Shipwreck Pastoral

It went down the day I was born, my mother says, though she was already three years old when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975. The Fitz had over twenty years’ worth of successful trips around the Great Lakes, spat out pellets building our harbor’s great pyramids of iron ore, fog-dampened mineral a perfume more familiar than a rose. I thumb a pocketed light bulb filament found on the shore of Nayaashi, softened to beach glass. I want to show her this, run her finger along the embossed serial number as proof of an undiscovered shipwreck. We will dream of sturgeon purling through ballast, slipping past rudder, sulking through the captain’s quarters. In the beginning there was a woman who leapt from the sky and into the big water, she says. And at the end of the day only a muskrat could come up with that handful of  necessary dirt. My mother’s named after the beginning—clear sky woman—and beneath her canopy of skull-screw she asks, how can my skies be clear when my head’s so muddled up?  Once, when homeless, she lived on the grounds of the abandoned Nopeming tuberculosis sanatorium, an Ojibwe name for in the woods and out in the forest, exactly where I can’t imagine her being. As she slips in and out of housing, I become more adamant that the shipwreck is cousin to the Indian burial ground of the horror movie’s imagination, Gordon Lightfoot singing: The lake it is said / never gives up her dead / when the skies of November turn gloomy. And on christening day, Mrs. Fitzgerald smashed the champagne bottle only on the third try, bearing the ship an omen. It was like she was trying to climb out of the water, one sailor was reported saying when the ship nearly turned sideways that day, bilge sweating freshwater attempting to fix herself right-side up.