Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Musings, 29 March 2014

Good morning,

I tripped downstairs today to the smell of freshly ground coffee, the last sentient being awake in my household.  I sat in the comfortable chair beside my husband's place at the couch, and smiled as he rose to go into the kitchen to pour a cup of brew for me.  I glanced outside, gauging the type of day it might be; pure, clear and sweet.

Like mountain air.

The first time I set foot on Reynolds Mountain, my companion convinced me that I needed to beware of flying snakes.  I put my hand up to my head and pulled the kerchief tighter around my French braid.  "Flying snakes?" He laughed.  "Yes," he cautioned.  "They dart from branch to branch.  They're native to Arkansas and prevalent here in Newton County."  A shudder ran through me.

The thick veil of dark green rose above us as we trudged up the path towards the site where we would pitch our tent.  He carried our packs; I held a walking stick and a water bottle, my purse having been locked in the back of the vehicle. I walked behind him, watching where he put his feet, trying to match his stride.  We'd been dating for a couple of months, and I had agreed to camp.  I, a city girl, whose prior experiences with camping were minimal and years ago.  I shrugged, ducked under a branch, and soldiered on.

The platform on which we would sleep faced nothing in particular but nonetheless seemed surrounded by beauty.  The tall trees, both deciduous and evergreen, canopied the clearing.  Chester set his burden on the worn pine boards.  "Don't leave the packs open, or on the bare ground," he cautioned.  It occurred to me that he might be exaggerating the dangers until he mentioned spiders and I felt another lurch in my stomach.  He went back to the car to get our cooler, and I sat down on the edge of the platform, facing a little dip in the ridge, contemplating what manner of love might drag an urbanite like myself into the Arkansas wilds.

I heard a rustling, all of a sudden, low at first and then louder.  Pulling my feet back, wrapping my arms around myself, I stared in the direction of the noise.  The wind picked up a bit, in the cool of forest.  Something slithered past me, low to the ground, only the stirring of the undergrowth signalling its path.  I stood, panic rising, wanting to call out but afraid to alarm whatever hovered beyond the small clearing in the dense woods.

The noise ceased but I did not relax.  I watched the brush, waiting.  I don't know what I expected; a bear, perhaps, or a fox.  I saw a low branch on a shrub bend down and braced myself.  Two small eyes peered at me, surrounded by fur.  We held each other's gaze, the little creature and I; it fearful to come out, me fearful to see the rest of it.

Just then, Chester set the cooler down behind me, with a loud thump.  The creature broke its stare and vanished and I breathed, loud, jagged.  I turned around to find my boyfriend looking at me with puzzlement.  "Something wrong?" He asked as though I were not so far out of my element that I didn't even know what might be wrong, couldn't even articulate the threats I feared.  I just shook my head.

We pulled out the small tent and got it staked.  He built a fire, and I unpacked the sandwiches that I had made, hours ago, in my apartment in Kansas City.  By the time we finished our cold supper, the sun had slipped so low that our campsite seemed shrouded in darkness.  We lay in our sleeping bags, side by side, talking quietly until I felt drowsy and let fatigue overcome me.

I awakened before he did, and stood by the tent in the chilly morning air.  The sun still sat low enough in the eastern horizon that our clearing wore a twilight veil.  I took a long cool draw of air into my lungs and raised my face to feel the breeze.  I held my arms up to the sky, stretching my muscles, lifting my hands as far as my reach could take them, greeting the rising sun.

That camping trip was twenty-eight years ago.  Here in the city, in 2014, no critters lurk in the bushes except the neighborhood cats.  But I stand on my porch, the porch that Chester built, and breathe the coolness of each morning.  I often find myself transported back, to that Arkansas summer, to a time when I believed  that flying snakes existed, and an afternoon when a little animal stood in the safety of a gnarled bush, wondering if it needed to fear me, while I studied its deep brown eyes.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Brookside, 29 March 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Musings, 22 March 2014

Good morning,

A mild air greeted me on the front porch this morning.  I stood, pajama-clad, for several moments and breathed the crisp fragrance of new leaves and damp earth.  The work week had ground to a rocky close yesterday with a client crying in my office.  My words to her gravitated between stern and gentle; I understand her grief at having lost custody but I also appreciate the judge's point of view.

