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Auxilio Lacouture, Faculty of Literature, UNAM, Mexico City DF, December 1976. I'm the mother of Mexican poetry. I know all the poets and all the poets know me. I met Arturo Belano when he was sixteen years old and he was a shy boy who didn't know how to drink. I'm Uruguayan, from Montevideo, but one day I came to Mexico without knowing exactly why, or what for, or how, or when. I came to Mexico City, Distrito Federal, in 1967, or maybe it was 1965 or 1962. I can't keep track of the dates or my travels anymore; all I know is that I came to Mexico and I never left again. When I came to Mexico, León Felipe (what a colossus, what a force of nature) was still alive, and León Felipe died in 1968. When I came to Mexico, Pedro Garfias (what a great man, what a melancholy man) was still alive, and Don Pedro died in 1967, which means that I must have gotten here before 1967. So let's say I came to Mexico in 1965. I think it must have been 1965, though I may be wrong, and every day I'd go to see those universal Spaniards. I spent hours with them, as passionately devoted as a poetess and an English nurse and a little sister keeping tireless watch over her older brothers. And they would say to me in that odd Spanish accent of theirs, the way it circles around the z and the c and leaves the s more orphaned and libidinous than ever: Auxilio, stop fussing around the apartment, Auxilio, leave those papers alone, woman. Dust and literature have always gone hand in hand. And I would say to them: Don Pedro, León (isn't that funny! I used with the older one, the more venerable one, and yet the younger one intimidated me in some way and I couldn't drop the usted!), let me take care of this, you go about your business, keep writing, relax, and pretend I'm the invisible woman. And they would laugh. Or actually, León Felipe would laugh, although to be honest you could never be quite sure if he was laughing or clearing his throat or cursing, and Don Pedro wouldn't laugh (Pedrito Garfias, what a melancholy man), he wouldn't laugh, he would just look at me with his eyes like lakes at sunset, those lakes in the mountains that no one visits, those sad, peaceful lakes, so peaceful they seem otherworldly, and he would say don't trouble yourself, Auxilio, or thank you, Auxilio. And that was all. What a lovely man. So I would go see them, as I was saying, faithfully and without fail, not bothering them with my own poems and trying to be useful, but I did other things too. I worked. I tried to work. Because it's easy to live in Mexico City, as everybody knows or thinks they know or imagines, but it's only easy if you have money or a scholarship or a job, and I didn't have anything. The long trip to la región más transparente had drained me of many things, among them the energy to work at just any old job. So what I did was make the rounds of the university, specifically the Faculty of Literature, doing what you might call volunteer work: one day I might help to type Professor García Liscano's lectures, another day I'd translate some French texts in the French department, another day I'd cling like a limpet to a group that was putting on a play. I'd spend eight hours, without exaggeration, watching the rehearsals, going to pick up sandwiches, trying my hand at the lights. Sometimes I'd land a paying job: a professor would pay me out of his own salary to act as his assistant, say, or the department heads would arrange for themselves or the faculty to hire me for two weeks or a month to perform some vague task or another, mostly nonexistent, or the secretaries (they were such nice girls) would get their bosses to give me little jobs so I could make a couple of pesos. This was during the day. By night I led a bohemian life with my friends, which was extremely fulfilling and actually convenient because by then money was scarce and sometimes I didn't even have enough to pay for a furnished room. But usually I did. I don't want to exaggerate. I had money to live on. I was happy. During the day I lived at the faculty, like a little ant or actually more like a cicada, running back and forth from one cubicle to another, up on all the gossip, all the cheating and divorces, all the plans and projects, and at night I spread my wings, I turned into a bat, I left the faculty and wandered the DF like an imp (I'd like to say like a fairy, but it wouldn't be true) and drank and talked and attended literary gatherings (I knew every group) and advised the young poets who were already coming to me, although not as often as later on, and I lived, to make a long story short, in my time, I lived in the time I'd chosen and that surrounded me, aquiver, in flux, brimming over, happy. And then I hit 1968. Or 1968 hit me. Now I can say that I felt it coming, that I smelled it in bars, in February or March of'68 but before '68 really became '68. Oh, it makes me laugh to remember