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Democracy Cookbook: Alba and The Old Woman

The Democracy Cookbook
The Democracy Cookbook


(Mary Dalton photo at right is by Paul Daly)


By Mary Dalton


Alba scoffed at the notion of ghosts,
thought them a trick ofMary Dalton — Paul Daly photo the neurons,
a drift of the light, or a dream.


But the old woman’s persistence
brought her up short —
that and the state of her:


ragged skirts, a gauze of grime
all about her: a clutch of fraying
papers in her thin mottled hands.


And her keening voice, a voice
that would wake the dead:
demos, cratos, demos, cratos


her chant was relentless,
a litany laden with
the torment and twisting of ages.


Alba felt the chill
rippling all down along her neck,
felt the shiver, the hairs rise.


What did the old crone want,
this tottering
bundle of old clothes


and lament, her
visits more frequent,
her cries growing louder?


Now she seemed to be morphing
into some sort of demented clown,
juggling letters of a wooden alphabet;


up she’d pop, just when
Alba’d settled into The Telegram,
or sat drowsing over the late-night news.


She was shifty, full of stratagems:
this week it was placards,
cobbled together out of old campaign posters,


tilted aloft in those scrawny old arms.
What is a library? read one,
edged with a chain of interlinked hands.


What is a school? read another;
Who knows best? Can you spell despot?
She had Alba moithered.


And now the ghost was bringing her cronies along;
Alba caught glimpses of
Armine Gosling, Cleisthenes, and Nellie McClung.


The Toms: Douglas and Paine,
Pankhurst and Parnell,
Mandela, Havel. What a din.


One stormy evening the wraith
waltzed with Ray Guy round her room — the pair
moaning and cackling like demons in agony.


Alba’s resigned now:
the old dame will have her say.
Next time she shows up


Alba’ll be ready to set off at her side —
with questions, wry hope;
with a sharp pen, a history book;


with counterpoints and suggestions;
with commitment and queries;
and her best protest shoes. 




About the Author

Mary Dalton (English, Memorial University of Newfoundland) is the author of five books of poetry; her most recent book is a prose collection, “Edge: Essays, Reviews, and Interviews” (Palimpsest Press, 2015). Newfoundland society and culture are one focus of Dalton’s writing. Her latest work, a chapbook entitled “Waste Ground,” has just been released by Running the Goat Books.



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