Santa Isabel: a wreck
by Nance Klehm


I am on the plane with my forehead pressed against the window. The young woman ahead of me, who spent the delayed departure in the airport bar smoking a cigarette and downing two cocktails, has passed out. Stringy hair over earrings, splayed over the tiny synthetic pillow with its slippery paper case. She anticipated more drinks with the meal and was pleased as punch that they were complimentary - a form of airline company apology. She had been prepared to write me a check for her tab as she was ill-equipped with cash.



ship wreckage

floating on the sea;

something floating or

drifting about on or as if on

the surface; an accumulation

of unimportant,

miscellaneous and often

disordered trifles



Lois said: "It's good food. I don't know. I like it."

 Lois greets me at the airport wearing a yellow pant suit with painted cartoon pelicans. Her friend Dottie is with her. She is leaving tomorrow and I am to take the helm. On the way home, we stop at a restaurant for watery soup and black coffee and talk about their drive down. That they stopped at Marge and Jack's for a week and visited a pineapple farm whose gift shop had lots of different kinds of jelly they could ship anywhere in the world and a freezer full of boxed upside-down cakes and they took a shelling excursion to an island off-shore where they found shark teeth and horse conchs and perfect pink scallop pairs.



Lois arranged the mottled oranges and grapefruit that she "hand-picked" in Jupiter into a large grid that ran the length of the kitchen counter. Every morning she juiced a few of them to wash down her 16 pill regimen and a slice of coffee cake. After breakfast, she pulled a dollar bill out of her housecoat, folded it, and picked her teeth free of pulp.



I swam across Lake Michigan to the opposite shore where a lacy network of buoyant folks in trunks and bathing caps were on their bellies. Floating. Linked togehter. It was like a social project - like "Hands Across America". But it was taking place in the lake and trsacing the shoreline. Thousands of arms and legs and torsos spread wide read like asterixes from above. I swam up to a grinning, ruddy-faced Irishman and linked up to him.



Today at the beach I was approached by a man. He, for one reason or another, started up a conversation about the genetic work of Hitler and his personal appreciation of Pure Beauty. The conversation didn't start this way, but when it switched, I was taken by surprise and ended up listening to him go on and on. He left saying: "I hope your opinion doesn't change of me because of anything that I said."

Lois told me once: "If you see an Indian wrestling with an alligator, it's because the alligator is too cold to fight."



In the bay. Waves lap barnacled mangrove roots making a sexy slapping sound like flip flops slapping arches. Gliding the silver tartan, a breeze carries me to the rookery: an island of birds reveals itself to be a mound of guano-varnished rocks and a grouping of egrets, pelicans and gulls. Feeding fish prick ripples. An entrail of silt runs the spine of the kayak like a shrimp that has yet to be de-veined before being devoured. On the other side of the bay, at the pass, is a large white building with a huge flat roof that I fantsize is a dairy farm.



I was working on a long narrative scroll and needed to create more space in which to work. I walked down the hall through a cloud of sawdust until I reached a window. There stood a bronze tree; a weird stylized palm the Fat Girl made. I carried it back to my studio on my back. People commented that it looked as though I was carrying a crucifix. I laughed. There were little sqiggles of metal hanging off the tree that were to represent birds. The Fat Girl put them there because she believed that birds are the communicators between Earth and Sky.



Lois and I drive sixty miles to visit friends. Kurt showed me the backporch; his "botanical garden". Scale covered his plants and I reached for insecticidal soap and doused their leaves and stems until dripping. Ruth played the organ: "Bird in a Gilded Cage" accompanied by tinny soundmachine backup rhythms. We returned to the living room to listen. Kurt gripped the walker that he is supposed to use at all times but rarely does and tapped on the metal rest with his wedding band in order to keep time.

Ruth calls Kurt from her wheelchair, gestures towards the mosaiced TV tray that holds a huge bowl of melted chocolate ice cream and points out that he has forgotten to cut two yellow leaves off the chefflera on the back porch. The story goes that she was pinned to a quonset hut by an army truck fifty odd years ago when she was a WAC.



And then Lois said: "It's what we always said, 'Noodles and pork roast.'"




what is cast overboard to lighten the load and then sinks.