Monthly Archives: November 2019

An Ode / Litany for a winter evening.

Tonight I sing an ode to forgiveness.

I started with myself, but that proved tricky. I skidded from my reflection in the dusty mirror to memories as long ago and far away as any.

I squatted in a driveway staring at a heart-shaped rock embedded in the concrete. My sister said, “I call that ‘Pretty Rock’ and I claim it.” She gestured to a dull, misshapen splinter on the cracked edge of the gutter. “You can have that one.” We sprawled on the ground, contemplating our treasures, the pretty rock and its ugly sister. A dull ache rose in my breast. I did not understand my longing.

In the hallway late at night, my father swayed from side to side. A stink rose from his body. My mother huddled at the kitchen sink. Someone sobbed at the rear of the house, a jagged wretched noise. My father spoke my name.  I covered my ears with my small hands.

Tonight I sing an ode to forgiveness. While turkeys rest on sideboards all across America, I sit and listen to the owl’s intermittent call. The wind has calmed. Gentle rain barely grazes the ripples of my metal roof and drips on the sodden masses of leaves piled beyond my door.

Earlier this week, a memory rose to stifle a carefree moment between chores. This wicked vision does not wear a label but I know it: An endless annoyance, caused by someone else’s choice, with which I will eternally struggle. Some would call it just desserts. Truth hurts. I swallowed my bitter pill and stared at my reflection in the window, at sorrow lingering behind the grey-blue tint of my Irish eyes. I wondered whose burden would be eased if I bear mine with silent nobility. I might as well; it won’t be leaving soon.

I don’t know what happened to my workbook on nonviolent communication. I seem to recall a paragraph or two about forgiveness. I don’t think Dr. Rosenberg required that we forgive, nor that we apologize. His theories hung together with deft precision when he explained them but I’ve lost the sense of them.  I had better watch the tapes again.

A yellow-brick road stretches six decades behind me. Each square holds someone disappointed by my choices. I rejected a request made of me. I tendered one which someone resented having to honor. Their faces linger on faded Polaroids which line the squalid room where my spirit huddles.  I pry the thumbtacks from the torn corners and hold each one to the feeble light. I study the rigid lines of their mouths.

I should burn the lot, but a hint of affection lurks in those frozen eyes. I yearn for just a drop.

Tonight I sing an ode to forgiveness, a litany for the season, a ballad for those who march toward the something better which they hold the universe to providing. I stand at the checkpoint with cold bottles of water and fresh towels for their fevered brows. I watch them stagger past. I cheer them forward.

I name the runners: You – I shall call you, “Enough.” Over there, your name will be, “Accepted”. Coming behind these two, “Chosen” and “Wanted”.  I christen them all. I open my velvet bag of advanced vocabulary words and spill the best of them: Golden. Glory. Sensation. Above. Beyond. Complete. They slap my palm as they scurry by. They grin; they laugh; they raise their fists towards the flood of light and fall into the finish line.

Tonight I sing an ode to forgiveness, to deep breaths, and second chances, and the liquid gold dripped into the shards of porcelain to heal the shattered goblet. I wonder, over and over and over and over, if the lashes across my narrow back will ever be enough to even the score.  What price must I pay for what I’ve done, or failed to do?

On a long scroll of parchment, I pen the name of each person who raised the whip and brought it crashing on my tender flesh.  At the bottom, I scribble a prayer. I light the match. I watch the smoke rise to the heavens. The ashes fall away.   I forgive you.

And the owl hoots. And the wind blows. And the rain seeps into the ground, reaching for the tender roots which lie beneath the winter grunge.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.



And there will come soft rains

I owned an Anne Klein raincoat when I walked into the Goodwill last month and saw this beautiful London Fog, new with tags, on 75% of 50% sale, blue tag color of the day.  Four bucks.  How could I resist?  My size, 4P, and a lovely plum with a hood.  I saw no reason to walk past.  I draped it across the cart and called it mine.

We like rain in Northern California.  After a decade of drought, even we newcomers crane our necks for the sight of clouds.  Is that smoke?  Fog? Or could it be. . . a gathering storm?  We dance to the staccato beat on the roof and laugh as we dash to the car.  Winter settles over the Delta, chilly, and bold, and wild.  It’s raining, and we couldn’t be more pleased.

