Excerpt from Chlora's Book of the Month Club: April
Copyright 2015, Ginger Henry Geyer
Chlora, in her PJ's and bunny slippers, attends the Easter morning sunrise service on town mountain, which is a "come as you are" event.
Spring had sprung like a Slinky,
like Jesus bouncing back from the tomb,
and it was time to get outside
even though it was barely
the crack of dawn. Chlora was not
a morning person, but she was
required by law to go to the city-wide
Easter sunrise service up on the mountain.
At least it was a come-as-you-are affair.
Chlora was a bit worried that
this casualness signaled
a touchy-feely sort of worship service,
but it was an adventure to go out in public
in PJ’s and slippers.
Chlora felt quite appropriately attired
for when morning has broken
like the first morning.
However, nobody was prepared
for the sight of her big sister, Joanie Kay,
in gigantic hair curlers
made out of orange juice cans.
Joanie Kay had been forced to
unplug herself from her bonnet hairdryer
and she was none too pleased.
Chlora had to admit the sunrise
was wondrous, slipping its soft colors
into the darkness and gently overtaking it.
Like a wet-on-wet painting,
the sun peeked out of the pocket
of the earth, beginning a movement
that Monet depicted long ago as
Chlora's family trudged up the hill in the dark,
just in time for the first light. They sat down
on a big rock overlooking a makeshift stage.
Chlora kept her eye on a mysterious
dark form up front and feared it might be
a mountain lion. As her eyes adjusted,
she saw it was nothing but
a park bench with a lumpy blanket on it,
probably left over from some campout.
A muted trumpet accompanied
the rising sun. Its first notes
were as tentative as the break of day,
a gentle breaking in of the Kingdom.
Its tone grew brighter along with the light.
Chlora knew better than to sit too close
to the brass quartet of five,
as they would blow your ears off
once the triumphalism started.
It took a hired band to blow in the resurrection.
This was supposedly an ecumenical service,
and apparently the organizers
were unaware that Jesus told us not to toot
our own horn when we pray.
And he’d said that during his
Sermon on the Mount,
so you’d think people would remember
that while up here having their
My Lord, what a morning,
My Lord, what a morning,
Oh, my Lord, what a morning
when the stars begin to fall.
The warm up act with its faint glow gave way,
and up came the sun in full splendor,
as if it had never risen before.
Birds chirped with glee,
taking full credit for the spectacle.
You will hear the trumpet sound
to wake the nations underground.
A sun like that needed no introduction.
Chlora shivered and pulled up
the collar of her plaid bathrobe.
She scrunched her toes to feel the fuzz
inside her new bunny slippers.
At least it wasn’t freezing outside
like last Easter when it froze the tails
off bunnies for miles around.
Patches of scenery were illuminated
here and there as the eastern sky
graduated into a blinding light.
While the allelujahs were held at bay,
a liturgical dance troupe
came out from under a rock
and reenacted the discovery of the empty tomb.
Their Muslim-like headscarves fluttered
like a controversy around a painted backdrop
that had a big dark hole in it.
Next to the hole was a
round styrofoam tombstone
that had been rolled back.
The three dancers feigned shock,
and pulled white grave-clothes
out of the big hole, like they were
emptying the dryer at the laundromat.
Then the lump on the park bench moved.
Chlora thought it might be some homeless guy,
but Jesus in a bad wig threw off his blanket
and stood up, scaring the heck out of those
Marys. They all ran off, just like in the original
freeze-frame ending of the Gospel of Mark,
before somebody spiffed it up.
The Marys' exit signaled
the trumpets to blast away.
The brassy noise was loud enough
to fell the walls of Jericho
as it echoed off the bluff.
Chlora reconsidered that story
about Joshua blowing down Jericho
and then killing every man, woman, child
and even the animals.
No way was that a good story,
but those biblical genocides
seemed to be celebrated by those
who trumpeted their die-hard faith
regardless of the effect it had on others.
But this was Easter, the happiest day,
so let Gabriel blow his horn
like Louie Armstrong. Loud was good;
the sleepy solace of the
Lawrence Welk combo
would not befit a morning as fine as this.
Chlora took her fingers out of her ears
once the horn blowing stopped
and concentrated on the reverberations,
trying to count how many seconds
the sound waves persisted
until they dissipated into the breeze.
The dancers, however, were not finished.
Three of them returned and
began flapping around, caught up in
some sort of stretchy white sheet,
like a chicken trying to hatch,
twittering their fingers as if discovering
them for the first time.
