Monthly Archives: September 2015

“You sound better”

I spoke this evening to a friend with whom I do not often get to visit.

“You sound better,” he remarked.  I felt the firm weight of his assessment settle on my shoulders.  I feel better, I admitted.  And I found it to be true.

Earlier in the day, I sat at Succotash enjoying coffee before court.  I had ordered a sandwich that had turned out not to be very good.  The world’s nicest waitress had hovered a few inches from my table, eyeing me as I picked at the disassembled sandwich.  Not so good? she asked.

I felt a smile emerge onto my features as I shook my head.  Not so good, I acknowledged.  In a deft move, she whisked the plate from in front of me.  She returned in about five minutes.  Lunch, take two! she announced, setting down a thicker, bountiful offering on a clean plate.

A few minutes later, I noticed a woman sitting across the way, hammering at the keys of her computer, staring intently at the screen.  I snapped her photo with my tablet and gestured to the waitress.  This is classic! I said.  Quintessential coffee shop!  With bright eyes engaged, really engaged, we laughed and I posted the picture on social media, tagging the restaurant.

I paid my bill and made my way to court.  I tipped the waitress 20%.  I do not think I have ever “complained” about poorly made food with such finesse nor had quite the gracious response that I got today.

Sitting in my car at the end of the driveway after ten hours of work, I repeat my agreement with the disembodied voice of my friend over the Bluetooth.

I do feel better.  I really do.

I think I’m on the downhill slope.  I’ll soon be accepting nominations for the renaming of this blog when I get to the end of the twenty-fourth month of my year without complaining.  I expect to be ready.



Holding on to the edge of the slippery slope

I sit and listen to people tell me their troubles, in ones, in twos, in groups. I air my own grievances and feel the pushback — wait, be still, does this pressure come from inside?

The bruised rib — no, I don’t think it’s broken but I have not had time to call the doctor.  The pains in my left arm — is that a myth? or my heart? But then the messages come about other people’s disasters and I shake my head, wrap my arms a little tighter and remind  myself:  You’re not supposed to be complaining, remember?

I feel myself sliding, losing my balance, skittering close to the edge.  I grasp, flailing behind me for a handhold.  Once I utter the first complaint, it’s a slippery slope to the ruination of nineteen months of progress.  I’m holding on; I’m holding on.



In which I lay down new roots

Here on the deck, between Jessica’s yoga mat
and the back wheel of her bike —
here is the pot which you gave me for Mother’s Day
back when my status still mattered to you.
The squirrels ate the gardenia; my own mother’s
favorite flower (this is the key to everything).
But I’ve planted so much here, so many vibrant
flowers, so much that others have admired.
See now this beautiful ivory chrysanthemum!
Every trowel of earth turned with love;
every root laid down with care.
Here is the pot which you gave me for Mother’s Day.


Top Ten Reasons to (Maybe) Break A Rib

And here at last folks, are the TOP TEN REASONS to (maybe) break a rib — or, “Corinne Corley’s Silver Lining Playbook”:

10.  It makes for a good story, combined with other, similar incidents and a good turn of phrase.

9.  Suddenly, housework seems superfluous.

8.  It’s okay to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon because, Hey, my rib might be broken, I’m resting!

7.  You have a plausible explanation for limping which people inexplicably believe and find less off-putting.

6.  Motivation to lose five pounds rises and smacks you in the — uh, ribcage.

5.  Pajamas.  Need I elaborate?

4.  Empathetic glances abound.

3.  People come out of the woodwork to say nice things about you.

2.  A lady named Cynthia at Trader Joe’s carries out your stuff and improvises handles in a carton with a really cool box cutter.

AND THE NUMBER ONE REASON TO (MAYBE) BREAK A RIB —– (drum roll, please…..)

1.  In a race to see who gets to pay for lunch at Chai Shai, Brian Aldridge won!!!!



My father called me “Secondhand Rose”.  The name originated with the musical “Funny Girl”, in which Barbra Streisand’s character first auditions for Florenz Ziegfeld with this rather corny song.  As the fourth girl in a financially struggling family, I rarely got new clothes.  My dad loved Babra Streisand; even as a child, I knew that he meant to cheer me by recasting my disappointment by tenuous connection to the great singer.

As I strolled through a thrift store in a spare ten minutes on Wednesday, I cast my eyes about aisles in which I’ve previously scored cheap designer suits and pristine, delicate Haviland plates.  I’ve spent my adult life wearing clothing from consignment stores and the “better” thrifts, calculating the savings, allowing myself to gather a bunch of trendy tops for which I’d never pay retail cost.  Sometimes I think that I look good in my secondhand clothes.  Other times, I feel like a homeless person.  I save money but I never have this season’s styles; I never have just the right size.