Derek and Kelly came back from Montana and the community dinner attendance skyrocketed.  Someone made mac and cheese.  Two people brought salad.  Derek and Kelly handed around bottles of home-made cider and beer made from hops that they grew on their family’s farm.  Pool cues came out; wine corks eased from bottles; and Louis, who comes from France, brought three varieties of Madeleines — chocolate chip, vanilla, and Nutella.  I sat at the end of the table next to Jessie’s grandma and asked everybody what they are “thankful for”.  Family, friends, community, jobs, safe travels.  We ticked the bounties one by one, all smiles and wide grins.

I liked Helix’s thankful-for best.  “I’m thankful for my human experience,” he said.  He talked about self-acceptance, and finding meaning, and his journey.  The room fell silent.  The mood shifted, to a quiet sense of calm.  

Then the rain began in earnest, drumming on the solar panels above us.

A few minutes later,  one of my neighbors walked me out to the car and I drove around to tiny house row.  I opened my mother-in-law’s flowered umbrella  and dashed to my porch.  In the house, I slipped from my coat, perfectly dry, perfectly warm, and perfectly ready for rest.


It’s the twenty-sixth day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



“There Will Come Soft Rains”, by Sara Teasdale



Lost in San Francisco

The girl at the counter says, Can I help you? and pulls her sweater sleeves down over her hands.  I shift my computer bag and ask why the cafe has not yet opened.  She shrugs and laughs, and then says, breakfast is downstairs today.   Her accent tells me that she comes from France and I think about my neighbor Louis.

I know from experience that the stairs to the downstairs kitchen pose too great a risk, but the ADA kitchen has no coffee pot.  I ask if there is somewhere else to get coffee.  The girl shrugs again.  I wonder if she does not understand me.  I tell her that I want to make coffee in the ADA kitchen and she suggests that I boil water.  I ask, is there a coffee pot or a drip cone that I can use? and she says, We just boil water, and I know that she and I have reached the end of our ability to communicate.

The clerk next to her mutters something.  The French girl says, “Oh, I see,” but not in my direction.  They confer as I edge toward the exit, then the girl says, I can go downstairs and get you a cup of coffee.

I shouldn’t have bothered.  The coffee she brings is clearly instant, almost cold, and in a thin paper cup which bends when she hands it to me.  But I smile and thank her.  She goes back to pulling at her sweater and I move outside.

The city spans before me, wide and silent.  I watch a tanker glide through the bay, straining to see if I can catch a photograph.  I think about the ships which we see in the San Joaquin, not as close but probably smaller than these.  A man whom I know here says that the ones which come upriver to Stockton don’t spend much time on the sea.  But still, they form a link in an endless chain of commerce which connects my every day life to this city by the Pacific.  The tanker moves out of sight and I wonder what she carries, and where she will empty her hold.

I spend the day with my friend Joyce and her wife Jane, in their amazing house on one of the iconic hills of San Francisco. I move through their rooms, awed by Jane’s astounding art. I stand on their balcony and try in vain to capture the stunning skyline with my little Canon.  I want to drag a cot outside and stay there forever.

Later I meet Kimberley for coffee.  We’ve both moved to Northern California from Missouri.  We love it here, but we acknowledge, if only to each other, that we’ve struggled to adjust.  We watch a gaggle of nearly identical thin girls primly sitting on a bench in the chocolate shop.  Kimberley hands me a cookie and I take an extra large bite.

In the evening, I sit in the cafe at the hostel with a hummus sandwich, a bag of chips, and a tiny bottle of Pellegrino.  The intermittent bleat of a fog horn reminds me that nothing stops at sea even after sunset.  Voices drift around me — laughter, bits of song, teasing, and earnest debate in several languages.    I’m the oldest person in the cafe by thirty years.  Most of the people my age whom I see at this hostel keep to themselves, in their dorm or tucked into a corner of the common room by the fire.  Here in the cafe, the twenty-somethings gather.  When my walking stick clatters to the floor, several of them scramble to help and I realize, it’s time to make myself scarce.

On Sunday, I ease out to the car with my bags bumping against my legs. My friend Sally texts to see if I want to meet her in Martinez for church, something in which I’ve expressed interest a time or two.  I think about it for a few minutes.  I’d like to see Sally, but that’s no reason to impose on an entire congregation of people who will mistakenly think that I share their beliefs.  I don’t want to mock them.  I text back my gratitude and tell her that I’ll see her another time.  I find a restaurant on Union Street and order eggs, a potato pancake, and black coffee.  An hour later, I head for home, the cityscape at my back, and the wide expanse of the San Pablo Bay alongside me.  

