Cade Calf Call

from by Mumblin Deaf Ro

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The cover of Dictionary Crimes is a painting by Polish painter Josef Chelmonski called ‘Partridges’. I saw this painting at the exhibition in the National Gallery in January 2008 called paintings from Poland: Symbolism to Modern Art (1880-1939).

Here is an extract from the brochure for the exhibition:

"In Polish paintings of the second half of the nineteenth century, vast areas of winter landscape often prompted particular symbolic connotations, referring to the “inhuman land” of Siberia where the white snow and dead silence reigned supreme, suppressing all human hopes and desires. . . The untrodden wilderness is permeated by the ruthless cold of the snow cover, which gradually absorbs all forms of life. This is the likely fate of the helpless flock of birds, in this context turning into a universal symbol of parentless, lonely existence."

It was about a month after my mother died and that description of a ‘parentless, lonely existence’ stunned me. It was like when you are a kid and you strike the ground hard with a stick and your arm goes dead. I went through the whole exhibition in that state, looking at paintings through the lens of dumb grief.

Over the next few days I wrote the first song for what was to become Dictionary Crimes - a song called Cade Calf Call.

The first verse describes my viewing of ‘Partridges’. The second verse describes a self-portrait I saw at the same exhibition of a vulnerable yet determined-looking painter (probably a self portrait of Jacek Malczewski although, contrary to the line in Cade Calf Call, he was actually trained).

The last verse of the song is about a painting of a requiem altar. This actually refers to my Mother’s funeral, rather than the exhibition. As my brother is an Augustinian priest, my mother is also considered by that order to be an Augustinian. At her funeral about thirty Augustinians came up the aisle chanting in that sublime way that religious orders do, before taking their place in the choir seats, dressed in simple white albs.

At the exhibition I started to realise that I wouldn’t be able to ever speak to my mother again; that my grief wouldn’t reach her. That gave me the idea of the unheard call made by a cade calf, which is a calf that has been abandoned by its mother.

I had never heard the word ‘cade’ before – indeed my spell checker hasn’t heard of it either as it is underlining it in squiggly red. I was playing scrabble online. The game lets you check if a word is acceptable before you play it. I kept trying different combinations until it accepted ‘cade’, which gave me a triple word score in the bottom left-hand corner. I looked the word up afterwards.

I got the permission of the National Museum in Warsaw to use the Chelmonski painting for the cover. I’d like to thank them for that, even though I had to pay them €140 for the privilege.


In a gallery run by the State
For exhibiting paint
There’s a picture of a partridge
In off-white near the arctic

And so capturing the unease
That comes with filial grief
And all its heavy boredom
So restless and awkward

Feeling the kiss of the mother I miss
A love that’s now in exile

Sad and swallowing a cade calf call
Sorry and small
Strange but alright now

A painter young and untrained
So the panel explains
And sure enough the portrait
Stares like a lay saint

But something happened this boy
That he can make angels from oil
Yet clearly feel as I did
So lost and unguided

But you can’t advise a passionate mind
A fire lights its own way

Sad and swallowing a cade calf call
Sorry and small
Strange but alright now

From the weird little seats they provide
I make a plan to survive
Relying on horse sense
To tell what’s important

While looking into a choir
Painted in twelve feet by nine
A requiem altar
So serene and awesome

Human voices in rows and rows
Commend a new and bare soul

Sad and swallowing a cade calf call
Sorry and small
Strange but alright now


from Dictionary Crimes, released September 14, 2012



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Mumblin Deaf Ro Dublin, Ireland

Mumblin’ Deaf Ro is a Dublin-based songwriter who has released three albums to date. Ro's third album 'Dictionary Crimes' was released by Popical Island in September 2012. The album decsribes what it is like to be part of a family. It was selected as Irish album of the year by Nialler9 and the Irish Independent and was nominated for the Choice Music prize for album of the year. ... more

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