 The woman holds bitterness towards her child's father as he does to her.  The trial in part came down to which of them had the better acting skills.  The father hid his hostility but hers came through as self-righteous indignation. It's anybody's guess as to whether either parent deserves the other's load of blame.  I walked out with her, at five o'clock, and watched her car pull away from the curb as I dialed my husband's number and listened to the telephone ring at the other end.  Maybe it's time for a new career, I thought, a rueful smile slipping to my face.  And then I entered traffic, signalling for the turn to home.

Earlier on Friday, a state worker advised me by e-mail that an appointed client could not get her state-funded tubal ligation due to being pregnant.  "With twins," she added to the sentence, in all caps, underscored.  This will be babies four and five for my twenty-one-year old client.  Her parents, retired folks in their late-sixties, have already adopted children one and two; and also foster child three, who is not yet seven months old.  Now the Children's Division has accelerated its search for Section 8 housing for my client, so that she can at least get off the streets before she suddenly has to raise twins by herself.  I stared at the words on my computer screen.  Pregnant, with twins.  Twins. 

This young lady has an IQ of 68 and once appeared for court in Elmo pajamas with matching slippers.  She thought she looked cute.  She did, in fact; but I could not let her sit in even the dingy courtrooms of Family Court attired like a simpering teenager at a pajama party while I tried to stop the onslaught of the system's inevitable separation of the mother from the unsuspecting children.  At that time, she had only the first two, the oldest being a little girl then two years old, who clutched her grandmother's pant leg and stared at me while her mother cooed at her baby brother as one might a Cabbage Patch doll.

All the stable women longing to bring babies into their barren marriages, and my client pops infants out like sunflower seeds spat upon the sidewalk.

I think about pregnancy as I stand on our porch, cradling the newspapers in the crook of my arm.  I recently completed yet another pile of new-patient information forms for yet another new specialist.  In the "for women" section, I had acknowledged four pregnancies and one live birth.  This is accurate.  I had my first miscarriage in 1978; two more in the late 1980's; and finally had my son in 1991, two months shy of my 36th birthday.  I glance across the driveway at my neighbor's home, where a six-month old baby sleeps.  That child came after several years of trying, thousands of dollars tendered to fertility experts, and a couple of months spent by the mother-to-be resting in the hospital before the little thing eased into the world two months prematurely.  The mother is a civil litigator and a damn fine one; the father is  contractor, whose skills allow him to flip four houses a year to tidy profit.  They are financially comfortable; and lacked only a child to complete the pretty picture.

All the established couples yearning to be parents, while young girls stuck living in poverty seem to have no problem getting pregnant.

I closed my eyes and let the breeze pass across my face, listening to the tinkling of my wind chime.  The neighborhood had not yet awakened.  My gaze wandered over the bungalows up and down our street, houses in which middle-class children had been raised by middle-class parents, who sent their boys and girls to private schools or walked them to the neighborhood public school which has since gone charter.  Our children have grown, now, and some have babies of their own.  My neighbors might well sell their house and find a younger block on which to raise their daughter, with room for a swing set and an extra bedroom in case they decide to adopt.

I wonder, briefly, if they have any interest in twins.  With a last glance at their sleeping house, I turn, go inside, and start the coffee.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Musings, 15 March 2014

Good morning,

I wake this morning to the confusing sight of piles of clothing carefully deposited around the bedroom.  I shake my  head a bit, gingerly, lest the morning dizzy spells I've had for months overwhelm me.  I sit a moment, remembering that my husband is in Dallas at his guys' weekend and I spent last evening clearing out his closet to get to the small door which leads to our attic.  In the attic, I hope to find boxes of pictures, some books that I think I will re-read, and a small metal file filled with my early writing.  So no burglary halted in progress at the sound of my stirring; just the result of two hours of carefully lifting his pressed shirts and wool suits from their rods and draping them, with equal care, about the bedroom.  I rise and stumble, light-headed and woozy, down the stairs in search of coffee.

The little dog sits at attention in the kitchen, waiting to be released outside.  Strange, I mutter, maybe outloud.  I thought I heard Patrick come home 'round midnight.  But no keys; no wallet; no abandoned glasses on the dining room table.  I realize that I am alone, other than the brown mutt with her head now tilted to one side, pleading to be released.  When I have obliged her and reheated the Starbucks Americano that I couldn't finish yesterday, I slip into the chair where my husband usually sits, and let my mind wander.

