Roberto Bolaño
Chris Andrews

(New Directions)
She may be the "Mother of Mexican Poetry." Or it might be that she was there at the Birth of History. Perhaps she's just a roving street lady in Mexico City, sleeping on floors here or there, living with borrowing clothes in borrowed digs, scribbling poems (or notes) on toilet paper.

She's missing four front teeth, thinks of herself as "the Emily Dickinson of Bulimia." She hangs out with Mexican poets and rent-boys, is named Auxilio Lacouture, has pink ears and, she claims, a face like Don Quixote's.

During the 1968 uprising of students at the University of Mexico City, she spent thirteen days hiding in the bathroom of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature building where she wrote her poetry, which she then ate. Once she saw death coming for her, on the streets of the city,

    I put my hand into my handbag, I mean my satchel from Oaxaca, and felt for my knife, which I always carried with me, as a precaution against urban emergencies, but the burning skin of my fingertips could feel only papers and books and magazines and even clean underwear (washed by hand, without soap) ... but the knife, ah, my friends, now there's another recurring and terribly Latin American nightmare: being unable to find your weapon; you know where you put it, but it's not there.

Auxilio (which means "help" as in HELP!) roams the streets, meanders around in her head, eventually squirreling herself in the reader's heart with long Proustian gatherings of words and sentences that bobble on and on, in comic rounds, carrying us with her in circles, as she circles her life, the city's life, the life of poetry and poverty and artists and painters and ... and Orestes.

Yes: Orestes, addressing Erigone, who has fallen in love with him: "If you stay here, I will kill you," he says. "The gods have driven me crazy." This street lady, with her pink ears, her four missing teeth --- she hides her mouth with her hand when she speaks or laughs --- can get in a dither about Orestes, who wandered through "Greece with his friend Pylades, becoming a legend."

    But Erigone doesn't understand Orestes' words, and fears that all this is part of a plan hatched by the cerebral Electra, a kind of euthanasia, an exit into darkness that will not stain the young king's hands with blood.

§     §     §

This Bolaño is good, as good as they reported in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker when they discovered him. He rambles, and dithers, and won't shut up, just like Auxilio, and you don't want him or the story or her to end. He takes an impossible, unlikely loony who can discourse on Greek mythology and at the same time have her repeat (seven times) "I am in the women's bathroom in the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature and I am the last person left." Then,

    I was heading for the operating room. I was heading for the birth of History. And since I'm not a complete idiot, I also thought: It's over now, the riot police have left the university, the students have died at Tlatelolco, the university has opened again, but I'm still shut up in the fourth floor bathroom, as if after all my scratching at the moonlit tiles a door had opened, but not the portal of sadness in the continuum of Time.

The continuum of Time! Auxilio can say this, and we think, who is this nut, anyway? And what is going on? But such is Bolaño's power that all is believable, that she was there, and did that, and this book --- I'm talking about this book now --- is a wonder. She's an unemployed poetry-nut from Uruguay who can see into the future,

    Virginia Woolf shall be reincarnated as an Argentinean fiction writer in the year 2076. Louise-Ferdinand Céline shall enter Purgatory in the year 2094. Paul Eluard shall appeal to the masses in the year 2101.

She says this and you think sheesh! And you think, what's the deal? And you think: this guy is altogether too much. Because he is. In the best (and the worst) sense.

A year ago, New Directions sent us another one of Bolaño's books. It was called By Night in Chile. And ... dare I use the phrase? ... I couldn't put it down. And (I must reveal) I could barely put up with it. I wasn't used to his occlusive style. Not yet. It was even more improbable than Amulet.

Our priest, a Father Ibacache, ends up teaching a quick course of the principals of Marxism to General Augusto Pinochet so he can be prepared when it comes time to destroy Salvador Allende.

The good father tells the story of this to his friend, Farewell (Farewell!), the leading literary critic of Santiago. "When I finished telling this story, Farewell was still staring at me, his half-closed eyes like empty bear traps ruined by time and rain and freezing cold. It is as if Chile's great twentieth-century literary critic were dead ... 'Not a word to anyone about what I told you.' 'It goes without saying,' said Farewell."

    And soon it was all over town. I saw Farewell, I mean I imagined the scene so clearly I could have been spying on him, sitting in his favorite easy chair or armchair at the club or in the salon of some old crone whose friendship he had been cultivating for decades, holding court, half-gaga, surrounded by retired generals who had gone into business, queers in English suits, ladies with illustrious names and one foot in the grave, sitting there blabbing out the story of how I was engaged as the Junta's private tutor.

Crazy. Bolaño won't leave you alone, won't let you go, no matter how much you may want him to.

--- Carlos Amantea


Life and Death
In a Top Heart Center

Charles R. Morris
You want to be listed for a heart transplant at the premiere center, Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. You have to pass the adult transplant coördinating committee. They meet once a week. The members are tough. There are two or three new candidates each week.

"It's not just money --- although at $200,000 to $300,000 per patient, transplants are stunningly expensive. The most precious resource of all is the donated heart, which is quite literally priceless."

    An early death of a transplant patient is therefore uniquely tragic --- not only has a patient died, but a rare gift has been wasted, a donor's good intentions flouted, and another patient who might have been more suitable may now die as well.

If you are a candidate, don't be smoking, don't drink too much, don't be getting stoned. Lose weight, have good health insurance, and brush your teeth. My teeth? In one committee meeting, the cardiologist said, "He has lousy teeth. He won't go to the dentist!" He was disqualified.

