Monthly Archives: August 2019

Out beyond

Most nights the whimpering of my neighbor’s dog wakes me two or three times.  I listen to its sorrow manifest as small low moans and short yips.  I don’t know if it yearns to be inside or if strains to run with the coyotes in the meadow.  I fall asleep wondering.

Two days ago, a motor’s roar broke my sleep.  From the volume and nearness, I knew it had to be a big rig, come into the park late, its owner scrambling to settle.  A Class A, perhaps; or at least a large truck pulling something heavy.  I drifted in and out of consciousness, wondering why they didn’t shut down, hoping they had not gotten into trouble, wishing for silence.

In the morning, the noise had not abated.  As the sun rose, I came fully awake and realized that no one would leave their motor on til dawn.  I stood, looking around my tiny house, perplexed.

Then I began to laugh.

One of my trusty metal 14-inch fans had vibrated until it touched the banister leading to my writing loft.  In turn, the vibration of the balustrade had traveled to the upright, which had set the floor of the loft to a low rumble.  That floor forms the ceiling of the daybed chamber where I struggled to sleep despite the constant hum.  In my dazed state, I had mistaken the tiny efforts of the little fan to right itself for a new, inconsiderate neighbor running an engine for hours.

Last evening as I sat on my front porch, I glanced in the direction of the road, beyond which lies the San Joaquin.  The sun had eased itself to the horizon, its rays rising from the river bed like flame on dry timber.  I watched until the glow faded, then went into my little sanctuary and closed the door against the chill of the Delta night.

It’s the first day of the sixty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Out beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field.  I will meet you there.      –   Rumi


A Shameless Pitch for Joy

Now that I have your attention with this beautiful shot of a sunset in the far end of the meadow at Park Delta Bay — taken from my front porch — here’s what I want you to do.

Stand.  Walk over to a window.  Gaze on nature.  If you’re alone, wrap your arms around yourself and remind yourself that you are lovable and capable.  If you are with someone whom you love or who loves you (or both), enfold them in the circle of a completely unbridled embrace, and tell them how you feel about the gift of their presence.

This is my shameless pitch for joy.  I want you to close your eyes, and allow the tension to ease from your body.  Open your heart to the possibility of this moment, the only space of time which you know for absolute certain that you will have.  Savor every breath which follows the one you have just taken.  Let each inhale, each exhale, bring fresh air into your heart and excise venom from your mind.

If you have pain in your body, know that I understand.  If you dwell beyond my gaze, outside the reach of my voice, listen for the flutter of the angels’ wings.  Allow their softness to ease any ache, any twinge, any searing agony — wherever these plague you.

Joy can be yours.  I’ll tell you about one small, silly event from which I trace a decades-long journey to that stunning and simple realization.  Many years ago, my staff and I got involved in a distasteful piece of litigation.  I needed the money; I had a child to support and my health flagged.  We served as honorably as we could.  On one occasion, I managed a telephone call involving about ten plaintiffs’ attorneys, all out for the blood of my client.  One lawyer hollered that I stood between them and victory, and that I was, in the process, withholding information to which he thought himself entitled.  “I’ll file a motion for sanctions against you, PERSONALLY, Ms. Corley,” he bellowed.  I smiled over the speaker phone at my friend-and-assistant Alan White.  “Mr. Poland,” I replied.  “I’ve been shot at, run over, raped, robbed, and given up for dead.  I think I can handle a motion for sanctions.”

You can handle what life brings to you.  Find the angels, in every manifestation — human or animal, or the celestial souls who hover over you as night falls.  Find the strength inside you.  Remember:  I am here.  Send me an email if you need a few words of empathy or support.  I’ll answer.  You can message me at:  I’m not going anywhere but forward, one foot at a time.  I can pause to give you whatever time you need.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Don’t forget, KC folks: 

I’ll be in town next week for my Birthday Bash & Benefit for Rose Brooks Center.  Check it out on Facebook HERE.  05 September 2019, 6pm to 9pm, at Prospero’s upstairs venue,  on 39th Street in Kansas City, Missouri.  If you can’t make the event, but want to donate to the cause, you can find Rose Brooks Center HERE.  Tell them it’s in honor of my birthday.  Our contact is Katy McCoy.  Or give to an agency of your choice which helps survivors of family violence. 

If you or someone you know needs help dealing with family violence, you can get it HERE.  There’s always a way.