it. It makes me want to cry! Am I crying? I saw everything and at the same time I saw nothing. Does that make sense? I was at the faculty when the army violated the university's autonomy and came on campus to arrest or kill everybody. No. There weren't many deaths at the university. That was Tlatelolco. May the name be forever etched on our memory! But I was at the faculty when the army and the riot police came in and carted everybody off. It was the most incredible thing. I was in the bathroom, in the bathroom on one of the floors in the building, I think it was the fourth floor, though I can't say for sure. And I was sitting on the toilet, with my skirt hitched up, as the poem or the song goes, reading the exquisite poetry of Pedro Garfias, who had been dead for a year, Don Pedro, such a melancholy man, grieving for Spain and the rest of the world-who could've imagined that I would be reading in the bathroom at the very moment the filthy riot police entered the university? May I digress for a moment? I think that life is full of marvelous and mysterious things. And in fact, thanks to Pedro Garfias, to Pedro Garfias's poems and my long-standing habit of reading in the bathroom, I was the last to learn that the riot police had come in, that the army had come in, and that they were hauling away everyone they could find. Let's say I heard a noise. A rumble in my soul! And let's say that then the noise got louder and louder and by then I was paying attention to what was going on. I heard someone pull the chain in the next stall, I heard the door slam, heard footsteps in the hall, heard the clamor rising from the lawn, from the neatly cut grass that frames the faculty like a green sea wreathing an island, an island where there's always time for whispered confidences and love. And then the bubble of Pedro Garfias's poetry went pop and I closed the book and got up, pulled the chain, opened the door, said something out loud. Che, I said, what's going on outside? but no one answered me, everyone using the bathroom had disappeared, I said che, isn't anyone there? knowing beforehand that no one would answer. Maybe you know the feeling. And then I washed my hands and looked at myself in the mirror, and I saw a tall, thin, blond figure, a face with a few wrinkles already, too many wrinkles, the female version of Don Quixote, as Pedro Garfias once said to me, and then I went out into the hallway, and it was there that I suddenly realized something was going on, the hallway was empty and the shouting coming from downstairs was the kind that strikes you dumb and makes history. What did I do then? I did what anyone would do. I went over to a window and looked down, and I saw soldiers, and then I looked out another window and I saw tanks, and then out another one, at the end of the hallway, and I saw vans into which the captive students and professors were being herded, like something from a World War II movie crossed with a María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz movie of the Mexican Revolution, a dark canvas peopled with little phosphorescent figures, the kind of thing they say crazy people see, or people in the throes of fear. And then I said to myself: Auxilio, stay here. Don't let yourself be taken prisoner, baby. Stay here, Auxilio. Baby, don't let them write you into their script. If they want you let them come and find you. And then I went back to the bathroom and it was the strangest thing, not only did I go back to the bathroom but I went back into the stall, the very one I'd been in before, and I sat down on the toilet again, with my skirt up again, I mean, and my underwear pulled down, although I felt no physiological urgency (they say it's precisely in cases like this that the bowels loosen, but it wasn't true for me), and with Pedro Garfias's book open and despite not wanting to read, I started to read slowly, word by word, line by line, and suddenly I heard sounds in the hallway, the sound of boots? the sound of hobnailed boots? but che, I said to myself, isn't this a coincidence? and then I heard a voice saying something like everything is in order, though maybe it said something else, and someone, maybe it was the same bastard who'd spoken, opened the bathroom door and came in and I lifted my feet like a Renoir ballerina, my underwear dangling down around my skinny ankles and snagging on a pair of shoes I had back then, the most comfortable yellow moccasins, and as I was waiting for the soldier to check the stalls one by one, preparing myself, if it came down to it, not to open the door, to defend UNAM's last redoubt of autonomy-I, a poor Uruguayan poetess, who loved Mexico as much as anyone-while I waited, as I say, a special silence fell, as if time had fractured and were running in several directions at once, a pure time, not verbal or made up of gestures or actions, and then I saw myself and I saw the soldier who was staring entranced into