They enthusiastically found their way
out of the fabric, shed it,
and ran around the small congregation
swirling rainbow ribbons on sticks.
Chlora got swatted with one and glared.
Didn’t somebody invented ballet
to prevent these amateurs
from over-expressing themselves,
wallowing in their earnestness?
Just like that, a miracle was declared—
He is risen!—even though
the miracle itself hadn't yet registered
via deductive reasoning.
Rapidity plus absolutism seemed to satisfy
the human need to believe in something.
Chlora concluded that, well, whatever,
miracles are miraculous.
After this miracle, nobody would play
the blues, and all the little cornets
would grow up to be tubas,
and there'd be no need to gild
the trumpet lilies which were
perfectly beautiful as they are.
The brass band led the motley group
of worshipers back down the steep hill.
Chlora looked forward to the
kids' parade at the afternoon picnic,
and wished they would have
a few horns to blow.
Dozens of white lilies to consider
lined the downhill path.
They toiled and spun,
and everyone was considerate of the lilies,
picking up the pots to take to the church.
The breeze's job was to catch lily pollen
and spread the sweet scent.
No wonder they were called trumpet lilies.
Their fragrance announced itself in blasts.
The perfume permeated everything,
like surround sound does. It was like
being dipped in the dawning colors
of Monet's huge panoramas of water lilies
where beholding the blues alone
was almost more than one could take.
Far below, the river came into view,
a long strip of shimmer.
Maybe Monet’s skinny waterlily paintings
depicted a river rather than a pond.
The river here even had swans,
trumpeter swans, precisely placed
to grace the morning
with an excess of beauty.
Monet's pond didn’t have swans;
swans would have been just too much.
His waterlilies were a happy mass
of thickly scumbled paint, enough to make
the willows cease weeping.
Morning awe had done its thing
and the world woke up.
Way down in the valley lay an entirely
different palette, one Monet shared
with Renoir once when they had
a painting duel over a field of poppies.
The sunrise worshippers hadn't noticed
the fiery red poppy field
during their dark trudge up the hill.
But there it was, even more beautiful
for its transience, as those
papery poppy petals
would readily be gone with the wind.
This was the real Easter parade,
stumbling back down from
the mountain top half-blinded and half-deaf
from a high-faluting religious experience,
looking ridiculous in your pajamas
and hair curlers, chock full of natural glory
and human nonsense,
returning to where reality awaits,
where you have to comb out
your tangled hair, find socks
that match for church, and
learn than justice isn't just about you.
Later that morning, Chlora and family go to the Easter worship service at their church.
The whole sanctuary was fluffed up
and its music matched the décor.
The same musicians from sunrise mountain
welcomed them back.
Strike up the band!
But inside the sanctuary
the band was called an orchestra.
Gentility has its place. And a traditional
mainline church was the place.
None of that drum-beating, follow the
bouncy ball on the screen here.
Even though it was a liturgically deprived
Protestant church, this one knew
how to evoke majesty.
Early in the agenda, some lady
gave a rather surgical reading
of the scriptures for the day.
As usual, there were three passages
which had nothing
but everything in common.
That resurrection of bodies story
in Revelation was plum crazy,
why didn't people hear that?
Who'd really want to see that?
Chlora envisioned an awful scene
where naked bodies and skeletons
came crawling out of their graves,
searching for clothes and answering
the blast of the last trumpet.
Through the years somebody
had really muted that part of the story.
But Chlora had looked it up
in an Italian art book and that event
was anything but domesticated,
with naked angels in living color
blowing on six-foot-long horns
to wake up the dead.
That last trumpet had something to do
with the Last Judgment,
when Jesus declares
Ready or Not, here I come!
The trumpeter up front
blasted a few notes
before the gospel reading
and everybody respectfully stood up.
There were four Gospel accordions,
as Chlora well knew, and this reading
was from the Gospel Accordion to John
where Mary Magdalene
went to the empty tomb
and found Jesus out gardening.
But he’d gotten himself so dirty
he told her not to touch him.
Mary Magdalene was always involved
in an attract/repel dynamic.
She was honored to be the first one
to see the risen Christ
but later on those misogynists
turned her into a prostitute
just because she tried to touch him.
That push-pull technique was also
the way to play an accordion,
which Chlora looked forward
to doing at the picnic this afternoon.
Was St. John responsible for
Mary Magdalene’s bad reputation?
Had he exaggerated things like
he did in his Revelation nightmare?
Mary Magdalene should be the first apostle.
She was the one who stayed.
