5

Amadeo Salvatierra, Calle República de Venezuela, near the Palacio de la Inquisición, Mexico City DF, January 1976. Then I said to them: all right, boys, what do we do if the mezcal runs out? And they said: we'll go down and buy another bottle, Señor Salvatierra, Amadeo, don't worry. And thus assured, or encouraged, at least, I took a good swig, emptying my glass. They used to make some fine mezcal in this country, yes sir, and then I got up and went over to my library, my dusty library-how long had it been since I gave those shelves a cleaning!-not because I didn't care about books anymore, certainly not, but because life makes us so fragile and anesthetizes us too (almost without our noticing it, gentlemen), and some people, though this hasn't happened to me, are even hypnotized or end up with the left hemisphere of their brains split down the middle, which is a figurative way of describing the problem of memory, if you follow me. And the boys got up from their seats too and I felt their breath on the back of my neck, figuratively, of course, and then, without turning around, I asked them whether Germán or Arqueles or Manuel had told them what my job was, what I did for a living. And they said no, Amadeo, none of them said anything to us about that. And then I said, pompously, that I wrote, and I think I laughed or coughed for a few long seconds, I write for a living, boys, I said, Octavio Paz and I are the only ones in this goddamned country who make a living that way. And they, of course, remained touchingly silent, if you'll permit me the expression. Silent in the way people say Gilberto Owen was. And then, with my back still to them and my gaze fixed on the spines of my books, I said: I work nearby, in the Plaza Santo Domingo, I write petitions and prayers and letters, and I laughed again and dust rose from the books with the force of my laugh, and then I could see the titles better, the authors, the files where I kept the unpublished material of my day. And they laughed too, a brief laugh that brushed my neck, such discreet boys, until at last I managed to find the folder I was looking for. Here it is, I said, my life and incidentally all that's left of Cesárea Tinajero's life. And then comes the funny part, gentlemen: instead of pouncing greedily on the file to rifle through the papers, they just stood there and asked me whether I wrote love letters. Everything, boys, I told them, setting the file on the floor and filling my glass with Los Suicidas mezcal again, letters from mothers to their children, letters from children to their fathers, letters from women to their husbands in prison, and letters from lovers, of course, which are the best, either because they're so innocent or so steamy, everything mixed together as it is at the druggist's counter and sometimes the writer adds something of his own devising. Well, what a wonderful job, they said. After thirty years under the arches of Santo Domingo it isn't quite what it used to be, I said as I opened the file and began to rummage through the papers, looking for the only copy I had of Caborca, the magazine Cesárea had edited with so much secrecy and excitement.

Joaquín Font, El Reposo Mental Health Clinic, Camino Desierto de los Leones, on the outskirts of Mexico City DF, January 1977. There are books for when you're bored. Plenty of them. There are books for when you're calm. The best kind, in my opinion. There are also books for when you're sad. And there are books for when you're happy. There are books for when you're thirsty for knowledge. And there are books for when you're desperate. The latter are the kind of books Ulises Lima and Belano wanted to write. A serious mistake, as we'll soon see. Let's take, for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life. A man who buys books and literary magazines. So there you have him. This man can read things that are written for when you're calm, but he can also read any other kind of book with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity. That's how I see it. I hope I'm not offending anyone. Now let's take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He's the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. Second: he's a limited reader. Why limited? That's easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who's unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain (a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Misérables or War and Peace. Am I making myself clear? Good. So I talked to them, told them, warned them, alerted them to the dangers they were facing. It was like talking to a wall. Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or later they're exhausted! Why? It's obvious! One can't live one's whole life in desperation. In the end the body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up by turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate. Or he's cured! And then, as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly-as if wrapped in swaddling cloths, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives-he returns, as I was saying, to a literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders. This is what's called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood. And by that I don't mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers. Of course he reads them! Especially if they're good or decent or recommended by a friend. But ultimately, they bore him! Ultimately, that literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn't pierce his heart the way a calm page, a carefully thought-out page, a technically perfect page does. I told them so. I warned them. I showed them the technically perfect page. I alerted them to the dangers. Don't exhaust the vein! Humility! Seek oneself, lose oneself in strange lands! But with a guiding line, with bread crumbs or white pebbles! And yet I was mad, driven mad by them, by my daughters, by Laura Damián, and so they didn't listen.

Joaquín Vázquez Amaral, walking on a university campus in the American Midwest, February 1977. No, no, no, of course not. That boy Belano was an extremely nice person, very polite, not hostile at all. When I was in Mexico in 1975 for the launch, if you can call it that, of my translation of Pound's Cantos, a book that in any European country would have attracted much more attention (it was published in a handsome edition, by the way, by Joaquín Mortiz), he and his friends came to the event, and later, and this is important, they stayed to talk to me, to keep me company (when you're a stranger in a city in some way foreign, you appreciate these things), and we went to a bar, I've forgotten which one it was, but it must have been downtown, near Bellas Artes, and we talked about Pound until very late. In other words, I didn't see familiar faces at the launch, I didn't see the famous faces of Mexican poetry (if they were there I didn't recognize them, I'm sorry to say), all I saw were those kids, those eager, idealistic kids, you understand? and that, as a foreigner, I appreciated.

What did we talk about? About the maestro, of course, and his time at Saint Elizabeth's, about that strange man Fenollosa, about the poetry of the Han dynasty and the Sui dynasty, about the poetry of Liu Hsiang, Tung Chung-shu, Wang Pi, Tao Chien (Tao Yuan-ming, 365-427), the Tang dynasty, Han Yu (768-824), Meng Hao-Jan (689-740), Wang Wei (699-759), Li Po (701-762), Tu Fu (712-770), Po Chu-I (772-846), the Ming dynasty, the Ching dynasty, Mao Tse-tung-in other words, about Pound things that none of us knew anything about, not even the maestro, really, because the literature he knew best was European literature, but what a show of strength, what magnificent curiosity Pound had, to root around in that enigmatic language, am I right? What faith in humanity, wouldn't you say? And we also talked about Provençal poets, the usual ones, you know, Arnaut Daniel, Bertrán de Born, Guiraut de Bornelh, Jaufré Rudel, Guillem de Berguedà, Marcabrú, Bernart de Ventadorn, Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, the Castellan of Coucy, the towering Chrétien de Troyes, and we also talked about the Italians of the Dolce Stil Novo, Dante's compadres, as they say, Cino da Pistoia, Guido Cavalcanti, Guido Guinizelli, Cecco Angiolieri, Gianni Alfani, Dino Frescobaldi, but most of all we talked about the maestro, about Pound in England, Pound in Paris, Pound in Rapallo, Pound in Saint Elizabeth's, Pound back from Italy, Pound on the verge of death…