17

Jacinto Requena, Café Quito, Calle Bucareli, Mexico City DF, September 1985. Two years after he disappeared in Managua, Ulises Lima came back to Mexico. Not many people saw him after that, and when anyone did it was almost always by accident. For most, he was dead as a person and a poet.

I saw him a few times. The first time I ran into him on Madero and the second time I went to see him at his place. He was living in a tenement in Colonia Guerrero. He only went there to sleep. He made his living selling marijuana. He didn't have much money and the little he did have he gave to the woman who lived with him. Her name was Lola and she had a son. This Lola seemed pretty tough: she was from the south, from Chiapas, or maybe Guatemala, she liked dancing, she dressed like a punk, and she was always in a bad mood. But the kid was nice and Ulises seemed to have taken a shine to him.

One day I asked him where he'd been. He told me that he'd traveled along a river that connects Mexico and Central America. As far as I know, there is no such river. But he told me he'd traveled along this river and that now he could say he knew its twists and tributaries. A river of trees or a river of sand or a river of trees that in certain stretches became a river of sand. A constant flow of people without work, of the poor and starving, drugs and suffering. A river of clouds he'd sailed on for twelve months, where he'd found countless islands and outposts, although not all the islands were settled, and sometimes he thought he'd stay and live on one of them forever or that he'd die there.

Of all the islands he'd visited, two stood out. The island of the past, he said, where the only time was past time and the inhabitants were bored and more or less happy, but where the weight of illusion was so great that the island sank a little deeper into the river every day. And the island of the future, where the only time was the future, and the inhabitants were planners and strivers, such strivers, said Ulises, that they were likely to end up devouring one another.

After that it was a long time before I saw him again. I was trying to move in different circles, I had other interests, I had to look for work, I had to give Xóchitl a little money, and I had other friends too.

Joaquín Font, psychiatric hospital La Fortaleza, Tlalnepantla, Mexico City DF, September 1985. The day of the earthquake I saw Laura Damián again. It had been a long time since I'd had such a vision. I saw things, I saw ideas, above all I saw pain, but I didn't see Laura Damián, the hazy figure of Laura Damián, her lips all-knowing and all-seeing, saying that everything was fine, despite the evidence to the contrary. Fine in Mexico, I conjecture, or fine in Mexican homes, or fine in Mexican heads. The tranquilizers were to blame, although at La Fortaleza, to economize, they only give a pill or two to each inmate, and then only to the most deranged. So maybe it wasn't the tranquilizers. The point is that I hadn't seen her in a long time, and when the earth began to shake, I saw her. And then after the disaster I knew everything was all right. Or maybe at the moment of the disaster everything suddenly made itself all right, to keep from dying. A few days later, my daughter came to see me. Did you hear about the earthquake? she asked. Of course I did, I said. Have many people died? No, not many, said my daughter, but enough. Have many of our friends died? None, as far as I know, said my daughter. The few friends we have left don't need the help of any Mexican earthquake to die, I said. Sometimes I think you aren't crazy, said my daughter. I'm not crazy, I said, just confused. But you've been confused for a long time, said my daughter. Time is an illusion, I said, and I thought about people I hadn't seen for a long time and even people I'd never seen. I'd get you out of here if I could, said my daughter. There's no rush, I said, and I thought about the earthquakes of Mexico marching toward us out of the past, trudging on beggars' feet, straight toward eternity or Mexican nothingness. If it were up to me, I'd get you out of here today, said my daughter. Don't worry, I said, you must have problems enough of your own. My daughter just looked at me and didn't say anything. During the earthquake the sufferers of La Fortaleza fell out of their beds, those who weren't tied down, I said, and there was no one to keep guard over the wards because the nurses went out into the highway and some left for the city to see what had happened to their families. For a few hours the lunatics were free to do what they wanted. And what did they do? asked my daughter. Not much. Some started to pray, others went out into the courtyards, and most kept sleeping, in their beds or on the floor. That was lucky, said my daughter. And what did you do? I asked out of politeness. Nothing, I went down to a friend's apartment and the three of us were there together. Who? I said. My friend, her son, and me. And none of our friends died? None, said my daughter. Are you sure? I'm absolutely sure. We're so different, I said. Why? said my daughter. Because without having left La Fortaleza, I know that more than one friend must have been crushed to death in the earthquake. No one died, said my daughter. Never mind, never mind, I said. For a while we were silent, watching the lunatics of La Fortaleza, who wandered about like little birds, seraphs, and cherubs, their hair crusted with shit. Such despair, said my daughter, or that's what I thought I heard. I think she started to cry but I tried not to pay attention and I managed not to. Do you remember Laura Damián? I said. I hardly knew her, she said, and you hardly knew her either. I was very close friends with her father, I said. A lunatic kneeled and began to vomit beside a metal door. You only became friends with her father after Laura's death, said my daughter. No, I said, I was friends with Álvaro Damián before the tragedy. Well, said my daughter, let's not argue about it. Then she spent a while telling me about all the rescue work that was going on in the city, and the work she was taking part in or had taken part in or would have liked to take part in (or had watched from a distance), and she also told me that her mother was talking about leaving Mexico City for good. That interested me. To go where? I said. To Puebla, said my daughter. I would've liked to ask her what they planned to do with me, but thinking about Puebla I forgot to. Then my daughter left and I was alone with Laura Damián, with Laura and the lunatics of La Fortaleza, and her voice, her invisible lips, told me not to worry, that if my wife went to Puebla she would stay by my side and no one would ever turn me out of the asylum and if someday they did, she would come with me. Oh, Laura, I sighed. And then Laura asked me, pretending as if she didn't know, how the young poets of Mexico were faring, whether my daughter had brought me news of their long, bloody march. And I told her they were fine. I lied, saying: they're fine, almost everyone is publishing, the earthquake will give them years of material. Don't talk to me about the earthquake, said Laura Damián, talk to me about poetry, what else did your daughter tell you? And then I felt tired, deeply tired, and I said everything's fine, Laura, everyone is fine. And do people still read my poems? she said. They still read them, I said. Don't lie to me, Quim, said Laura. I'm not lying to you, I said, and I closed my eyes.

When I opened them the circle of madmen who roved the courtyards of La Fortaleza had closed around me. Anyone else would have shouted in terror, begun wailing prayers, torn off all his clothes, and started to run like an American football player gone mad, withering under the gaze of the myriad eyes spinning like unmoored planets. But not me. The madmen circled around me and I kept as quiet as Rodin's thinker and watched them, and then I looked at the ground and I saw red ants and black ants locked in combat and I didn't say or do anything. The sky was very blue. The earth was light brown, with little stones and clumps of dirt. The clouds were white and drifting westward. Then I looked at the madmen who were stumbling here and there like pawns of an even madder fate, and I closed my eyes again.