Review by RZ Wiggins
– Mothers are simple, complex, opaque, vivid, loving, distant, devoted, and neglectful, all in a lifetime. From its first pages, this slim volume overflows with the above and with a mother’s abundant love and commitment. Rosalie Calebrese’s chapbook Remembering Chris is a memorial to a lost son. But the collection also shows the many sides to mothering through a voice that is at once surprisingly pragmatic and refreshingly honest.
Aside from “Mixed Emotions” (3) which centers on mothering concerns (how many mothers haven’t felt these?), Remembering Chris’s poems ring with joy at both motherhood and grandmotherhood. Given the absence of any mention of siblings, it appears that Chris, the collection’s focus (a boy who loved his Lionel trains), is an only child.
The poems explore a mother who dutifully nurtures her son and teaches him what is needed. There is the heartfelt sting of sternly eradicating obscene words and gestures and the angst of removing the stowaway from the back seat to again deposit him at sleepover camp. These are a mother’s duties that must be done even though the heart is heavy.
I wanted more glimpses into this bond, more details of days spent together in the boy’s younger years, his falls and scrapes, more about his young mother. What were their rituals? Cozying together reading books in bed? Baking cookies on stormy days? Whispering to a favorite teddy bear in the dark?
Where the boy is absent, there is much of the mother: a divorced parent struggling to adjust to her new single status; a woman juggling work commitments and the coexistent guilt:
…I ran the shuttle
between career and motherhood.
So often, our line of communication
filled with static − almost disconnected;
I feared you’d lose your way. (16)
In addition, there is the struggle to hold onto some of herself, to be the woman who can go to Europe without her son while carrying a mother’s guilt.
The woman inside these poems finds it difficult to tell her granddaughter “what Jewish people believe in” (19) and instead defers to the Internet. Yet, Jewish heritage bleeds across the pages, particularly in one of Calabrese’s most poignant poems:
A Memo to My Son
You had no bris,
And you had no bar-mitzvah,
But make no mistake, my son:
You are the flesh of my flesh,
And the blood of my blood:
When all the scores are tallied,
You will still be a Jew. (8)
Time and again Calebrese reminds us that mothers must be many things: loving yet stern, strong yet fallible. They must bend to meet life as it arises before and after their children are born and especially after a child sadly passes on too soon. Without a doubt, the essence that shines through these poems is of the richness and devotion of a mother’s love despite all of life’s varying circumstances. They remind us that mothers never let go, not when they send you to summer camp, nor when career demands intrude, nor when you get married and move into your own home. Mothers swell up with joy and hold on forever— “I reach for your hand/and hold the memory” (24).
by Rosalie Calabrese
Poets Wear Prada, 2015), $12.00 [paper] ISBN 9780692303795
RZ Wiggins is a reformed lawyer who has been writing since she was a wee child. She is working on a collection of memoirs about 9/11 from outside NYC and WDC and on a novel about a summer in Africa. She is a researcher at the Yale School of Management.