the mirror, the two of us still as statues in the women's bathroom on the fourth floor of the Faculty of Literature, and that was all, then I heard his footsteps fading away in the distance, I heard the door close, and my raised legs returned to their former position as if of their own accord. I must've sat there like that for three hours or so, I'd say. I know it was starting to get dark when I came out of the stall. This was a new situation, I admit, but I knew what to do. I knew my duty. So I went over to the only window in the bathroom and looked out. I saw a soldier far off in the distance. I saw the outline of an armored troop carrier or the shadow of an armored troop carrier. Like the portico of Latin literature, the portico of Greek literature. Oh, I adore Greek literature, from Pindar to George Seferis. I saw the wind sweeping the university as if it was delighting in the last light of day. And I knew what I had to do. I knew. I knew I had to resist. So I sat on the tiled floor of the women's bathroom and in the last rays of light I read three more poems by Pedro Garfias and then I closed the book and closed my eyes and said to myself: Auxilio Lacouture, citizen of Uruguay, Latin American, poet and traveler, stand your ground. That was all. And then I started to think about my past the same way I'm thinking about my past now. I started to think about things that might not interest you in the same way as what I'm thinking now about Arturo Belano, the young Arturo Belano, whom I met when he was sixteen or seventeen, in 1970, when I was already the mother of the young Mexican poets and he was a kid who couldn't hold his liquor but felt proud that in his faraway Chile Salvador Allende had won the elections. I knew him. I met him in a noisy crowd of poets at the bar La Encrucijada Vera-cruzana, a ferret hole of a place where various promising young people and not-so-young people used to get together. I became friends with him. I think it was because we were the only two South Americans among all those Mexicans. I became friends with him despite the age difference, despite every conceivable difference! I taught him who T. S. Eliot was, who William Carlos Williams was, who Pound was. I took him home once, sick, drunk, his arms around my neck, his weight hanging from my narrow shoulders, and I became friends with his mother and his father and his very nice sister, all of them so nice. The first thing I said to his mother was: señora, I haven't slept with your son. And she said: of course not, Auxilio, but don't call me señora; we're practically the same age! I became friends with the family. A family of nomadic Chileans who had immigrated to Mexico in 1968. My year. I stayed as a guest at Arturo's mother's house for long stretches, once for a month, another time for two weeks, another time for a month and a half. This was because at the time I didn't have money to pay for a furnished room or a place on a roof. During the day I lived at the university doing this, that, and the other and at night I lived the bohemian life and I slept at friends' houses, leaving my meager belongings scattered everywhere, my clothes, my books, my magazines, my pictures, I was Remedios Varo, I was Leonora Carrington, I was Eunice Odio, I was Lilian Serpas (oh, poor Lilian Serpas), and if I didn't lose my mind it was because I always kept a sense of humor, I laughed at my skirts, my stovepipe pants, my tights with runs in them, my Prince Valiant haircut rapidly growing whiter than blonde, my blue eyes peering into the Mexico City night, my pink ears listening to the university stories, the rises and falls, the put-downs, the slights, the fawning, the flattery, the false praise, shivering beds that were disassembled and reassembled against the night sky of Mexico City, that sky I knew so well, that churning, unreachable sky like an Aztec cauldron under which I moved in perfect bliss, with all the poets of Mexico and Arturo Belano, who was sixteen or seventeen and who began to grow up as I watched and who in 1973 decided to return to his homeland to join the revolution. And I was the only one, besides his family, who went to see him off at the bus station, since he was traveling overland, a long journey, extremely long, plagued with dangers, the journey of initiation of all poor Latin American boys, crossing this absurd continent, and when Arturito Belano looked out the window of the bus to wave goodbye to us, it wasn't just his mother who cried, I cried too, and that night I slept at his family's house, more to keep his mother company than anything else, but the next morning I left, though I had nowhere to go except the same old bars and coffee shops, but still I went. I don't like to overstay my welcome. And when Arturo returned, in 1974, he was a different person. Allende had fallen and he had done his duty, or so his sister told me. Arturito had done his duty, and his conscience, the