The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Still Life With Dirty Dishes by Ramona McCallum

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still live with dirty dishesReview by Linda McCauley Freeman

– It’s been far too long since I’ve picked up a poetry book that I couldn’t put down. But from the opening poem in Still Life with Dirty Dishes, I knew I would not only read the book straight through, but that I would return to it again and again.

What writer couldn’t identify with the following lines from the opening poem Underwood Typewriter, Old Mahogany Desk:

Our ideas tapped and tapped and tapped themselves—
vintage and vinous—across paper, halting only
at the roller’s edge then soaring down a line—

What human being couldn’t identify with:

I didn’t think I stood a chance with you
past those few words, but somehow
so many Februaries found us it takes
more than my fingers to count them.

And so we are drawn in to the book and to the life of Ramona McCallum. Still Life with Dirty Dishes is not only the title of a poem inside the book, but also its essence. Her poems are as skillfully painted as any still life, gorgeously drawn moments that reverberate off the page. In a sense, you could read the title of the book as Still, Life, with all its messes as in the title poem, “…these dirty dishes/ are the picture of time I didn’t spend/ washing them, time spent instead/this afternoon on the couch, arms full/of napping daughters.”

McCallum’s gift is the way she turns an unflinching eye on her own life, and allows us in. We not only witness but recognize the tender beginnings of love and motherhood, and the joys and pains that inevitably follow.
What mother wouldn’t identify with the poignant Disguise:

Child, where have you gone?

You walk through our house and out
the door with unfamiliar gait, trying
I guess, to be a man but
you have no clue
what this involves.

It may as well be a game, a dress-up cape
you tie too tight around your neck.
You ignore all instruction, you disregard
rules, and you’ve left behind piles of lies
for me to straighten out.

This does not fit you son. This costume
is a thread-bare beach towel dragging
on the floor; ready to trip you. You may feel
like a hero, you might pretend you can fly
but I am ill with the knowledge

of how hard you will fall.

Or, when she meets the girlfriend of one of her sons in The Introduction she writes, “I want to ask her to introduce me/to this boyfriend of hers, I want to convince/her to sit for an hour and tell me/what he’s like, what he says.”

McCallum is putting an important and authentic voice out into the world –and doing it with grace, beauty and style. This book feels as if it is written by a close friend, by someone who understands.

Still Life with Dirty Dishes by Ramona McCallum
Woodley Press, Topeka, Kansas
Paperback: $12

Linda McCauley Freeman has an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She was the poet-in-residence for the Putnam County Arts Council for five years overlapping with an eleven-year corporate career as Executive Director of Global Communications for an international firm. She is a freelance writer and a columnist for Living & Being Magazine. A three-time winner of the Talespinners Short Story contest, she finally was asked to be a judge alongside Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda and children’s book author Da Chen. Her works have been published in numerous literary journals including the MOM EGG. She is working on a novel. Since 2004, she and her husband, Chester, have been full-time swing dance instructors in the Hudson Valley, NY


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