But memories elude me.  The usual flood of sensation, the thoughts of places I've been and days I've lived lies quiet.  I stand before the passive water and let my hand skim the surface.  I hesitate to stir the pool.  I know what lies beneath.  Along with shiny crystals in the murky bed, ancient creatures hover.  They long to nibble my fingers, lure me under, and pull me into their embrace.  I loathe to wake them.

Some things don't bear replaying.  A tender bygone moment might rise to unfold in its sweetness but for every such delightful story, a half-dozen terrifying hours clamor to be told.  I've recounted what I tell as plainly and truthfully as my human mind recalls it, but spliced together with the most painful scenes left on the cutting room floor.

I've ordered my life with care.  The cracks in its facade have been plastered and painted to match the unbroken contours.  As long as no one pries with too keen a trowel, I know the surface will hold.  I strain to balance the walls on a shakey foundation, never knowing when a spring tornado or the distant rumbling of a fault line might bring the whole house tumbling.  I wrap the good memories around me and move forward in life, avoiding strong winds.

My mother received a diagnosis of uterine cancer in August of 1984.  Through a series of lamentable events, the cancer spread, something that we were told only happened seven percent of the time with that particular disease.  Of course, one of us would land on the far end of the Bell curve.

I went to see her in St. Louis not long after the full portent of her condition had been disclosed by the doctors.  We stood in her garden, surrounded by the stamp of fall with its fading flowers and its golden haze.  She said, "An angel came to me last night; at least, I think it was an angel.  He had a soft voice. 'Lucy,' he said, 'You've got just under a year to live,'".  She paused, then lowered herself onto her gardening stool and sank her fingers into the earth she had so carefully cultivated for years.  "I'm okay with that," she told me, her eyes gazing somewhere I could not see.  "I'm okay with that," she repeated as she stood.  I put my arms around her.  She seemed at once frail and resilient; fragile and powerful.  I had no words in that moment thirty years ago; I said nothing.  Nothing.

I've seen an angel twice, myself, so I didn't doubt my mother's account.  The first time for me came on February 9, 1982, moments after I had been struck by a car and catapulted into the air.  As I flew upwards, I pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around my legs, tucking my head into the folds of my body and thinking, "Well, I won't die of a head injury, anyway."  I felt myself rising higher and higher until I realized that I had left my body and sailed on, into the clouds.  I gazed down at the ball in which my body had curled and thought, "I won't feel anything when I land."

And then I looked across the sky and saw an angel.  She placed her hand on my head and spoke: "It's not time yet." And suddenly I was back in my body and hurdling towards the ground.

The second time I saw an angel was this week.  As I drove down  my street, I glanced over at the sidewalk and saw a form, seemingly human, striding with purpose.  Layers of flowing cloth, grey, black and beige, fell from its body.  I met the being's eyes and it held my gaze for several heartbeats and then vanished and I realized, in that moment, that I had seen the angel of death.  "But not for me," I thought.  "Not for me."

You might call me crazy.  You might say my bleeding ulcer and whatever is making me dizzy causes me to hallucinate and you might be right.  But whether I saw the angel of death or an apparition caused by lack of sleep, still, the moment haunts me and leaves me thinking about my mother in her garden, calm with the knowledge of how much time she had left to get her house in order.

Take this with you, take this one thing into your week:  Leave nothing unsaid.  The chance to speak might never come again.    The face you love might die; or might close to your reach if you let that moment pass.  Someone who needs your comfort might walk away and leave the capacity to trust lying broken at your feet.  The desperate hours might never again open for the one whose hand stretches toward you.  Leave nothing unsaid, or undone; leave no touch unoffered.  Don't wear your shroud before your time.

I'm going to make a pot of coffee.  When I feel my head has cleared enough to venture into the dark attic, I'm going to arm myself with a flashlight and find those pictures.  I'm hoping they haven't been eaten by rats, or lost in my basement flood of 1993.  But whether I find them or not, I'm going to St. Louis to see my cousin Paul soon.  If I've found the pictures that I kept from my mother's belongings, the ones of his family and mine, I'm going to bring them with me.  I'll sit beside him, and we'll smile and talk about how loved we were, and how sweet were the summers that our families spent together.  One of his brothers, or maybe his wife, will sit nearby and listen, to whatever is left of his voice; and watch, whatever is left of his smile, as I know they will do as long as his valiant heart keeps beating against the march of the terrible disease that claims him.  I'll sit as long as his ALS allows for visitors, talking, listening, and turning the pages of whatever album I've managed to find, pages in which our lives are encased and only the goodness endures.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday Musings, 08 March 2014

Good morning,

The sharp sting of winter air greeted me when I ventured to the porch for today's newspapers.  I scurried back, clutching my robe against my chest.  Our dog snuffled behind me, feeling the air, the pull of the outside smells.  I shushed her back and moved toward the kitchen where bacon sizzled in the pan for my husband's breakfast.