terrible conscience of a young Latin American male, had nothing with which to reproach itself. He had presented himself as a volunteer on September 11. He had mounted absurd guard in a deserted street. He had gone out at night; he had seen things. Then, days later, he had been arrested at a police checkpoint. They didn't torture him, but he was held captive for a few days and during that time he behaved like a man. Waiting for him in Mexico were his friends, the Mexico City night, the poets' life. But when he got back he wasn't the same. He started to go out with other, younger people, snot-nosed kids of sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, he met Ulises Lima (a bad influence, I thought so from the first time I saw him), he started to make fun of all his old friends, look down on them, see everything as if he were Dante and he'd just returned from hell, or not Dante, I mean, but Virgil himself, such a sensitive boy, and he started to smoke marijuana, that vulgar weed, and deal substances I'd rather not even think about. But deep down he was still as nice as ever, I know he was. And so when we met (purely by chance, because we didn't see the same people anymore), he would say how are you Auxilio, or he'd shout help, help! help!! from the sidewalk on Avenida Bucareli, jumping around like a monkey with a taco or a piece of pizza in his hand, always with that Laura Jáuregui, who was gorgeous, though her heart was blacker than a black widow's heart, and Ulises Lima, and that other little Chilean, Felipe Müller, and sometimes I would even bring myself to join his group, but they spoke in glíglico, like in Hopscotch, you could tell they liked me, you could tell they knew who I was, but they spoke in glíglico and that made it hard to follow the ins and outs and ups and downs of the conversation, which ultimately drove me off. Let no one think they laughed at me! They listened to me! But I didn't speak their glíglico and the poor kids were incapable of giving up their slang. Those poor abandoned kids. Because that was the situation: no one wanted them. Or no one took them seriously. Or sometimes a person got the impression that they took themselves too seriously. And one day someone said to me: Arturito Belano has left Mexico. And then: let's hope this time he doesn't come back. And that made me really angry because I had always loved him and I think I probably scolded the person who said it (mentally, at least), but first I had the presence of mind to ask where he'd gone. And whoever it was couldn't tell me: Australia, Europe, Canada, someplace like that. And then I started to think about him, and I started to think about his mother, who was so generous, and about his sister, about the afternoons we made empanadas at his house, and about the time I made noodles and we hung them all over the place so they would dry, in the kitchen, in the dining room, in the little living room they had on Calle Abraham González. I never forget anything. That's my trouble, they say. I'm the mother of all Mexican poets. I'm the only one who stuck it out at the university in 1968, when the riot police and the army came in. I stayed at the faculty all alone, shut up in the bathroom, with nothing to eat for ten days, fifteen days, I don't remember anymore. There I was with a book by Pedro Garfias and my bag, dressed in a white shirt and a pleated blue skirt, and I had all the time in the world to think and think. But I couldn't think about Arturo Belano back then because I didn't know him yet. I said to myself: Auxilio Lacouture, stand your ground, if you come out they'll throw you in jail (and probably deport you to Montevideo, because naturally you never got your papers in order, you fool), they'll spit on you, they'll beat you. I prepared myself to resist. To resist against hunger and loneliness. I slept for the first few hours sitting on the toilet, the same toilet I'd been on when everything began, and that, vulnerable as I was, I believed brought me luck, but sleeping sitting on a toilet stool is extremely uncomfortable and I ended up huddled on the tiles. I had dreams. Not nightmares. Musical dreams, dreams of transparent questions, of sleek, safe airplanes crossing Latin America from end to end in a cold, bright blue sky. I woke up frozen stiff and I was starving. I looked out the window, out the little bathroom window, and in pieces of campus like puzzle pieces, I saw the morning of a new day. That first morning I spent crying and thanking God in heaven that no one had shut off the water. Don't get sick, Auxilio, I said to myself, drink all the water you want, but don't get sick. I slid to the floor, my back against the wall, and I opened Pedro Garfias's book again. My eyes closed. I must have fallen asleep. Then I heard footsteps and I hid in my stall (that stall is the cubicle I never had, that stall was my trench and my Duino palace, my epiphany of Mexico). Then