Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Musings, 24 April 2010

Good morning,

Saturday is but an hour old. The sentient beings in my dwelling all sleep, save me; and my wakefulness is like that of the Star Babies -- stemming from too much excitement, the wrong kind of food, or just natural stubbornness, on account of which they struggle against the drooping eye and the heavy head.

I wrap myself in the hand-woven shawl carefully and tenderly created by an old weaver in Newton County, more than two decades ago. I pull it close against my skin and think about her rough hands working the loom, swiftly laying the yarn -- the greens, the blues, the creams. I watched her creating the pattern -- warp and weft, in, out, over, under.

Music still resonates within me from the concert we attended tonight at the VALA Gallery, as though the singer has sought harbor in my living room, just beyond the easy reach of my remaining hearing. In my mind, I see an image of her thin frame resting on the brown wooden stool where I myself have perched, the window onto Johnson Drive behind her. She bent her head as she sang, and shut her eyes, and sent her voice gently into the room. You've ruined me for anyone else, she told a lover, in tones both urgent and passionate. It's too late for me; save yourself. I pressed a white rose against my face, breathed in its fragrance, and watched the other listeners, smiling, perhaps to myself, perhaps for the one who had extended her hand to me in peace as I came into the room.

I remember other rooms, other nights -- other stools on which other performers sat and serenaded me. I travel, in space, in time, in geography, and find myself in St. Louis, on a spring night like this one, with a Canadian expatriate behind whom is an expanse of glass beyond which cars travel on Euclid Avenue in the Central West End of St. Louis. He bends his own head, and croons to his own lost loves, while in the back room, dart players long past the legal limit toss tiny weapons at the circle on the wall and holler at each other. Beer sloshes out of their mugs, and the collective eyes of their girlfriends roll, while I sit, distant, detached, not long for the city and in some ways, already gone.

I blink, and between the inhale and the exhale, I find myself on Westport Road, outside of yet another bar at closing time, in the Kansas City of the 1980s, when we could not get enough of whatever they were selling. Summer nights offered only the unrelenting stretch of heat, and the rising noise of the unfulfilled, lingering on the sidewalks, jingling their keys, scanning the throngs for the shortest skirt, the skimpiest blouse, the tightest blue jeans. Street musicians provide a frenzied soundtrack for the crowd's desperate ritual. My back to the wall, I watch the watchers, and avoid their eyes. I am not interested. I am beyond their reach.

I turn, just for an instant, and find myself on a rough wooden bench outside of Joe and Cecille's place in the valley beyond the town of Jasper, Arkansas. Another guitar, another singer, and the long, lean stretch of my confident body in which there is just the tiniest spark of life. I ease myself back against the picnic table and close eyes, though they lie behind my Hollywood lenses. The heavy swathe of my uncut hair falls well past the middle of my back and plays against the thin cloth of my shirt. I do not know failure. I carry this child, and I carry myself; and the determined wind of autumn in the mountains cannot chill me. The song surrounds but does not claim me.

The wind shifts, and I am in my kitchen, in Brookside, fifteen years later. A rising whisper of music draws me to the door at the foot of the stairs. I tilt my head, uncomprehending. I feel the smoothness of the glass knob in my hand as I draw the door open, slowly, silently, trying not to reveal my presence. I stifle a gasp as I realize that the music comes from a guitar that has been gathering dust, an instrument that I have despaired of ever hearing my son play. I lean against the door frame, suddenly overcome. I hear his voice rise to meet the notes he plays -- faltering at first, then gaining strength, and I realize that I have stopped breathing. I know this song, I think. This is Lynyrd Skynyrd. This is something real.

Once more, I close my eyes; and when I open them, I find myself in a folding chair in the back of a classroom. A small clutch of students grasp their instruments, eyes on their teacher. My son raises a violin to his chin -- a violin, no less, which I did not even know he could play. He waits -- intent, hovering, waiting for his cue. As he draws his bow across the strings, my heart stops. This cannot be, I tell myself.

They are playing The New World Symphony, which provided the inspiration for the spiritual sung at my mother's funeral. The haunting melody that she loved, performed twenty-four years after her death, by the grandson she never met. Goin' home, goin' home, I'm a goin' home; Quiet-like, some still day, I'm jes' goin' home. Between the strains of the student orchestra's rendition of Dvorak's composition, I hear my cousin's voice, a Capella, as the pallbearers lift my mother's casket and process out of the church. When I can breathe again, the music has ended, and I go berserk with applause, oblivious to my son's embarrassment.

Dawn hovers to the east. Somewhere morning has already come, and the birds have already coaxed sleepy soldiers from their berths. Somewhere, a mother croons to the infant suckling at her breast, hoping for another hour of peace, in which she herself can lean back against the headboard, close her eyes, and let the soft sounds of her baby's breathing lull her back to sleep.

In the still of what remains of this night, outside my bedroom window, my drunken neighbors laugh with careless disregard for the time. Strains of music from their CD player barely reach into my room, obscured by the fan of an air purifier.

I have my own music, vibrant, strong, at times soothing. A rising, wild and raucous blend of all the singers, all the guitar players, all the mournful saxophones on all the stoops in all the cities where I have lived. I do not need a stereo. I need only close my eyes, and listen to every song that I have ever heard, in every pub, beside every campfire, in every dingy living room, over every phone line, down every open stairwell.

In these quiet hours, when the pill I have taken to dull the pain does not, and I am plagued by wakefulness, I let the melodies rise within me. I am never alone. I am never desolate. The music never fails me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.