At times, I could not afford anything other than secondhand.  But that’s not been true for decades.  I still shop that way.  A small measure of the draw hides in my deep-rooted conviction that I don’t deserve nice things, that no one’s looking at me anyway, that it does not matter.

But on Wednesday, I wandered the aisles thinking of all the junky pocketbooks on my halltree and the twenty cotton shirts hanging unworn in the laundry nook.  I stood while a shopper skirted around me with her cart and gazed down the long expanse of the store.  You’re sixty, I told myself.  You’ve worked hard.  You make a living wage.  You don’t have to play Secondhand Rose anymore.  I told myself there’s nothing wrong with used clothing — and there’s definitely not.  But at some point in everyone’s life, they deserve something new — something no one’s ever had, something purchased just for them.  At some point, saving money should just mean watching the sale racks for that perfect sweater, and then buying both colors.

At some point, it’s okay to want something nicer, and to get it for yourself.

I turned to leave the store and spotted a crow lying  on the knick-knack shelf.  I know a couple of painters who use crows as their theme, so I lifted the little wooden plaque and tilted it to study its message.  My heart skipped a couple of beats.  I carried that crow to the check-out lane, and then home.




Counting in decades

I owe the title of this entry to one of my favorite KC poets, Steven Senter.  He laments being able to count in decades.  I see his point: the fullness of time descends upon us.  But I raise him one:  time continues to tick for us, which at least as far as the wonder which this world provides, cannot be wholly lamented.

Yesterday I glided past five teenagers walking arm in arm.  From the distance, their individuality faded.  Lean and lanky, wearing identical shirts, about thirteen years old,  they could have been either gender, any race, from any part of town.  As I drew closer, I could see that they were all boys.  One held a stick which he dragged along the sidewalk.  Another cradled books; two wore backpacks.  They sauntered  towards one of the neighborhood’s several schools.  They looked like an ad for the United Nations in a rainbow of skin color.

I count my life in decades.  Five decades ago, children of varying skin hue would not have strolled down McLaran Avenue in Jennings towards my elementary school.  We had one family join the parish during my eighth grade year that tried to integrate the grade school.  Their effort failed.  When I crossed the parking lot to start high school, nothing had changed.  As an outcast myself, I sought refuge among the black kids, who welcomed me without rancor.  The rest of the school rewarded my choice of friends with an even greater shunning than my status as the crippled sister of hippies had already garnered.

As I drove beyond those boys yesterday, the lively smiles on their faces stayed with me.  I, too, feel the fullness of time.  More, I feel the lack of progress that the world has made in my time here.  But on a mild fall day, in Brookside, five children took an unwitting stand in favor of the ages.  I bore their joy all the way to work.





If you want to follow Steven Senter’s occasional poetry posts, you may do so HERE.

The Lesser Known Angels

On the wall of my breakfast nook hangs a wooden shelf with the majority of my angel collection.  These include the china birthday angels that my mother got for my grandparents — April and September, with chipped wings and broken halos.  I’ve lost a few over the years, several in one fell swoop when the shelf itself got knocked akimbo.  It’s properly hung now and the collection rests comfortably, albeit covered with dust.

But the window angels drew my attention yesterday, as I sat on one of the wooden stools eating breakfast on the linoleum top of the laundry table which migrated to the kitchen for my last women’s dinner and stayed.  I put my coffee cup on its speckled surface and gazed at the trinkets adorning sill and ledge.

Here is my kindergarten class picture standing beside a black-and-white photo of Corinne Hahn Hayes, my great-grandmother.  There’s an Italian crystal angel which my niece Chelsea’s mother gave me to replace my brother’s angel which I had passed to Chelsea.  To the right stands the music box given by Grandma Corley to little Mary Corinne Corley, so many years ago.  Next to it rests the angel box that one of my shared daughters gave me for Christmas in 2010.  I touch its shiny surface and feel a sense of sorrow.

To the right and left of the window hang mementos:  The laminated leaf from my son’s kindergarten days; a Christmas ornament purchased the year that my household size doubled which I’ve deemed too fragile to pack away with the rest of the tree decorations.  On the upper ledge stands an ornament that I bought at a thrift store last year while struggling to make sense of the loss and longing which pulled me from the celebrations.  She guards the little flower pot holding the God’s-eye that Patrick made for me back in a simpler time.

To the left is the clock which only tells the correct time twice a day, but which has such a beautiful case that I cannot bear to discard it.  And there’s another thrift store ornament, a snowman, that Patrick and I found at MaJR-Thrift, years ago, in another lifetime.

In the window I’ve hung an angel which appears to be African-American.  I selected her from a pile being sold for fifty-cents each at a garage sale.  Since my family has been multi-cultural for twenty-years by dint of adoption, it seems only fitting that my angel collection should be integrated.

