Phantom Limb

Theresa Kishkan is a warm, thoughtful woman who writes beautifully. Phantom Limb is a collection of essays that weave together various topics into wide-ranging and gently reflective meditations on life. She writes of her family life now and of her own life growing up: small details knit together with larger thoughts on the world we live in.

Phantom Limb coverI love Laundry: it’s bittersweet in its depiction of child/parent relationships seen through the importance of attitudes to laundry. The One Currach Returning Alone puts you there, on the wild, lonely coast off Connemara. You can feel the cold of the draughty cottage in the November winds and the pleasure of tea before the peat fire. You wonder what became of the fisherman who had a brief love affair with a young dark-haired Canadian poet who stayed for a season and left.

In An Autobiography of Stars, Kishkan combines ideas on stars and quilting and the lives of her children:

I am making a quilt of stars for my daughter. She is sixteen and has asked for a bed cover to replace the pink and green cats and hearts of her childhood. What colours now, I asked, and she suggested blues and purples. The bolts of cloth were almost too beautiful to choose from but there was an indigo like the night sky, there was a marbled cotton in deep blue and purple, and a soft silvery periwinkle like the starry flowers on the ground beneath our arbutus tree.


When I was a child, I dreamed of beauty. What did it mean? I never knew exactly but was speechless with it sometimes, coming in from the fields with tears in my eyes, filled with something I had no words for.

Autumn Coho in Haskins Creek ends this way:

Midwinter is the season of miracles—children returning from distant enterprises; the chilly notes of old carols in the air; ancient stories of birth and death; two dark red fish sidling together in a riffle overhung with ferns, fish who have come such a vast distance through rain and under stars to find this unlikely water; a few loose eggs in the gravel glistening like a rare and costly gift.

These images are lovely and lyrical and I want to read and re-read them.

I respond just as strongly to her writing about the mundane aspects of life, especially those that affect women who grew up in the middle of the last century. As I read her work, I feel a kinship with her. I keep having those moments when I want to say to her, “Yes! I’ve felt that, too—and never heard it expressed so well before.”

Phantom Limb gives you emotion and poetic fancy and bodily functions; the magic of bird migration and salmon spawning, together with research into the why of things; Kishkan’s lonely adolescence and her fulfillment in her life now: they make up a mosaic that reflects the proportions of our world. They put me in mind of the multiple tiny surfaces inside the millefiore paperweight that anchors a story on family and the memories and sorrows passed down to later generations.


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