I read Pedro Garfias. Then I fell asleep. Then I looked out the little window and I saw very high clouds, and I thought about Dr. Atl's paintings and la región más transparente. Then I began to think about pleasant things. How much poetry did I know by heart? I started to recite it, whispering the poems I remembered, and I would've liked to write them down, but although I had a Bic I didn't have paper. Then I thought: you fool, you've got the best paper in the world right here. So I took some toilet paper and I started to write. Then I fell asleep and dreamed, oh, how ridiculous, about Juana de Ibarbourou, I dreamed about her book of poetry La rosa de los vientos, from 1930, and also about her first book, Las lenguas del diamante, such a pretty title, a gorgeous title, almost as if it were the title of a book of avant-garde poetry, a French book from last year, but it was published in 1919, in other words when Juana de América was twenty-seven. What an interesting woman she must have been back then with the whole world at her feet, all those gentlemen ready to graciously do her bidding (gentlemen who no longer exist, although Juana does), all those modernist poets ready to die for poetry, all those lingering looks, all those pretty words, all that love. Then I fell asleep. Then I woke up, and for hours, maybe days, I cried for lost time, for my childhood in Montevideo, for faces that still trouble me (that trouble me now even more than before) and that I'd rather not talk about. Then I lost track of the days I'd been confined. From my window I saw birds, trees, branches extending from invisible places, bushes, grass, clouds, walls, but I didn't see people or hear any noise, and I lost track of how long I'd been inside. Then I ate toilet paper (part of me was maybe remembering Charlot), but just a little piece, I didn't have the stomach to eat more. Then I discovered that my appetite was gone. Then I took the toilet paper that I'd written on and I threw it in the toilet and pulled the chain. The sound of the water startled me, and I thought I was lost. I thought: despite my cleverness and all my sacrifices, I'm lost. I thought: what a poetic act to destroy my writings. I thought: I should have swallowed them instead, because now I'm lost. I thought: the vanity of writing, the vanity of destruction. I thought: because I wrote, I stood my ground. I thought: because I destroyed what I wrote they're going to find me, beat me, rape me, kill me. I thought: the two acts are related, writing and destruction, hiding and being found. Then I sat on the toilet and closed my eyes. Then I fell asleep. Then I woke up. My body was a mass of cramps. I moved slowly around the bathroom, looked in the mirror, combed my hair, washed my face. Oh, how awful my face looked. The way it looks now, to give you some idea. Then I heard voices. I think it had been a long time since I heard anything. I felt like Robinson Crusoe when he discovers the footstep in the sand. But my footstep was a voice and a door slamming shut, an avalanche of stone marbles suddenly tossed down the hall. Then Lupita, Professor Fombona's secretary, opened the door and we stood there staring at each other, both of us with our mouths open and unable to say a word. From the shock of it, I think, I fainted. When I opened my eyes again I was in Professor Rius's office (what a brave, handsome man Rius is and was!), among friends and familiar faces, among university people, not soldiers, and that seemed so wonderful to me that I started to cry, unable to give a coherent account of what had happened, despite the urging of Rius, who seemed at once grateful for and shocked by what I'd done. And that's all, my young friends. The legend spread on the winds of Mexico City and the winds of '68, fusing with the stories of the dead and the survivors and now everybody knows that a woman stayed at the university when its freedom was violated in that beautiful, tragic year. And I've heard others tell the story many times, and in their telling, the woman who spent fifteen days shut in a bathroom without eating is a medical student or a secretary at the Torre de Rectoría, not a Uruguayan with no papers or work or place to lay her head. And sometimes it isn't even a woman but a man, a Maoist student or a professor with gastrointestinal troubles. And when I hear these stories, these versions of my story, I don't usually say anything (especially if I'm not drunk). And if I am drunk, I try to play it down. That's nothing, I say, that's university folklore, that's urban legend, and then they look at me and say: Auxilio, you're the mother of Mexican poetry. And I say (or if I'm drunk, I shout): no, I'm not anybody's mother, but I do know them all, all the young poets of Mexico City, those who were born here and those who came from the provinces, and those who were swept here on the current from other places in Latin America, and I love them all.