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Cider and Wine

An undream piece written 1974/10/23 by Wayan

Last week our writing class met in the huge Victorian home of our teacher Jim Houston (Farewell to Manzanar). He writes high in the cupola and edits his novels in the attic, by thumbtacking cards on the wall and moving them round till the shape feels right.

This week's exercise: "a character from inside." I decided mine was "inside Jim's Victorian."

First draft: JIM'S WRITING-CUPOLA

One plant stands in the cupola.

Alone, alone, all, all alone
Alone in the the ivory tower
and never a devil or angel comes
to pluck me from the flower

The plant has taken to versifying and believing it is a mystic because it has visions--visions of a strange wondrous world beyond its wood-walled box. Twelve windows, twelve worlds; a world of ducks on a green lagoon, a eucalyptus world, a roof-tile world, a sky world, a sea world, a world of sun, and on and on. And it dreams of someday growing big enough to stretch itself out, out till it fills the cupola and with its slow branches burst the windows and seek to touch the sea, the sun, the trees, for they are close, mocking, just behind these glass squares only a few inches from its reaching tendrils...

Second draft: GHOST OF THE CUPOLA

When you look through the wine, it all turns red. When you look through the cider, not everything turns yellow--faces, toes glimmer as in firelight, but the fires are inside. Little yellow flaring campfires where the natives inside the faces roast wild onions and Mariposa lilies.

"Aha!" cries the Inspector. "I believe we can identify the scoundrel by the fingerprints on the glasses. Note that the Narrator drank BOTH cider and wine!"

Sherlock, looking unusually disturbed, said slowly "I... had thought of it already, Inspector. The fingerprints show decisively that no one in the class drank BOTH wine and apple juice. At least, no... LIVING person..." and slowly, uneasily, his eyes rise to the ceiling, and in the sudden silence you too hear the creak creak CREAK CREAK and suddenly the lights dim to a dull red and flicker out, and a scream stabs through you and you hear the sound of breathing like an immense beast behind you and you whirl around and THE GHOST OF THE CUPOLA raises its bloated right hand to that grinning mouth and drinks red wine, raises its skeletal left hand to its other mouth and pours the cider down.

Third draft: ALMOST I FEEL I UNDERSTAND

To the one Jim's house we all come. Tall house, old wood, high fence, gray tower on top. It is called "cupola." I did not learn the names of other rooms. We come and it is coming dark, the sky is green when you look west and dark blue when you look east. When you look north or south or straight up it is half and half, but not when you look down. You can't see the color of that part of the sky because the earth is in the way.

A mean, loud road curves around the green-sky side of the house. I don't like the road; it snarls at me. Beyond the road is a slope of squeaky iceplant and tall eucalyptus and then a lot of water where ducks swim.

Into house, all in a line. Food smells, warm; a dark narrow passage, good for grabbing people in. We come to a taller wider place. We sit on things. Most of them are soft, but a few are hard. You put soft things on the hard ones to make them soft. It seems complicated.

Most of us in room are hot salty brown, move a lot. A few are slow green ones. They stand in dirt, very relaxed. Brown jumpy ones get bottles of liquid, pass them round. Green ones don't get any. I put some in a cup like a transparent acorn-cap. I share my liquid iwth a green one standing by me. Brown one sitting on other side looks at me a long time. I look at me, too.

We sit in a circle; across from me is a small person who dances a little even when sits. She is all small except for hips. They are solid, central hips. If I stretch my arms they would go around only one and a half times. Cats could ride on her hips. Though I am not seeing hips directly because they are covered with cloth--to keep them warm? Here is the way of it: from stomach to below crotch is warm cloth, from thigh to knee she lets heat radiate, below this, knee to ankle, is cloth, below ankle is an artificial hoof. Surrounds foot. Clops when she dances to bottle of liquid.

No one has the reverse of this pattern, cloth insulating between thigh and knee, letting skin radiate above and below. I begin to adjust cloth on me to try this pattern, but one sitting by me appears agitated (brown one only; green does not seem disturbed). I stop--perhaps pattern is not just for warm or for pretty, but has symbolic meaning.

Yellow liquid is called apple juice. Also is called cider. Red liquid is called wine. I remember it is also called sherry--thus I am surprised when one drinking apple juice near me is called 'Sherry.' I look among wine-drinking ones for one named 'Apple Juice' but no one seems to have this name. Perhaps it is taboo.

One speaks: a diamond shape face one tells a story about old man who lives next door. When he talks, butterflies are supposed to come out of his mouth, but green moths come out instead. When story-telling one talks, words are supposed to come out, but butterflies come out instead. They are not green: they are steel colored and the wings of them are razors. They flutter around old man, peeling cloth and skin away like an apple. Old man's skin is all cracked so it comes off easily. We see his core. But diamond face one has smooth tight skin; it has no cracks. I do not understand this one; to know so well this man, to circle round, so close peeling, so deep, and never becoming old man, not loving being sad old man and letting old man be you, butterfly-talking one. (This is the way we talk.)

To understand this person it will be necessary for us to be octopusses entwined on a porch chair rocking on the porches of the sea where it is deep, signalling touch-question with each tangle limb (they are called TENTACLES), and we will have to stay there while one or maybe even two seasons are allowed to complete themselves. And even so, the questions must be quick and specific.

But one said, before ones started telling stories, that there is a tide called the Red tonight. The ocean is rumored to glow. It is a hurting to some of the salt water living ones. Perhaps I will wait on the octopusses till the Red goes away and tide is other color. Then it will not hurt.

One speaks, a large one but is hard to understand story, the sounds are strange. But there is a kiss at the end with a tongue that is cold and tastes like beer. Beer taste is evidently bad? Many ones drink beer, like beer. Beer must be good. I have not drinked beer yet. I will try beer. Maybe the bad is the cold of the tongue.

I stick the tongue out and pant for a minute to make tongue all cold. Then kiss quick brown one by me, lick tongue with cold tongue. Other tongue feels warm, nice. But warm tongue one does not like it, jumps back. Ah, it is cold of the tongue that is the bad, then. Good; I have learned a new thing tonight. Almost I feel I understand these quick untouchable complicated ones. I will try. Ah.

NOTES

Almost I Feel I Understand describes the reading in Jim's parlor a week earlier: first Judy Sabel, then Dana ben Yehuda, then Laura Morel's tale of an uncle's beery kiss.

Jim Houston's note: "You've created something strange and marvelous here--a creature inside yourself, that is not yourself: a sort of outer-space voice that sees through your eyes--and yet there is enough distance between the creature and the writer so that you write as if describing someone else. Fascinating stuff."

Oh, I don't know. It isn't far from my real viewpoint. I do try to behave, but this is close to what I see and feel... when I'm not trying to pass for one of you.



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