Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saturday Musings, 01 May 2010

Good morning,

Relentlessly happy baby birds summoned me from a fitful sleep two hours ago. I lay, briefly, listening to the yowl of the cat, with his uncannily accurate instinct for when I might be stumbling down the stairs to shake Good Life Natural Recipe into the blue plastic dish that he favors. The dog snuffled at the upstairs door, occasionally uttering a small bark of inquiry. And those birds, in the gutter, under the eaves on the northeast corner of the house, earnestly heralded the triumphant first rays of the sun.

Rise and shine! Rise and shine! *

I am bothered that I cannot recall what station played the marches to which we awakened as children. I find myself drilling through the imperfect encyclopedic knowledge of Wikipedia, trying to determine. Was it KMOX? Blasting from the white BakeLite radio on top of the old rounded refrigerator, drawing the eight Corley children from the fog of sleep. Da da ta da da! Da da ta da da! Da da da ta da ta da! da da ta da da da ta! My mother, marching around the kitchen, waiving the oatmeal spoon, ruffling my hair, drawing a boy towards her to dance. I would twirl, long braids spinning around my shoulders, then snatch the cornflakes box and trot into the breakfast room, as my older brothers grumbled around me.

Rise and shine! Rise and shine!

I wore those braids until I was in high school where I finally abandoned them, shamed into modernization by the sharp words of a snotty girl with straight blond bangs. High school provided many opportunities for shame and sorrow, but also one or two moments of glory. I have a small round scar at the front of my calf, the contours of which I can feel when I run my finger very slowly down that leg. I remember that injury. I played Helen Keller during my freshman year at Corpus Christi High School. During the climactic scene in which her teacher, Annie Sullivan, exhorts her to Reach! Reach!, the senior playing the Miracle Worker pulled my arm forward, thrusting my body to a kneeling position. At the end of her monologue, she pulls Helen onto her feet, and at that moment, I heard my brother Frank cry -- Look! She's bleeding! A nail protruding from a board on the old stage had embedded itself into my leg, and tore at me as we played out the staging. I had not felt it. Rise and shine! Rise and shine!

On Thursday, I followed a woman into the elevator at my office building whose long, silver braids formed a crown around her head. She had struggled to drag a rolling back-pack up the short flight of stairs in our building's foyer. I know she works on the fifth floor, and I understood why she disdained the longer route of the wheelchair ramp entrance. I tried to remain patient while she adjusted a few wisps with a slender black hair pin before pressing the button to send us to our respective destinations. I shouldn't bother putting my hair up, she confided. I told her that it looked nice. I mentioned that I had worn the same style as a young girl, and that I wished I had kept my hair long. She reciprocated by complimenting my short curls, expressing the sweet, insincere hope that her own hair will look as good when she finally cuts it. I exited before she did, and we wished each other a good day. The doors closed and she continued upward. Rise and shine; rise and shine.

I spent yesterday doing bookkeeping and housework, a hearing in a distant county having been unexpectedly canceled. My shoulders still ache from hours over the imperfectly situated keyboard. As the storm overtook Kansas City, the dog inched closer to my feet, paws over her nose, one eye closed, one eye cast upward to my face. The room darkened, the power flickered, and she let out a short yelp and a little whine. Sheets of rain washed down the side of my house, overwhelming the downspout, washing the cedar shake shingles, flooding the worn trench on the side of the house where the dogs have paced, back and forth, since we first moved here in 1993. When the rain finally cleared in late afternoon, I booted the dog outside without much thought, tossed some food into her dish, and admonished her to behave. The cat followed her out and jumped onto the railing of the back porch, shaking the scruffy fur of his tattered ears and scaring a flock of starlings that had come to roost in the tender grass. They soared past the power lines, over the cedar tree, into the clearing sky. Rise and shine. Rise and shine.

At the art fair last evening, I followed my companion through narrow openings in the crowd circulating through the main tent. I caught a glimpse of a tow-headed boy darting ahead of me, and for a moment, I thought it was my son. Wait! I nearly cried, but stopped myself. Of course that can't be Patrick, I told myself, then glanced around me, wondering if I had spoken aloud. As I did so, I saw a tall man lift his child onto his shoulders, and I caught, for a breathtaking instant, the bright beam of the toddler's jubilant grin. His father pushed him higher, towards the strand of lights, oblivious to the crowd scurrying around him. Rise and shine. . .

In a weaver's booth, I stroked the silken strands of a shawl, the shimmering colors falling through my extended fingers. The artist leaned against a temporary wall, beside her stool, and spared me a gentle smile. My sister is a weaver, I told her, as though that excused my clumsy mauling of her work. I moved past her, back into the stream of passing strangers. Further down the makeshift lane, I found a display of wooden bowls, curves drawn with a delicate tool, smoothed with simple, subtle strokes. A woman lifted the largest of these over her head, and in the gap between her arms, I saw the face of the craftsman, watching her from behind a slight wince and a tiny frown. Our eyes met. His long stare dared me to betray him. I broke my gaze and hurried by.

At the end of the row, outside the tent, a cluster of men had been abandoned by their wives. They held tall paper cups branded with the emblem of a local roasting company. Their eyes darted back and forth, their hands twitched, as they drank lukewarm coffee and grumbled that they couldn't find the beer tent. I stopped to tell them that I had seen it at the other end of the row of display booths. Thanks, hon, one of them told me, in an unexpectedly knowing, lecherous tone. I moved away, startled, infected by their nervous, needy energy. Surrounded by the heavy, lumbering smell of popcorn, I closed my eyes and gave myself to the cool of the evening. Standing on my patch of cement, in the unnatural glow of the tall carnival lighting, I felt my body sway. Other nights, other lights -- the Midway in Sedalia, 1991, a few weeks before the early arrival of my child -- my niece and nephew clamoring for another ride on the Ferris wheel. Pennway Park, six years later, three little boys high over Kansas City in a bucket truck. Rise and shine, rise and shine.

I open my eyes now, and I am in my breakfast nook. The shimmering sound of the CPU reminds me that it is 2010, and a strong fragrance wafting from the kitchen suggests that I have let the steel-cut oatmeal boil too long. I cannot hear the early birds; they have dispersed, and the sun shines strong against my back porch. I pour another cup of coffee, and think about my day, and then I call out, Rise and shine, rise and shine! but only in my head, and after a moment, I hear my son's laughing, dutiful response: Mother, I will rise, but I will not shine!*

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

*Tennessee Williams, "The Glass Menagerie"

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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.