I pull into the park before noon, and lift my hand as I pass the kiosk.  Everyone whom I see waves.  When I finally stop, I’m in front of my tiny house, which looks exactly as I left it except for the pile of oak leaves shimmering in the midday sun on the deck.

It’s the twenty-fourth day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

This moment

The Delta wind danced through the meadow today, leaving a fine silt across everything in my writing loft.  The china angels hold out their hands in prayer.  Their eternally reverent eyes offer only a hint of reproach.  I left the window open last night.  

The park in which I live continues to repair and update its water system.  Outages have leveled out.  The water sputters to a halt at 9:00 p.m. and restarts at six in the morning.  When I got home from work tonight and tested the taps, I grabbed my phone and sent a message up and down the tiny house row:  Water!  Noah texted back a grand hooray!  I guess I should take a shower, he chortled, followed by a goofy emoticon.  You never saw a bunch of grown-ups happier about anything so mundane.

I’ve never been one for drinking city water and I don’t do it here.  Liter bottles already adorned a shelf in my kitchen.  Now I have gallon jugs, too; courtesy of the park and ready for dishes or a quick tooth-scrub.  I plan my days around the water cut-off schedule.  We only have to endure this for another week and I intend to make it without cracking.  I have a friend with a shower in town which helps.  I shan’t complain.  The upgrades will improve our lives.

This episode has got me ruminating over the parts of the world that scramble for clean water every day.  While I’m shuffling two dollar bottles of the fancy stuff, hundreds of thousands of children have no access to any clean water.  Illness, lack of hygiene, social exclusion, and crippling dehydration plague  nations where the poor must walk an hour from their village to fill jugs or bathe.  I stop at the grocery store on the way home from work and a pleasant teenager carries my plastic containers to the car.

Nine o’clock passes and the pipes fall silent.   I fretted for the first few days, but I’m used to the rhythm now; and the end of this mild inconvenience draws near.  I’ll be in the city this weekend, where the endlessness of the Pacific stands as an eternal reminder of my bountiful existence.  I feel lucky.  How could I not?  My belly rumbles with the fullness of dinner.  The dishes dry in the drain basket.  Food chills in the fridge just steps from the kettle and packets of my favorite tea.  On the counter, carafes await the merest suggestion of thirst.   The wind has calmed and the dust in the air has settled in the stillness of my tiny house.  In this moment, I want for nothing.

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


Memory Lane

I tell a little story about my son as a small child. My friend Sally asks, Have you ever written about that? and I say, “Oh, sure, probably, my son says everything I write is about him in one way or another.”  Then we fall silent.

Later I see something on social media about pumpkin carving well after Halloween and I remember an Easter card that I helped my mother make years ago. 

We sorted through a box of photographs developed at the drug store.  She couldn’t find just what she wanted.  She rejected snap after snap — blooming tulips, lush trees, the grassy stretch of ground at the side of the yard where the forsythia grew.  I thought they were lovely photos, each of them.  

I found a few taken on Easter in the prior year.  We kids at church, the girls wearing new dresses and hats; the boys in white-collared shirts and short ties.  Mother shook her head.  I rummaged a bit more and found a group shot of the four younger kids proudly holding their Easter baskets on the front lawn.  Me in my cat glasses and Mark with his coke-bottle lenses perhaps looking a bit goofy, but all of us with wide smiles.  Steve had chocolate smeared on his shirt.  Frank showed a gap-tooth grin.  

Maybe, was all my mother said.  We kept looking.

She unearthed what she wanted from the bottom of the third dusty box.  She held it carefully, by the edge.  Find the negative, would you please, Mary? she instructed.  I studied her pick and began opening the little envelopes until I had the right strip.  She wore her own smile now, sweet, satisfied.  She told me that she’d be back, she had to run the photo to the store for duplicating.

A week or so later, we sat together again at the table in the breakfast room.  We folded thick paper in half, glued a copy of the photo to the front, and wrote the message inside.  Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Happy Everything!  I signed it, “Richard and Lucille Corley, and children”.  We hand-addressed each envelope from her spiral-bound book.  I carefully copied every name, every address, and on the back wrote, “The Corleys, 8416 McLaran Avenue, Jennings, Missouri 63136”.

My mother said, Do you like the picture?  I studied the photo of my two little brothers with their hands in a pumpkin, pulling the guts out of it, waving them around, surrounded by the newsprint which my mother had laid to protect the table.  It’s perfect, Mom, I told her.  