The smell of breakfast takes me back, to mornings in my mother's kitchen.

It's a morning like so many others.  The stench of over-boiled coffee and the lingering pungence of eggs sizzling in butter surrounds me.  I stand in the small space between the door to the basement and the solidness of the oak cabinet which stands next to the refrigerator.  I run my fingers along its worn edges, feeling the slick of grime trapped in the crevice between the top of the vinyl surface and the rounded trim piece.

My mother comes into the room, her hair tightly rolled in curlers with plastic pins holding them in place and a kerchief tied round her head.  The warmth of her smile spreads to her eyes, liquid brown and dancing.  She greets me, then goes to the pot to pour herself a cup of coffee and moves beyond me to the breakfast room table.

A slight shiver courses through me. I huddle in a sweat shirt and jeans, thick socks on my feet.  I run my hand through the hair that I'm wearing short for only the second time in my twenty-two years.  I hold my hands in front of me and gaze at the ragged fingernails, the scars, the dark veins prominent against my Irish fairness.  My incoherent thoughts immobilize me, briefly; then I get a mug for myself and join my mother.

"What are you going to do today," she asks, and we both know the full import of her question.  This is a turning point for me:  I've slunk back to town, my tail between my legs, a stray mongrel shivering on her doorstep seeking a place at the edge of the hearth.  She minds less than I do.  But she is not privy to the wildness of the dreams I had; the impracticality of my plan; the ridiculousness of the story that I had spun for myself.

Even so, she's not asking if I plan to do laundry, or my nails, or the vacuuming.

I gaze out  the window before me.  There's a tray suspended from the outer sill and the birds of November skitter on its metal surface, pecking for the sunflower seeds and thistle spread beneath them.  It's nearing Thanksgiving and I've been working for a month as a secretary, a job we both know will not challenge me for long.  I can start graduate school in January and I've signed the paperwork; but I remain listless.  I'm still lost in the fog of failure, the morass of misery that led me to the moment when I called my mother, sobbing, begging her to send someone to bring me home from Boston.

A sudden flurry catches my attention.  The birds rise, chattering.  Something has startled them, something on the cold ground beneath where they feed.  I rise from my chair, just a bit, and strain to see what stalks them.  It's a cat, I think; I see  a flash of tail, a ruffle of fur, and listen to the rising talk of the blue jays, the wrens, the robins; those which are left, which have not migrated or never will; the ones who cling as long as possible to their Missouri home or never leave it.

I watch a clutch of birds rise from the evergreen and lift themselves into the sky.  As I gaze at them, flying effortlessly against the winter wind, joy floods my heart.  When I cannot see them anymore, I sit back down and turn again to my mother, whose eyes have never left my face.  We sit without speaking.  We have no need for words.

Here on Earth, in Brookside, in 2014, my coffee has grown cold and my dog has settled back to sleep on her old worn bed.  The newspapers lie idle beside me and my husband has gone off to tennis.  I gaze down at the oak table, seeing not it but the Formica on which I let so many cups of coffee cool, back then, in 1977.  I feel again the clutch of gladness that came to me at the sight of those birds; and then, for no apparent reason, I start to smile.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Saturday Musings, 01 March 2014

Good morning,

Reports of ice pepper the scrolling news on my tablet.  "Avoid travel, stay off the roads", warn the weather folks, their hands waving in front of blue screens.

January, 1991.  Life blooms within me; life which in a half dozen months will enter, laughing, six weeks early.

I'm bound for Brookfield, Missouri, from the Springdale, Arkansas airport.  I park my Audi close to the hanger, and swing my briefcase and overnight bag out of the trunk.  My feet slip from beneath me; a hand reaches to take my burden.  It's cold; it's nearly dawn; and my pilot has arrived.