She was the only one to witness the big
three events—she endured the crucifixion,
the burial, and now, was the first witness
to the resurrection.
Chlora twirled the ribbon on her straw hat,
imagining Mary Magdalene wearing it
in the garden, and later on the street,
reminding people to always
greet the gardener.
On cue, the solemn hand bell players
wearing white gloves filed out,
decently and in order.
Since it was Easter, the church
had pulled out all the bells and whistles.
Chlora was glad this wasn’t one of
those higher-up churches
where they also have bells and smells.
Incense was stinky and reminded her
of the flower children hippies
who had infiltrated the city park.
Incense made people cough.
The organist was almost worn out by now,
as organ playing is a full body experience.
He was glad to turn this portion of the
worship service over to
The Joyful Noise Hand Bell Choir.
The hand bell choir director introduced
her kindergartener who was there to help
direct the bell choir today.
The she announced that the kindergarten
and pre-school parents had
at last raised enough money to complete
a second hand bell octave (all clapped)
and the big new bass bell
would make its premiere today.
The bell ringers kept their eyes
fixated on the sheet music
and quickly put down bells
they weren't ringing and grabbed up
the next ones. Chlora was close enough
to get a look at the clappers on the insides,
wondering how it felt to be
knocked around like that. As usual,
those bell ringers had their timing off
so badly that their bells looked like
they would melt from embarrassment.
The guy with the big huge bell
bonged it at the wrong time
and silenced it in the crook of his arm;
otherwise its deep purple dong
would hang in the air for hours.
That big brass bell could kill somebody.
It would be a novel addition
to the CLUE game;
just imagine a church murder mystery,
"Killed by the Bell."
However, the spirit always trumps order
and the bells all got going at once,
busily morphing into things and colors
up and down the table.
The strike note met the hum note
like a full fledged carillon,
the chromatic scale took on
the colors of the rainbow.
The real truth of it was
that the rainbow needed every hue
in the spectrum to be itself.
The choir director's son stood beside her
for the fulsome bell finale.
He proudly mimicked his mother's motions.
Only problem was that he'd taken something
out of her purse, a short white stick
with a string on it,
and was waving it around
like a conductor's baton.
His mom grabbed it out of his hand
and all the bell ringers got off beat again.
The only way she could recover
the song was to command a great rash
of tinker bells to end it.
Chlora grinned so big her cheeks hurt
and she had to hold her lips together
to keep from laughing out loud.
All this bell ringing was a prelude to baptism,
which was another Easter tradition.
A row of parents and wiggly babies
lined up beside the octagonal font,
along with the bell director's son,
who now looked big and awkward.
Chlora was glad she'd gotten this over with
when she was an infant,
before she knew what was happening to her.
One baby got a real splash that soaked her
lacy white gown and she wailed,
which was cue to the organist to play
Handel’s water music louder than usual.
One of these days Chlora might
attempt to understand
just what baptism was all about.
But if babies can do it, maybe it wasn't
something you’re supposed
On Easter there has to be an anthem,
if not a full fledged cantata.
This way they could get the most use
out of the rented mini-orchestra
whose mandate was to drown out the choir.
But the ever loyal choir pressed on,
pushing out all the joy they had.
The singers’ open mouths varied in shape,
as did their facial expressions.
Some were acutely attentive,
crisply turning their pages in sync.
Others smiled all over and tried not to
sway to the beat. All of them clearly
appreciated the accompaniment.
Chlora couldn't decipher the lyrics
but she knew what they were singing.
Chlora observed each instrument
starting at the rear of the orchestra
but it was hard to tell who did what.
In the back was a blur of drumsticks
that brought on the sonic boom of
copper kettle drums.
The towering bass fiddle was plucked
and sawed. In front of it, a not-too-ladylike
cellist sat hugging her instrument
between her legs, probably enjoying
its vibes. Only people with long arms
could make the trombones slide
far enough, while the baritone player
rested his arm on his upside down horn.
Meanwhile the twisted French horn
had to be turned over to drain its spit.
The clarinetist licked a new reed,
and twisted her mouthpiece back
on with a corky squawk.
The earnest oboes played with pinched lips.
Why bother? They couldn’t even be heard.
However you could always pick out
the chirpy trill of the flute.
It was always nice to hear music, but
seeing it made was even better.
Chlora enjoyed the colors of all
these instruments, especially the gold flash
of the upraised trumpet and the range
of warm browns in the string section.
How did the grain of wood affect sound?
Violinists used a variety of chin supports,
some just hankies, and Chlora was
mesmerized watching all the bows
glide in tandem.