In the maze of terribleness which flowed like lava through that two-bedroom house in St. Louis County, the joy so often got lost.  I wonder now, as a few of these sweet memories rise to the surface of my aging brain, whether my son feels the same way about his childhood.  I recall one of my favorite lines from “A Thousand Clowns”.  The main character, a bachelor who has inherited his nephew to raise, sighs and remarks to a visiting social worker that he doesn’t know whether he’s doing a good job or not.  My only hope, he admits, is that he will speak well of me in therapy some day.

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





In high school we had to identify a life-goal for our senior profile in the yearbook.  Most of my classmates gave a glib or silly answer, but I spoke with unyielding honesty.  I wanted to have a poem published in the New Yorker.

I write fairly awful poetry.  I’ve had three published as companion pieces, forty years ago in the long-defunct Eads Bridge.  They might be the only decent verses that I’ve ever written.  Still, I kept trying.  The flow of words captivates me.  They trickle over stones, spring waters running through my winter-weary mind.

I’ve memorized three or four poems in my life.  “Jenny Kissed Me”, by Leigh Hunt.  “Fire and Ice”,  by Robert Frost.  The last few lines of “And There Will Come Soft Rains”, by my favorite poet and fellow St. Louisan, Sara Teasdale.

And, “The Eagle”, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

At times in my life, I have also wanted to be a photographer.  I hold fewer illusions in that regard.  I do not claim to be adept at the technical aspects of camera-work.  I shoot on automatic, and only for purposes of recording my world and illustrating what I write.

This afternoon, I chanced to glance out of my window and see a bird high above our meadow.  I could not stop myself.  With the lyrical Tennyson lines rolling over themselves in my mind, I grabbed my camera and scooted onto the porch.

My friend Sally asked me yesterday if life’s vagaries had slowed the pace of entries here.  I contemplated her words, but then, found myself telling the truth.  This blog might have run its course.  It could be evolving.  I cannot say.  This much remains true:  Writing compels me.  My words might not dance over the smooth stones of a river’s bed, but they tumble to the keyboard as swiftly and as relentlessly from my hands as from the pen of any poet.

It’s evening, on the seventeenth day, of the seventy-first month since I began this endless year, in which I strive not to complain.  From the California Delta, my corner of paradise, I exhort you:  Take up your camera, your computer, your brush, your song, your courage.  Do not let go of  that which you grasp until whatever you long to do consumes each waking hour and sends you tired but content into the night.

Life continues.

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

I can’t say for certain that this is an eagle.  More likely, it is a hawk.  Taken with a simple Canon PowerShot SX530HS on full zoom mode, sitting on my porch across the meadow.

With special thanks:

To Sally Kerchner for her mad listening skills;

And to Genevieve Casey, for encouraging me to value myself.

Common bonds

I tried to make a one-eyed Egyptian egg today.  Though I made a few technical errors, I enjoyed the taste and remembered my mother with each luscious bite.  I used the good brown bread which Sally brought for our shared lunch yesterday, and a cage-free, pasture-raised brown egg from Sprouts in Lodi.

My mother made this dish from Wonder bread and cheaper-by-the-dozen eggs from Bettendorf-Rapps.  I’d stand on the wooden stool which she painted green in later years, with some left-over paint the way everything got treated back then.  She let me tear the hole and eat the little nugget of squishy bread.  Into the pan went margarine and then she laid the bread down, cracking the egg to simmer in the hot fat.  With a deft movement of her wrist, the treat got flipped so the yoke would cook.  I sat in the breakfast room and sprinkled salt all over the plate before piercing the delightful egg and letting its yoke run.  I never had anything so wonderful.

Sally and I have nothing in common and yet, we have become close.  I met her last year when she and her husband Bill spent eight months in the Park where I live.  She hales from back east; has Conservative, Christian views; and moves comfortably within the broad, beautiful parameters of her lengthy marriage.  

We dined on my 8 x 8 deck.  I set the table with a cloth of my mothers and napkins which, truth be told, belonged to my ex-husband’s first wife.  Hawks flew over head.  Her dog Buddy and two pups that she’s minding for her daughter sprawled in the sun-drenched meadow.  An early fog had lifted by mid-day, leaving behind a cloudless blue sky which on its own provided an excellent justification for continued enthusiasm.

Sally and I shared heart-felt conversation, sitting for hours, until we finally realized that she had to go if she wanted to get over the Antioch bridge before dark.  She embraced me before bundling the dogs into the backseat of her Jeep and gliding away on the gravel road.  I stood on the porch for a long while.  The chilly air did not discourage me.  I felt the warmth of Sally’s arms around me.  I thought about my mother, with whom Sally also has little in common — except that both were daughters; and mothers; and friends; and strong resilient women who, for some inexplicable reason, chose to love me.

