mère into grandmamma, pronounced grandma-MAH, and wanted to be addressed in that way. I never met the woman but from photographs of her that I’ve seen and what Kish has told me about her, I know that she was a proud, somewhat aloof old dame and that when she said C’est le gros boo-ul shee-it it had the weight of a royal proclamation


Kish wants me to give her the name of one person I know who tries using their phone as a TV remote. As everybody knows, the rule of holes is that when you find yourself in a rapidly deepening chasm, you stop digging. And yet here I am, madly shovelling away, making the point that these contraptions on the table look much alike. They’re black, hand-held and have rows of buttons. Kish saves me from myself, coming up with another way of minimizing the lapse with her phone.


“What would be involved?” she asks. “I’d say it was no more than sixty seconds before I realized my mistake.”


Well, yes, as far as we know, the confusion over her phone was her only lapse of the day. So that would be sixty seconds over the course of the day that she was off kilter. The rest of the time, say for sixteen waking hours, she was functioning normally. It’s been that way for most of her lapses into dementia. They’re sad little glitches, bouts of Alzheimer’s Lite, a matter of seconds off the beam.


“We’ll call it the sixty second rule,” she says, tapping into the magic of the Mañana Treehouse. “If a spell of forgetfulness lasts sixty seconds or less, well then we don’t have to worry about it now do we? And where’s my notebook? I want to make a note of this.”


This is the disease of remembering by writing things down and then being unable to find the note you’ve made or being unable to read what you have written down. What we’re looking at is the effect that Alzheimer’s can have on handwriting. I’ve seen it once before on the website about Dr. Alzheimer’s pioneer work in the field with Frau Auguste Deter. The case file has samples of her handwriting, a trembling scribble with the lines slanting haphazardly. Kish’s handwriting, although not that muddled, has become more compressed and spidery. But I can read it easily enough and it seems to me that if she wasn’t so exasperated with herself, she could read it if I coax her into it, sounding out the first few words.

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Nothing You Can Carry



Every flower


that opens is a hosanna


a prayer heard


that only needs


be answered






prayer is not asking


not supplication


prayer is dwelling


in the rapture


common as weeds


swarming so close


upon us




beyond the fear of being




by wonder


you are carried


deep within


to the fuse


that made you


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Raft Baby

Excerpt #1


It was slow going, and messy too, but the baby was amazingly intent, watching him with ancient eyes. She sucked hard on the knot, indicating with a tiny whimper when she’d sucked it dry and it was time for him to reload.


“What in bloody blue blazes will I do with a scrap of humanity like you?”


The rising colour in the aspen leaves had confirmed his hunch that, this year, winter would be closing fast. He couldn’t travel far hampered by a baby.


The Dene? They had invited him close to their fires. Shared their caribou stew, and finally sent him on his way with a pouch full of achee and two pair of soft moccasins. Maybe the Dene?


Trapper John held the baby to this chest, the heft of her as light as the down of a duck. His roughened hands were gentle on her back. Pat, pat, pat. Pat, pat, pat.


His efforts had further exhausted him and the sun was still warm on his back. And although he’d been sure he would never, in his lifetime, fall asleep with a baby cradled in his arms, he slumped, his eyes became heavy, his breathing measured and slow. The baby felt it, and matched her breath to his.


Snuggling deeper into the wiry nest of grey that fronted his massive chest, the Raft Baby slept, her lips curved in a secret smile.


Excerpt #2


Dear Ones,


I am writing by the light of a snapping birch fire, and my long hair, of which I must admit, I was just a smidgen proud, now smells like old moccasins and looks much worse. The first thing to go is vanity, which may not be so bad.


This land is so beautiful and so incredibly vast. It’s hard to imagine it, back home, where all you can see is another house across the street and a little patch of the sky. It’s the stars I would stay for, dotting the huge black bowl of the universe. Silence so absolute you could hear the beat of an angel’s wing.

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P align=left>My father could pull a plough
you used to say P align=left> Like a giant he was, with a chest this broad—
your two arms spread wide, to show me
and I'd imagine this colossus of a man
working the field in the rain
cooing to his Gypsy Cob mare while the old ridging plough cut furrows
through the heavy soil P align=left>morphing from a sodden field in Blackwatertown, Co Armagh
collective memories encoded in bone and sinew,
passed down from him to you and to me,
to quark through my hands like premonitions,
and into the clay loam of this dry garden (all of us labouring,
while Rome falls seven times)

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