Morris likes to define himself as "the wallpaper on the wall." But this wallpaper knows how to tell the story. He embedded himself (to borrow an expression from another war-zone) where they do the most elegant transplants and where the surgeons are the most highly regarded.

Some of the most fascinating scenes come from the pediatric ward. Erika Maynard is four years old, "a heartbreakingly beautiful little girl." Heartbreak: she has had a major heart problem from birth, cardiomyopathy. Morris is allowed to witness the heart transplant. Her new heart is still en route, but the doctors "explant" (remove and dissect for lab tests) the old one while awaiting the other being flown in from Canada (held up at U. S. Customs; they presumably thought this child's heart might be explosive).

During the waiting period, the author interviews the surgeon. "He nodded to me, pointing down at Erika's empty chest, and said, 'Isn't that an amazing sight.'" A four-year-old child, her chest cut wide open, no heart at all (she's on life-support ). When the new heart ("the size of a lamb's") arrives, it is quickly plugged in, but because of the various physical insults --- ripped from one child's chest, transported thousands of miles, planted elsewhere --- it "wakes up crankily."

Following Erika, and her family, and the operation (which fails, eventually, to save her life), makes for powerful reading. Unfortunately, Morris leads us along not-so-fascinating paths too: an entire chapter on the ups and the downs of a new drug called Aprotinin --- the process of official approval, the on-the-edge testing by its manufacturer, the involvement of the New England Journal of Medicine. It's "a twisty tale that is still not completely resolved." And it goes on too long.

ASD, CABG, SVC, RVAD, RCT, "perfusion," "cannulation," "cardioplegia," "aortic root," "comorbitities" --- and my own personal favorites, "regurge" and "rotablator." These may scare a few away, but the here-you-are in-the-middle of it makes The Surgeons hard to put down. Part of it may be the raw facts. Hearts that have been transplanted don't usually last all that long (maximum, twelve years). Cardiologists do very well, but the top paid physician at the hospital is an anesthesiologist (they may earn their money: during an operation, they may be running a rainbow of drugs at varying rates into your veins to achieve the results needed for a successful outcome). If you want a Rolls-Royce heart-transplant, you may have to wait awhile: Columbia-Presbyterian only does two a week. According to one doctor's notes, "preemies [premature babies] look like aliens."

The passage on RCTs --- Randomized Clinical Trials --- is one of the best we have read on research and probability. For instance, in drug trials, "RCT subjects tend to be younger, freer of comorbidities, and much less likely to be consuming other drugs."

    One recent study of trials involving nearly 8,500 cardiac-treatment patients showed that the mortality rate of patients eligible to be in the trials, but not enrolled, was twice as high as for the patients actually enrolled...

--- Jean Winters, MA

Cantos de

(1932 - 1937)
Américo Paredes
B. V. Olguín
O. V. Barbosa,

(Arte Público Pess)
The wonderfully named Américo Paredes ("American Walls") was born in Brownsville, Texas, in 1915. He was Mexican-American, and early in life, vowed to become a poet of the border. In his long lifetime (he died in 1999) he did so ... writing a bevy of songs, poems, and stories about La Frontera. Cantos de adolescencia offers fifty of his early ballads, with such titles as La voz rebelde (The Rebellious Voice), La tragedia del amor (The Tragedy of Love), and La naturaleza (Nature).

Paredes not only had a long life, he had a fruitful one. But we are not so sure he is being honored with this collection. Some of these very early poems seem more doggerel than poetry,

    The Mexico-Texan, a durn funny man,
    Who lives in the region that's north of the Gran.
    Of Mexican father, he born in thees part,
    And sometimes he rues it way down in hees heart...
    For he had one advantage of all other men,
    Though the Mexico-Texan he no gotta no lan'
    He can gotta so drunk that he thinks he can fly,
    Both September da Sixteen and Fourth of July.

Although there are elements of righteous anger in this early work, "The Mexico-Texan," ("He stomped on da neck on both sides of the Gran") there is an element of self-parody that an older and wiser poet might not wish to show to the world.

Another problem for those interested in Paredes' history and work is the translation here. Cuando sé que das un paso hacia delante / mi corazón en tierra extraña se engrandece is rendered by the authors as "When I hear of progress that you make / my heart grows proud from foreign lands I amble." My thought is that unless you are offering a translation from, to, or by the Pre-Raphaelites, you don't want to write something like "my heart grows proud from foreign lands I amble."

Finally there is the scholarship. At the beginning of this volume Dr. Olguín gives us a twenty-page introduction which is bedecked with the phrases that we graduate students loved to throw around (and we reviewers love to hate): "unique vernacular epistemology," "paradigmatic bicultural yet bifurcated Mexican-American," "a complete paradigm shift," "cultural mistranslations, and transformations, as well as other signifiers," "to further assess the oftentimes effaced relationship," and "Scholarship on Paredes has yet to adequately interrogate his gendered poetics." ¡Máma mía! ¡Qué grandes las palabras! ¡Qué chicos los pensamientos!

Parades was an important observer of the culture of the border. He was there as border literature and music developed its own singular style. We can only praise Arte Público's interest in that development, and in him. (They have produced several other volumes of Paredes' short stories and songs.)

However, our reading of Cantos de adolescencia convinces us that more than an anthology of juvenilia, we need a non-technical, up-to-date, readable summary of Parede's life and works.

--- María Iglesias
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