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


The blood moon crouched on the horizon as I came home from work on Tuesday.  I longed for even my scratched lens to capture the glowing orb.  By the time I got to the Park, it had risen, bright, full, and radiant.

I cannot sleep these days.  A few hours of rest ends with tense moments of wakefulness before I finally drag myself from bed.  I huddle under the blankets as long as possible, wishing for the silent shroud of sleep. Eventually I cannot avoid the futility of my efforts.   But I don’t use the extra time for anything productive.  My body still yearns for rest, steered wrong by a scrambling brain.

The next year could make or break my mortal salvation.  Mindful of my promise to live to be 103, I consider that I have a third of my life remaining.  I could do so much with three decades:  Finish my book; atone for my misspent youth; send countless ripples of joy across the surface of our moonlit planet.  I do not suggest that I have any special power other than hard-won awareness.  My muscles still shudder; my heart still wobbles; my stubborn nature persists.  But I have stepped out of the shadows into the dazzling light on the bright side of the moon.  That has to count for something.

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

Turning tables

When I had my tiny house built, I envisioned my eating table dropping down from the exterior wall perpendicular to the kitchen.  This would allow for two persons to enjoy a meal with adequate room for a chair on each long side.  But the builder did not realize what I wanted, and put the large window in the exact spot where the table was to be attached.

Instead, then, my lovely live-edge cherry table drops from a cabinet and slides out into the room parallel with the kitchen.  This unsatisfactory arrangement necessitated the construction of a bench from the last good board of the hundred-year old wood from the Holmes house.  I like the bench, but it’s hard to navigate around the table, over the stairs, and onto the bench.  It’s rarely used.  Instead, company sits on a small chair at the short end of the table.  For my daily meals, I face the window with my back to the room.

Tonight I turned the tables on myself.  From the bench, with the front door open, I listened to the sounds of the park as I skimmed through social media.  I studied the accumulation of clutter on my counter; the dangling curtain in the guest sleeping loft; and the cobwebs on the ceiling.  I sipped cool water and reflected on my day.

Later, I saw a post from the person whom I have come to regard, with a fair degree of sorrow, as one of the few people in the world who genuinely loathe me.  The post had me as its subject and a markedly unpleasant inference.  But as I watched, it disappeared.  Maybe the person thought better of the comment.  I sighed and turned away from the computer.  I could have been upset, but I let it go.

Darkness has fallen now; and soon, I shall wash a few dishes and settle for the night.  I’m not much for bedtime prayers, but I have some guardian angels to thank; and one or two whom I want to dispatch to watch over President Carter, my son, and some friends whom I know are struggling.  I’ll ask a special, sweet cherub to find the person who seems to despise me and soothe that person’s soul.  Angels abound; I can spare a few.

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


I wear my heart on my sleeve.

My heart beats over my shoulder in the sketch drawn by a street artist in 2006 of my son and me in Rochester, Minnesota.

My heart nestles beneath the soft fabric of the sweater which Caitlin Taggart Perkins gave me for Christmas three years ago.

My heart falls from around my neck in each bead of the necklace which I made with my mother-in-law during my desperate hours of trying to save her from the grip of dementia.

My mother’s heart shines from my smile.  

The heart and soul of  each woman who trudged the rocky path before me radiates from the crinkles in my eyes and the grey roots surrounding my face:  My Nana; Grandma Corley; Mom Ulz; Great-grandmother Corinne Hahn Hayes.

Two years ago this Sunday, Angel’s Haven came to rest on a small lot here at Park Delta Bay.  I stood in front of her, smiling, hopeful, maybe even a little brave.  Stacks of boxes within the house held the small allotment of personal belongings which I had allowed myself.  I had no idea what the next two years would provide.  I had no job; I had no friends here; I had no family within driving distance except a few Corley cousins with whom I had not managed to connect.  Everything I knew remained in the Midwest.  The endless possibilities intrigued me; the monumental potential for failure terrified me.

My clumsy feet seem to find every pothole.  If a task can be botched, I have managed to do so in my sixty-four years on earth.  I continue to struggle with focus and ambition.  In the early hours, doubt overcomes me.  Fear makes itself at home in my domain.  Every effort which I have undertaken falls short of expectations.  I see disappointment in the eyes which turn away from me.

But I still wear my heart on my sleeve. 

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