From The Parabolist published by Doubleday Canada.
Luisa Sanchez did not go the airport with Roberto Moreno.
They sat together at one of the small tables inside Café Flores. They shared a pastelito. Coffee was free after the first cup.
I have my ticket, he said, the money is spent, the die is cast.
Roberto, she said and she leaned forward as she did so, Roberto, you and your stupid ticket, you are making a big mistake. Poets need their own habitat to breathe. A parabolist will die outside of Mexico, and be forewarned, Roberto Moreno, that you will be dead for me the moment you leave. I don’t really care for you anyway, I never did.
He thought about their lovemaking, the nights and mornings and afternoons in the bedroom she shared with her roommate.
Roberto, when flight number whatever-whatever-whatever you have, Aeroméxico, raises itself off the tarmac, nothing in my life will change, but you, Roberto, you will be dead. You need chaos, gaps, holes, heat to be yourself, you know that. Those are the last things you will find in Canada. You will be lost there, lost.
It was the first time she had ever spoken to him in this way. Usually she was morose, quiet, introspective.
When she finished her outburst, they sat in Café Flores for a while longer but they didn’t speak. They picked at the remnants of the small pastry. She looked out the window at the passing hustle in the street and then she left. She didn’t say another word. She just threw her purse over her shoulder and, instead of turning homeward as he hoped, for then he could have watched her from his vantage point until she disappeared and thus had her in his life for another two minutes, she turned the other way, instinctively.
At Grad’s Restaurant, Roberto Moreno cut into his apple pie. They had bought him a piece and he ate it with gusto, as though there were nothing wrong.
Hmm, he said, there are no apples like this in Mexico.
I hope not, they said.
Then he asked, what groups of poets are there in Canada?
They had already named all the individual poets they could think of, those who wrote in English, although they qualified their response, saying they were medical students, that no doubt they were out of touch with the newest trends in poetry.
Yes, perhaps you are, he said, but tell me about groups or movements, poets who share a sensibility, a direction.
Well, they said, there’s the Montreal poets. They were a group. They met and discussed their work. They critiqued each other and drank wine to excess on rue Chestnut, rue St-Denis, rue Guy.
Here in Toronto, said Valerie Anderson, as far as I know, poets are loners.
He looked at her and she looked back.
How strange, Valerie, said Roberto, because in Mexico City there are hundreds of poetry movements. Poets feed off each other, they achieve strength by numbers, wisdom from exposure to each other’s work.
Here he began to speak less casually, as though he were assuming the role of a teacher, which in fact he was.
For example, he said, sipping his coffee with a grimace, I am a parabolist and within a few blocks, within my neighbourhood in Mexico City, there are many groups, subgroups, splinter groups and coalescing groups, groups that are not exclusive. It is possible for a poet to belong to more than one as long as their aims are not antithetical. So, in Mexico City, clustered around the area of the national university, as we are here in Toronto, we have, to name a few of the more prominent movements in our poetry—and here he began to walk his thumb along his fingertips to enumerate—all the usual political groups such as the Marxists and the Maoists, but we also have those who have rejected all of that, the concretists, the fluidists, the historicists, urbanists, imagists, antilyricists, adjectivalists, imitationists, infrarealists, reversists, phenomenologists, sensualists, fabulists, grammaticists, ellipticists, caesuracists, semicolonists . . .
It seemed Roberto could have gone on endlessly—his command of English was extraordinary—had the students not raised their arms and cried, almost as one, stop Professor!
Well, you see what I mean, he said.
Jasper Glass then said, Mr. Moreno, some of our Toronto poets get together and publish their work. The House of Anansi. Coach House Press.
Oh, that’s what we do in Mexico City too. It’s important for friends to publish each other’s work. That’s how something gets to be known, before it is recognized, before it rises like cream to the top of the bottle of milk.
Valerie Anderson asked Roberto Moreno if he could explain the term parabolist to them. The name he had used for himself, for his own work.
Parabolist? Well, class, you are scientists, you all know the shape of a parabola, how it reflects input to a central core, how it concentrates energy in its solar plexus, so to speak. A poet who is a true parabolist arranges words and ideas in such a way that the energy input burns. Then it explodes in the gut and the chest, where feelings are the deepest, where you can hardly breathe.
Whoa, they all thought.
Roberto Moreno laughed.
Do you believe that? he asked.
Then they noticed that the time for their class to end had long passed, and they all had chemistry lab in the morning. Everybody trooped out except for Roberto Moreno, Valerie Anderson and Jasper Glass. They were far too excited to sleep.
Let’s go for a walk, they said.
So they walked all the way from College Street down Spadina to Dundas, then along Dundas to Markham Street, up Markham to College again, and by then it was nearly midnight and they had talked poetry for so long that Valerie Anderson’s head had begun to ache.
I’m getting one of my migraines, she said.
How do you know, Valerie? asked Roberto Moreno.
I see wavy lines, a shimmer, then the headache starts. I have to go to bed. Sorry.
They flagged a cab right away.
Church and Isabella, please, Valerie said.
She lived in a high-rise, on the third floor, a sublet. At that hour, there were lots of young girls on Isabella Street, in tight leather boots as high as their thighs.
After they dropped Valerie Anderson off, Jasper Glass and Roberto Moreno closed down the night at the Silver Dollar on Spadina Avenue. They drank rye whisky in shot glasses and after that they walked a long distance in an extraordinary downpour, in a rain such as Jasper had never seen.
Like Mexico has come to Canada, Roberto, he said.
Eventually the night came to an end as it often does for poets, be it in Mexico City or in Toronto, in laughter, in oblivion, in the kind of delirious forgetfulness that was impossible, in retrospect, to ever forget, at least for Roberto Moreno.