Wild Oats

I “That’s what I call clouds,” says M, looking up and shading the sun from his eyes. A gray sky rained this morning, and now the heaven is blue, gifted with fairy-tale pillows of white cumulus. It’s not as though a gray raining mass were less real, R thinks, but M misunderstood. “What do you know what clouds are?” she tells M. They walk through a puddle. The delusion is dead. “I know what I like,” says M strangely, looking now at R. “I used to draw those clouds with crayons in kindergarten. Don’t you remember doing that?” R smiles and looks like she won’t answer, like she’d say whatever M would want her to say. M looks at his wet feet. II Vicky looked at Tom. Tom looked at what he’d written. “I need you for a character in a short story I’m writing,” he told her. “Do you care?” “No, but let me read it when you’ve finished,” Vicky said. She didn’t act it out as Tom had imagined. “But it’s not like that.” Tom tried to explain, “I need your help. Although I can imagine a dialog, it’s not realistic, because I don’t know what you’d say.” There were other things in the room that Vicky was looking at. “It’s very simple,” Tom continued. “I won’t change anything unless you want me to.” “That’s fine.” Vicky smiled, but there were other things she had to do. “OK,” answered Tom. “I’ll see you later. Maybe tomorrow.” This was enough, although much was left unasked. III Tom had seen Vicky in the hall, and had seen that she’d been tired. “You look tired,” he’d told her, breathing like he’d just run there and smiling like she’d been the one whom he’d been trying to please. But she’d been looking for Jane, and she’d been tired. She’d set a box and a sack of food on the floor. At five o’clock, she, Jane, and some other women had planned to meet to mimeo a chapter of a book on women for a Women’s study class. It had been 5:05. Sue had come from an office, and she’d told Vicky that she hadn’t seen Jane yet. Tom had insisted that he’d seen her through her window as he’d come into the building, before he’d seen Vicky. Vicky and Sue had walked on down the hall, and Tom had watched them meet Jane, who’d come around the corner from the English workroom. They’d been happy. Tom had followed Vicky into the workroom because she’d asked him if he were hungry. Tom had admired the snacks arranged on a file cabinet while Vicky had added her crackers and cheese. Vicky had said that the snacks were for those who would help work. Liz had already been there, and she had had a pile of spirit masters with the spirit of the first pages of the chapter laying on a table. Vicky has praised her spirit. Tom had sat down. Then, there had been five women in the room, wondering what do do. The room had already been crowded. Tom had asked if he was some kind of freak because Liz had been staring at him while she had arranged some papers. Sue had said, “Well, there aren’t any boys in the class.” It was a women’s class. Tom had felt more uncomfortable, and Liz had said no there were some boys in the class, but she hadn’t said anything about them, realizing that it would have made a bad taste. She had started to say something about Tom. Tom had started to leave. Vicky had been by the door. Tom had told Vicky that he was writing a short story and she was a character in it. She had been surprised and had wanted to see it when it was finished. Tom had dropped his folder trying to find a conversation between M and R that he’d already written. He’d tried to explain to her why he needed her help. She had liked it, but she’d been busy right then. Maybe she hadn’t understood why Tom had felt so clumsy. This wasn’t the right time to do this, Tom had thought, leaving the room to escape embarrassment, and forgetting to agree with Vicky on a time to meet again. IV Tom wouldn’t meet Vicky tomorrow. Vicky would be busy, and so would he. Tom would walk through the library, hoping to see her; he would study alone in Jane’s office, waiting for her. She wouldn’t come close enough. Tom would see her at a distance, talking to friends, but Tom would be busy, such an abyss. They both would smile and wave. Tom would know. There would be enough time. He wouldn’t have enough time. He would try to get to class on time. There would be something Tom would have to write. He would imagine how it would be. V Tom took Vicky by her arm. “Let’s go somewhere where we can talk.” “But where we are is fine,” Vicky told him. “Please let go of my arm.” “So it is,” Tom agreed, looking about the room. There was plenty of room. He let go of Vicky’s arm; he no longer felt as tall as he was. The chair was already there. Vicky was already seated. Short hair, a quick smile, sincere in a way that Tom knew that she has what it takes to laugh sometimes. She looked at Tom. The furniture in this room is all metal and plastic, Tom thought. His throat was dry and he wanted to say more. There was no dust anywhere. “Do you love me too?” Suddenly Tom was a little boy. “Yes,” she said. VI Tom would think about his short story whenever he could. Everything he would hear would appear to relate, the hours and then the days. He would imagine it with a different plot. In talking with his friends, he would fall into long unended arguments about delusions and conceptions. Questions would be asked; he would look for words that it would look as though he’d find. “This short story concerns the disparity between the imaginative creation of something and actually doing it,” he would answer. “And what more naturally can I write about than an attempt to fall in love, as I do that all the time anyway?” He would be dissatisfied with his words. The questions he’d ask himself would be answered with his friends’ arguments. He would carry on arguments even though he’d be alone. He would consider the inability to express feelings without illusions; if there would be a need without them, or if it’s just a game. He’d try to end his arguments. He’d play the game. He would pretend he’d be excited. VII When you have words, you have concepts, and these cause illusions. This is the truth; we say it feels like a cloud, and you know what clouds are. Clouds are what you make of them. This is a problem and this is a delight. We delight in problems, so you have poetry. The thing here that relates to things that are real is poetic images. We think in images. That’s why we say we have to find words for a thought to express it; you can’t communicate a cloud without a word because this is how we communicate. You can think a cloud, and this is the image. There’s no concept; there’s no question. If a poetic expression makes you see clouds, then this is a poetic image. You read this and you might say you don’t get it. It’s a problem you can’t ask yourself. You can’t accept it. You see shadows, and you don’t want them explained. You say that it’s meaningless to criticize, and that what it comes down to is what you like, to how you feel, ignoring all understanding. But there’s no meaning in what you feel until you express it. Feeling is important, but how does it feel—it feels apple, it feels like clouds, and you know what clouds are. Clouds are what you make them. You have to understand it. There’s no way out. There’s no meaning in an image of cloud, but when I say “cloud,” you know what I mean. Feeling is no more real than understanding. Feeling seems more basic, more natural, but what is that—it’s a concept. You talk of being, of now, and that things simply are. You understand that don’t you? How is that more real? You can’t feel a concept. You don’t know what real is. Your head is always caught in illusion. It’s not hard to be deceived. Only concepts have meaning, as meaning is itself a concept. In a sense, all the world is in your head, because that’s where the earth’s images are. When you put the world out again in words, or music, or art, that’s illusion. When you look at that and think it’s the earth, that’s delusion. VIII “It’s just not natural,” says M, looking over R and out his car’s window at a new lime-green house that someone must have paid a fortune to build there last fall, complete with a three-car garage that they must expect to use and a wide curved driveway instead of a lawn in front. It’s fall again and it still looks naked—there’s no shadow to break its hard lines. To order is the profound lie. “I don’t understand it,” M drives on down the road, remembering the tall eucalyptus trees that stood there before anyone ever dreamed of building there their fine colonial style home in the country. “You don’t have to understand it,” says R. She looks across the passing ditch still flowing with the morning rain and at a field of wild oats below the gentle foothills of the Sonoma Mountains. Cows for dairies there, M thinks, pastoral. Dairies for the cities that are steadily encroaching the country. What are they looking for, he thinks, that they should bring with them our ruin. But R doesn’t wonder. You drink milk, she thinks of telling M. Questions left unasked are silent ways left not further dissembled, but for what is death if not for life? The road doesn’t answer.

October 1972