He rolls back the wide, tall metal door through which the little plane will come.  He nods; we've not flown together before now, and we exchange names in the gloom of the building.  Our voices echo in the dark stillness.

"I just found out, the heater isn't working on the little Cessna," the young man says.  "I think you should wear a coverall, get some extra protection."  He rummages among the yellow, oil-stained garments hanging along the wall, and finds the smallest.  It fits over everything I'm already wearing, including my clothing, winter coat, and long wool shawl.  "Zip it up, all the way," he cautions, and then gently lifts me into the twin seat of the 150.

We're in the air within minutes, flying north towards Kansas City.  We hit bad weather right away, and in the chill of the small cabin, I feel my teeth chatter.  I've clamped the headphones over my hat; I hear the pilot's voice:  "I'm glad you don't mind flying with me after what happened last week."  I turn to look at him.  "That was you?" I ask, through the microphone.  He turns his attention back to the ice forming on the windshield and I try not to think about the crash, the reason we're flying the 150 instead of the 206.

I lean back against the seat and feel the rush of the wind.  The little plane fights the storm and I wonder, what in God's name am I doing up here?  I've got a hearing the next day, but what hearing could be so important that I would wrap my pregnant body in a greasy pair of overalls and fly through a winter storm in an impossibly small plane piloted by a guy who buggered up the landing gear of another plane just a few days ago?

I cannot open my eyes.  I wouldn't see the sunrise anyway, through the pelting sleet.  Ice coats the glass and the air rushes past us, pummeling the little plane.  We drive on; we do not speak; and I find myself reciting the first line of the Hail Mary like a mantra on which my life depends.   "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."  I can't remember anything else of the prayer, so I just say that line, over and over. I don't realize that I'm babbling outloud into the headset and the pilot's face is looking grim.

We land in Kansas City for refueling.  My pilot eases me onto the asphalt and catwalks me into the Executive Beechcraft lounge.  "My passenger's pregnant, can you get her some tea?" He says it as though the men aren't surrounding us with open mouths. "You gonna keep on in this," someone asks him, and he spares the guy a short glance.  I slump into a chair and wrap my hands around the styrofoam cup someone hands me.

Grey engulfs as as we take off, heading north by northeast towards Linn County.  My pilot's on the radio now, trying to find out if we can land at the Linn County airport.  "Negative," comes the reply, static breaking the word into three reverberating sounds.  "The landing strip has not been cleared since the last snow.  Your plane's too small for the drifts."  We fly on, there's nothing else we can do.  The radio crackles.  Linn County's calling back.  "The Burnses wanna know if that's their lawyer you're totin' here," the voice inquires.  My pilot glances at me;  I nod.  "That's affirmative, Linn County," he says.  "Okay, you're gonna have to land in their field, they'll meet you."  They converse a few minutes more, with the pilot making changes in the bearings while I close my eyes and practice breathing.

The storm takes hold of the Cessna and drives us forward.  I feel the plane shake; I strain to find the sun, to figure out which way we're  heading.  I see nothing but clouds, and frozen rain, and the eerie layered greys of wind and water high above the earth.  I close my eyes again as the descend begins.

We fall forever.

I'm sure the pilot has lost control; I feel my body shift forward and I reach both hands out and grab at whatever is in front of me.  "Hold her steady," the pilot mutters, and I drop my hands to my belly and shudder, the  tea rising back into my throat as we near the ground.

The wheels hit the frozen field and we skitter down a line meant for a clean cool crop of corn.  "Jesus Mary Joseph," I hear, through my headphones, and I look over at the pilot who's clenching the throttle with one hand while the other presses hard against the window.  Time stands still.

Then we're sliding sideways and he's struggling for control and I raise my arms to shield my face and I brace myself and think, "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry...."

And then all motion and all noise stops.

When I can hear again, I realize there's the sound of a honking horn.  I lean towards the windshield, peering through the thick veil of ice. I can barely make out the shape of the pick-up truck coming towards us, its lights cutting through the driving sleet.    Within minutes, I am lifted down and placed in the cab of a truck full of billowing warm air and someone hands me another cup, ceramic this time, and someone else says, "Mom's got supper ready for y'all."

The pilot clamors down from the plane and bundles himself into the bed of the pick-up, just seconds before we take off, towards the house, where the lights are on and somebody's mother waits.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
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.