In Memory of Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley

To Mother, Who Has Gone Home

It is morning. Around me a dim room.
My cousin’s house. Last night
And the night before, we talked too late;
last night we picked scriptures.
We laughed over my story
of my sisters and I choosing your
casket, which, you’ll be happy to know
comes with a warranty. But no vault, so
to dust ye shall return. I sleep
on a sofa. It is 7:00 a.m. and I
am afraid. In Kansas City, my
soon-to-be-ex-lover is just
finishing his workday. I dreamed of
your death, and now lay panting,
thinking of your stretched skin, your
cold hand. Beads of sweat rise
across my forehead. We have
all known it will be today
because Sunday you said: I am
waiting for them to come, and the eldest
of your children arrived only hours ago.
And then it is 7:30 and the phone rings
And my sister says Mary it is time to
come home and I know, and the
sun rises but you are gone and
we do not see.

c. C. Corley 1985 – 2019

I believe this is my mother’s graduation picture.

09/10/26 – 08/21/1985

A bountiful life

I’d like to say that I had a hand in growing these strawberries.  But I did not. 

I bought the plants and brought them to the community garden where they would sink their roots into rich river silt and raise their heads to the warm Delta sun.  I toted new coils of watering tubes and connectors, purchased at Lowe’s in Lodi upon instruction from the young folks.  But I did not dig the soil, or tend to the shoots as they unfurled.  I did not pull the weeds or wrap cloth around the tender fruit to save them from the curious critters.

Nor did I stake the peppers, or the tomatoes.  I did not walk down to the end of the meadow to start the water of an evening or early in the morning before the heat of the day.  I did some of that last year.  But as the seasons turned, my body grew weaker.  I had to parse my energy.  Eight hours a day for work; so much each week for shopping; another ration for chores; and the last measure for dragging myself to the medical folks whose supposed brilliance could heal me.

So, I did not till the garden; or keep it free from pests; or curb the wild onions that threaten to over-choke the beans.  Jessie did; and her partner Ken; and Sarah; and Louis, with his husband Helix; and a few others — Derek, Kelly, Kimberly, Laurie.  And God, if it comes to that; and the gentle winds which keep the fierceness of the sun in the deepest part of summer from doing too much damage.

When I came home from the community dinner tonight, a long row of fruit and vegetables had been laid upon the railing of my porch.  The garden fairy had come calling.  A smile rose to my face.  The tension of a difficult day eased itself from my small shoulders and slipped into the dusk.  I took a basket down, gathered the bounty, and went into the house.

It’s the twentieth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


The hardest thing

I’ve never been accused of spontaneity.  So I startled myself by turning right instead of left on the way home yesterday.

My two days at the coast had invigorated me.  I draw strength from the sea.  I had sat in the reach of her voice.  The coast line changes a little at a time but I recognize its contours.  The trees might be further bent under the force of the wind.  The sands might fall more and more beneath the waves.  But the rocks do not yield.  The gulls still gather.  The lighthouse rises just as majestically.  The long expanse of ice plants still covers the yard outside of Dolphin House, and the song of the Pacifc still lulls me to sleep.

On a whim, I left HIghway 4 long before the Rio Vista exit yesterday.   I followed the signs for Mt. Diablo State Park.  I have wanted to see the mountain since I first came to the Delta in September of 2017.  Her constant presence watches over us.  I look westward on my way to work, comforted by the sight of her through the mist, or beneath the dazzling sun.  I drive like crazy to watch the last rays of light dance across her noble surface as dusk falls on the Delta.

Let me say this, at the outset.  I am deathly afraid of heights.  Yes, I understood that Mt. Diablo rose high above sea level.  But somehow, I failed to imagine the treacherous road to the south entrance of the park.  

I gripped the steering wheel in panic.  Every fear, every failure, every sorrow rose in my breast.  Choice after choice on the game board of life haunted me.  The paths not taken; loves lost and forfeit.  How could I have been so incredibly stupid as to bring myself to this moment, alone on a mountainside, alone, the world’s worst St. Louis driver inching her way skyward with a sheer drop to her right and her face covered with a salty swathe of sweat mingling with tears? Why did I so blithely, so willingly, so carelessly embark on the hardest thing for me, driving to somewhere so high?  I’m the person whose five-year-old son had to hold her hand as we climbed to the cheap seats at the ballpark!

A line of cars gathered behind me.  I could feel their impatience.  I knew they wanted me to increase my speed but I did not dare.  My hands shook.  The voice with which I cried out to the angels quavered.  Over and over, I moaned into the stale air of the closed car, I want to go home!

Eventually, I arrived at the entrance.  I paid the admission fee and pulled into a fifteen-minute parking space.  I nearly fell from the car.  I stood at the back of the vehicle, tearing chunks of bread from my morning’s loaf and feeding myself the lunch which I should have had before I left the coast.  My trembling stopped, finally, mercifully.