The congregation gave a rousing applause.
Typically, clapping was frowned upon,
as it turned the music into a performance
and the players might think
it was all about them.
Who invented clapping?
Chlora didn't clap, but cupped her hands
behind her ears, as she did not want
to lose the moment of stillness
when the music recollects itself.
At the very end of the service, following
the benediction, the trumpeter
got the last say. He did his own sort of
voluntary, a Scott Joplin rag about
pineapples or something sweet.
The trumpeter slowly made his way
down the center aisle. He even strutted
a little. Puzzled parishioners looked about
and then a few started to tap their toes.
Several got up and boogied
down the aisle behind him,
till the whole sanctuary
turned into a dance line.
It was a delightful breach of
Protestant protocol, but why not?
Surprises like this
are what Easter is all about.
In the narthex, Chlora watched the
Pied Piper put his beautiful gold horn
back into its frumpy case.
Then he was out of there.
No wonder, he’d sat
through the sermon twice already
and had another gig to attend to.
Chlora accosted him and asked
if he could come to their
Easter parade that afternoon.
She said their marching band could
really use a Boogie Woogie bugle boy.
He politely declined and suggested
they find some president with a saxophone
instead to get some razamatazz.
Chlora tagged behind him
across the churchyard
and he politely asked her what music
she liked best in today’s worship service.
She said she liked that Joshua Oratorio
that made the Berlin wall
come tumbling down.
And her favorite hymn, Morning Has Broken,
which they sang at the sunrise service
to break in the sky, or maybe it was to
break the mourning of Good Friday,
did he know which?
She also enjoyed the sound of the air
when the hand bells quit playing.
The trumpeter plucked at the air
and replied that, yes,
those resounding chords
were like the aftertaste of sacre vin,
the fine communion wine,
on the roof of the mouth,
at the back of the throat,
lingering like a visual memory
above the right ear,
like a negative afterimage hovering
before the eyes, like a resurrection
that rings true beyond physical proof.
And likewise, the compassion of music
must enter us via osmosis
and indelibly seep into our memories
so it becomes a perpetual reminder
of truth, of goodness, of beauty.
Chlora didn't quite know how to respond.
He must be a prophet or something,
a mouthpiece of the Lord,
so she replied, You're darn tootin'!
He asked who was her favorite composer
and all she could think of was Beethoven.
Did the trumpeter know Beethoven
personally? Could he play the
"Flight of the Bumblebee"?
The trumpeter replied that Beethoven
didn't write that, but he himself used to
play it on the street corner and
people would throw coins in his horn case.
The trumpeter asked Chlora if she'd
ever played a horn, and she said, no,
because tooting her own horn was impolite.
However, she had a nice toy accordion.
The accordion could honk as well as a horn
and it was really swell at mimicking
a whole hive of bees.
It was her main squeeze, that accordion,
and it did the push-pull thing
better than that abstract painter
Hans Hofmann or even Mary Magdalene.
The man suggested Chlora
try Beethoven on her toy accordion.
Even if she played Beethoven badly
it didn’t mean Beethoven was a bad composer.
The trumpeter opened his case
and gave Chlora a piece of sheet music
and told her to try it out on her accordion.
For such a rough old, plain black case,
the interior was sumptuous.
The gleaming trumpet, with all its twists
and turns, nestled in purple velvet.
A silver music holder caught the sun
and a cone-shaped mute rolled out.
What does that mute do? Chlora said.
It softens the blow, he told her.
I stick it in the end of the horn
and it quietens it,
directs emphasis elsewhere.
Sort of like muting a storyline
you need to suppress.
Chlora inquired about the dent in his trumpet,
how did it happen and did it affect the sound?
And did he know anything about
those seven trumpets in Revelation
or the one that the Angel Gabriel
would blast off on Judgment Day?
He said, uh, not really, and that his horn
wasn’t really a trumpet but a cornet.
Would she like to see the spit valve?
Spit was Chlora's favorite bodily fluid.
The trumpeter released a small handle
and music moisture dripped on the ground.
She was delighted by this;
who'd believe that much saliva
could accumulate in there?
Whenever she was thirsty, Chlora would
just think of something tasty,
like a crusty grilled cheese sandwich,
and her saliva glands would produce
enough to water her mouth.
The trumpeter shook his cornet
and wiped it off.
A little puddle formed in the dirt.
He said, well, we are indeed
the spitting image of God,
and this is the kind of mud
that makes us human.
Mourning has broken, indeed.