Sitting in this grotto yesterday, among these lesser known angels, I could not decide if my life had become so grim and lonely that I have to turn to inanimate objects for comfort or if these trinkets symbolized the joyfulness that I yearn to embrace.  I never knew my great-grandmother but silently beg her to speak, to tell me how she made her life comfortable, how she settled in a strange land with her daughter and her son-in-law without complaint.  She must have been cold, moving from New Orleans to St. Louis in her widowhood.  She had to have been stoic, determined.  Perhaps she had attained such inner peace that she could have been happy on the moon.

The phone rang and broke my reverie, yesterday, just as it has done today.  I left the angels and the ornaments and the snapshots to start my day.  In the evening, I stood in front of the window to take a picture, and felt the memories of everyone who has come into the house crowd around me.  Among the angels there is only room for love.  I let my sadness slide away; I let the angels soothe me.



This morning; this place

Genevieve told us that the clouds had been lovely yesterday and no doubt would again be lovely today.

Driving to Liberty this morning, I pulled my eyes from traffic long enough to cast a glance out the eastern window.  I had to agree that the sky looked particularly breathtaking, with the steely grey of the imminent storm underlit by the rising sun.

As I headed northward, then cut over I-35 towards the east again, the rain peppered my windshield.  At the stoplight for Highway 152, I chanced a snap with my cell phone. I knew that I could not do justice to these clouds but I had to document what I saw, however feebly, however ignobly.

To Genevieve:  Thank you for lifting my eyes this morning; thank you for clearing a veil that cloaks my vision.  Though my glance proved fleeting, and lacked your reverence — nonetheless, I did see; and because of your inspiration, I found today’s moment of joy. Here, now, this morning, in this place.


Ode to Joy

My son taught himself to play “Ode to Joy” on the piano years ago.  The melody appeared on our cell phones after that; and late in his high school career, I once heard him play the song on an electric guitar.

Coming out of court yesterday after a tense battle at the bench over custody of a little boy, I heard the strains of Beethoven’s symphony.  They built to a crescendo, the swell of strings, the rise of the horns, the staccato march of the chorus, the timpani’s relentless punctuation.  My pulse quickened: a claim had to be asserted, a motion drafted, a precious child’s future steadied, the guard around him secured.  I had no time to spare.  As I maneuvered through late afternoon traffic, the music soared within me, rising, rising.  My eyes briefly closed.   A wave of fury washed over me and spilled onto the images of people crowded in the courtroom, especially those intent on winning despite the cost, despite the tragedy, despite the impact on that sweet, trusting child.

Where is the joy in this, I whispered, softly, barely hearing myself over the pounding of my hammering heart.

By the time I got back to the office my question had faded.

But the music lingered.

To Joy

Joy, thou beauteous godly lighting,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire drunken we are ent’ring
Heavenly, thy holy home!

Thy enchantments bind together,
What did custom’s sword divide,*
Beggars are a prince’s brother,*
Where thy gentle wings abide.

Be embrac’d, ye millions yonder!
Take this kiss throughout the world!
Brothers—o’er the stars unfurl’d
Must reside a loving father.

Friedrich Schiller, 1786; 1803

Mixing Metaphors in the Morning

My table at Aixois lists just slightly to the west, a fact so ironic that I find myself smiling.  The lady at the counter asked me what she could do for me and laughed when I said, Make gluten-free pastries magically appear under that dome.  She got me an Americano in the non-frou-frou mug which I favor and I went back outside in the delicious coolness of the morning.

A parkway stands between me and the Trolley Tracks trail.  Jersey-clad men and women nick by on the trail, their running shoes laced tightly, their hair tied or slicked or held with bandannas.  One guy barely lifts his feet from the pavement.  His baggy T-shirt hangs over his black shorts.  I feel his pain.

The trees on the parkway match my assessment of my status.  The one on the right stands short and bell-shaped, trimmed and pared and preened and pruned.  Rising above that sad little specimen grows a maple, unrestrained, wild, hopeful.  They both appear healthy but I must admit, I like the look of the tree which has not been guided to an unnatural shape.  As the traffic passes on its way downtown and my coffee cools, I think about this maple. I think about what Jessica said to me over dinner about standing firm for what I need.  I contemplate what Wendy, to whom I am  virtually connected through my ex-husband in Ohio, said in an early morning message about the “fear or flight” response that she had been conditioned to employ, about the assertiveness training that changed her life.

I myself want be like this little maple.  The wind shakes its leaves as I gaze at my reflection in the computer screen:  My hair pinned securely in a French knot, my demure little black shirt, my Talbot’s skirt.  I’m not sure how I got to this condition, but I know that I don’t like it.  Maybe it’s time to throw away the pruning sheers and buy some sneakers.