The story wheezed out through his nose and mouth,
the laughter gusting out of him in bursts,
his white hair gleaming white as angel hair.
"We'd had a drink or two," he started off.
"I'll tell you that right off. We weren't drunk yet,
just happy with the floating caused by booze.
Before I tell you how it happened, though,
I've got to tell you Alexander Wolcott's size.
The man was huge, a belly of a man!,
and every bit the author on the prowl.
He inhaled food and talk and crazy tales
and topped them off with spirit laced with booze.
"We'd both left Taliesan, as I said,
a little happy with the selves we were.
I'd fixed a salad garnished with a touch
of Johnson's Wax mixed in with parsley greens,
and Wolcott, gourmet that he was, had raved
about my splendid culinary skills.
We wandered with our bottles to the riverbank
and talked about the Wright philosophy
and how it blended human with the earth
and gave us humans healthy humus souls.
"And then, just like the crazy fish I was,
I shucked my shirt and jumped into a pool
that scattered sunlight at my dazzled eyes.
My pants-legs plastered to my tender hide,
and for a moment I could hardly see
how I was going to swim and drink my fill
while breathing air and staying afloat.
But then I twisted over on my back,
flopped down the bottle on my stomach's tan,
and watched as Wolcott struggled with the thought
that Taliesan afternoons were hot,
and riverwaters were most likely cool.
"He sank into the water on his back
and floated like an island, belly-up
and gleaming white against the river water gray.
"I laughed outloud and kicked out of the pool
into the river's lazy currentstream
and waited with a bated breath to see
what Wolcott had the nerve and brass to do.
The massive legs splashed with a booming thump
and out my author floated to the stream.
I shouted, halleluah Lord, oh Lord!
and swigged a touch of whisky-fire down past my lungs.
Fat Wolcott grunted happily and chugged
his liquid bottle brown toward the sun.
"We floated for an hour or more and sang
some Irish tunes we'd learned the day before
when Ruth had gamboled on piano keys
and celebrated Taliesan life
and floating down the river of our lives.
"But then Alexander's back began to make him moan,
and suddenly we realized how far
we'd strayed from any bank where you could plant
your trouser cuffs and wobbly knees on land.
Alex moaned some more, and I began to crane
my neck about in hopes of finding sand and beach,
when suddenly we heard some laughing up ahead.
I gave a kick or two around a bend
and got an eyeful of a woman's group
spread out with picnic baskets on a sandy beach.
"I stopped my kicking, cursed an angry curse,
and thought about how I would look if I
suddenly kicked my way to shore
and stood up with my river-dripping-pants
before those women with a bottle in my hand.
"I'd just decided that I'd been a fool
to think that I could float forever down a stream
when I saw Wolcott float up to the shore
and groan his sunburned belly up above
his splaying toes and wrinkled, trembling knees.
The women stared at him as if he was
a bleached-white whale leaving water for a walk.
"I turned my head toward the dreaded shore
and started wondering just what to say
when Wolcott bowed as pretty as you please,
as if he had a tie and tails on,
and introduced himself, still dripping wet,
with emphasis upon the fact that he
had written books that everybody there
had surely read and been amazed at genius incarnate.
"I dripped up from the river's shining wet
just as the ladies learned that I was Gehr,
that Taliesan sculptor friend of Wright's.
Then, as I gawked and dripped, sunburned Wolcott launched
into a lecture on the written arts
that took three dozen eyes away from me
and rolled with huge stentorian grace
into the sunlight of the blazing afternoon."
Gehr's laughter wheezed out through his nose and mouth.
He looked cherubic with his halo-hair.
I smiled, and laughed, then shambled to my feet.
He laughed again. "By God I liked that man,"
he said. "He was an artist dripping-wet,
bare bellied, sunburned, foolish-looking, pained
in back and dignity and heart and head."
"Well, artists are as artists are," I said.
Then, with apologies, I laughed myself to bed.