I did not go to the summit.  I placed the heart for my friend Beth Lewandowski’s son Xander on a trail post at 2000 feet elevation.  I took a few photos of the view which Xander would have so loved, had he lived to make this climb.  I knew he would have biked that road without trepidation.  I tried to channel a little of Xander’s spirit.

Then I crept back to the driver’s seat, clinging to my vehicle.  I started forward and followed the road until its fork.  This time, I turned left.   Gratefully, gradually, I descended to the North Gate and the road home.

It’s the eighteenth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

This gallery includes pictures from my drive to Mt. Diablo State Park, from the beach at Pescadero, and from the hostel at  Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Home to the mother sea

Of course I did:  I jumped at the chance to spend a night at Pigeon Point.  With fresh sourdough bread and eggs that have never been refrigerated, I pulled into the handicapped parking space at 4:30.  I swung my bag with a delicious ease as I walked the sidewalk to the office.  Though Michael’s smiling face no longer greets visitors, the clerk remembered me.  

An hour later, I started taking supplies from my backpack.  I shared portabella and oil with a German couple making pasta with a few meager items on their last night in the States.  For myself, I cooked potato and mushroom with green onion to garnish and creamy butter for the crusty bread from the Pie Ranch.  

As the evening grew gentle around us, more visitors grouped around the dining room table — Sarah from Southern California; a pair from Singapore by way of SF; one or two others whose cities and names I did not catch.  Outside, in the glow of a sunset hidden behind low clouds, I met Mark from Oakland who talked of the month which he and his wife had just spent in Portugal.  Latecia from Sacramento showed me pictures of the bounty from her husband’s garden, speaking in a slightly wistful voice of the cattle which kept him from coming with her.

I spied a crop of surprise lilies straining westward..  I understood the urge.   Pelicans and sea gulls made their eternal way past the rocks in the cove.  I stood in the fading light of another perfect day in paradise, and forgot whatever it was that awakened me in the middle of the previous night, leaving me anxious for most of the day.  The mother sea offered her enduring comfort.  I yielded to her embrace.

It’s the seventeenth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Back to Nature

In 1987, my first husband persuaded me to quit my job as an assistant Jackson County prosecutor and move to Arkansas.  We started in Little Rock but quickly transplanted ourselves to Newton County, specifically to Jasper.  I lived in the shadow of Reynolds Mountain on the banks of the Buffalo for two years before fleeing to Fayetteville and, eventually, back to Kansas City.

I swore that I had inhaled enough clean air to last the rest of my days, possibly into eternity.  Yet, here I am, back to nature. Once more, I dally near a quiet river, amid majestic willows, on the edge of a meadow in a 12-acre park.  The nearest town has one grocer, one pharmacy, one McDonald’s, a pizza place, and two Mexican restaurants.  The air remains clear unless a fire rages north of us in which case, we strain to see blue through the murk but count our lucky stars.

The  nearest Lowe’s sits over two bridges and in the next county.  The journey can grow long if the drawbridge over the Mokelumne gets stuck or you hit Bay-bound traffic just wrong.  The only restaurants within hailing distance serve bar food, unless you want to drive to Isleton but you can get a decent brew once you make  it there.  It only rains in February and March, when the Delta winds blow and the steady downpour can turn your yard to quick sand.

But the birds —  oh the birds!  Cranes and egrets and hummingbirds; hawks and mourning doves and owls.  The  moon shimmers as she rises.  The sweetness of a cool autumn night wraps itself around your tired bones.  You close your eyes as the western sky glows with a wide crimson swathe  across the wispy clouds and a flickering gold on the surface of the San Joaquin.  And yes, it seems, I can actually stand a little more fresh air.

It’s the fourteenth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

And the beat goes on

The sun rises over the RV park and the tiny house row and the levee road.  I turn my car onto the loop as the news of a strike in Hong Kong and a tariff against China rumbles from the radio.  Out on Highway 12, the long mournful bleat of a semi startles the vehicle turning in front of me.  I see the driver shudder.  It’s a close call.

And the beat goes on.

I sail clear to the bridge and over it, above the river winding its slow eternal path to the sea.  The man with the three-legged dog picks his careful way down Front Street.  I slow and angle around him.  He raises his hand without glancing away from the pattern of his feet on the cracked cement.

And the beat goes on.

I sit at a computer for eight hours, maneuvering words on the virtual page.  Click after click sends my thoughts out into the vastness which I don’t understand.  A server on the far side of the planet holds the messages for an instant, then flings them towards the cold embrace of the invisible net.

And the beat goes on.

Five o’clock comes too fast.  My car seems to drive itself, back over the same bridge, along two rivers, in plain sight of a single egret standing motionless in a wide swathe of hyacinth.  I pause to watch a small skiff make its way down the San Joaquin, then slip downward, back into the park.

And the beat goes on.

Ten neighbors gather around a table.  Dishes get passed.  Wine gets poured.  Lemonade, too.  Salads, cornbread, tender roast chicken from the grocery deli counter.  Smiles flash. A little puppy settles onto the floor beneath his owners.  I close my eyes. 

And the beat goes on.

Later I sit in my worn rocker, with its smooth wood aged by the caprice of time and the vagaries of the Delta winds.  But it still bears my weight, still moves me gently, to and fro.  In the twilight’s stillness, a flutter signals the arrival of my evening visitor.  I hold myself as still as possible while she sips sweet nectar overhead.  Then I raise my phone with its back-facing camera, and the hummingbird and I pose for a selfie.

And the beat goes on.

It’s the thirteenth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Happy birthday to my brother Kevin Richard Corley.

Still Life, With Effort

As a young girl, I wandered through the St. Louis Art Museum.  The still-life paintings fascinated me.  “Still Life, With Wine” by one painter.  “Still Life, With Prayer Book” by another.  Whose weathered hands had just set the goblet on the table beside the plate with its hunk of cheese and slice of crusty, warm bread?

Who will paint a picture of the random objects on my cedar chest?  Who will stand in the museum,  centuries from now, wondering about me?

My body ages.  I’ve been going to a new physical therapist.  She challenges my resolve and pushes my heart rate higher than I can urge it to climb on my own.  My gaze has begun to stabilize.  Instead of shrugging with mild consternation because she doesn’t know why I get dizzy, she has tackled the most likely culprit, vestibular dysfunction.  Doctors had performed a myriad of tests without conclusion and dismissed me to struggle on my own for the last six years.  Now I see the potential of improvement.

Inspired by Ms. Emily Watts, DPT, I’ve heightened my daily routine.  I haven’t yet gotten back to my old thirty-minutes/day, but I can do two sessions of ten minutes each, first thing in the morning and at evening’s end.  I don’t need a gym or a work-out club.  Nobody joins me.  I pull the blue storage box from its little cubby and wrap a band around the pillar.  I grab three-pound weights and grip them as I stretch.  At the far back, a wheel waits for the day when my balance allows me to do floor work.  I’m getting there.  I have far to go, but since I promised my son that I would live to be 103, I have plenty of time.  

It’s the ninth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“Still Life, With Effort”

I Wrote This For You

I didn’t, actually.   But someone did.

I drifted through yet another secondhand store looking for books.  I find my comfort in words.  But my fingers fail me at times.  I write poems and essays and letters in my head;  fast, born wholly formed and pushing to emerge.  I can’t get them onto the screen or the page fast enough to calm my jitters.  So I seek solace in the words of others; in the rhythmic waterfall of other people’s poems and essays and letters.

At Lodi Thrift store, a slim black volume eased itself from the shelf onto my open palm.  I wrote this for you, its satin cover announced.  PLEASEFINDTHIS.  I paid the dollar and I took my chance.

This evening I waited for my friend whom I had not seen since she lost her son..  I sat on my porch, searching for something to say when she crossed the yard between our houses.  This would be my first glimpse of the grief in her eyes, my first encounter with the overflow of the darkness gripping her soul.  I did not want to fail her.  

I darted inside to use the ten minutes as well as I could, willing my spirit to be open for whatever she needed.  On the step, just above my heart-shaped mirror, I saw the volume of poetry and re-read its title — I wrote this for you.   As I lifted the book, it fell open to the introduction:

Dear You,

You are holding in your hands
what was promised to you
years ago. I’m sorry it took so
long. But life, as is so often the
case, is life and we forget about
the promises we’ve made.

You, however, are harder to

I know the world is crazy. I know
love is not always the
way it’s meant to be. I know
sometimes, things hurt. But
I also know that we’ll get
through this. That our hearts
will arrive on the other side,
in one piece. That everything
is beautiful, if we give it the
chance to be.

I’ve tried to write down what
I saw and what you told me
and I sincerely don’t think I
missed anything. Let me know
if I have.

I love you. I miss you.


When Laurie arrived, somehow we knew just what to say to each other.  And as the evening waned, I listened to her stories.  I beheld the timeless cadence of her sorrow.  I marveled at the silent sound of her sweet, sweet tears as they flowed past the brave, tender curve of her smile.

It’s the seventh day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.