Illustrations by Catherine Kwon
In the early-August morning, I went to Polanco. The neighborhood was a thirty minute walk from where I lived in Lomas. On the corner of Jules Vernes and Ibsn, (an intersection typical of a neighborhood where streets are named after authors), a flower vendor had set up his six-by-five stand in the shade to avoid the sun’s wilt. The man held out sunflowers, calling them girasoles. “¿Unas flores, señorita?” he asked. Seeing that I was not interested in the ones he had chosen, he picked up another bunch. “¿Violetas?” he inquired. “¿Astromelias?” He took them out so that I could see the drooping pink petals. “Narcisos,” he finally said. I felt the name with a pang but could not recall its English translation until he held up the yellow bouquet. Fair Daffodils. With delight, I paid for the flowers thinking of Robert Herrick, an English poet who once wrote, Fair Daffodils, we weep to see / You haste away so soon.
The day’s warmth was a reminder that the first week of August would soon pass, and with it, the summer. I glumly threw away the daffodils at the end of the week, remembering Herrick again. The withering of the daffodils also brought the start of the school year. Now, I think again of Herrick and summer’s daffodils. We have short time to stay, as you.
I’ll remind you again, since I have to keep reminding myself: the month is now October. At least, it is October as I’m writing this at a corner table in the Trumbull Library. The room is decorated in the usual collegiate gothic style. Deep burgundy furniture encloses dark-stained tables. Thick carpets cushion the wooden floor. An empty stone fireplace centers the bookshelves. The room, designed to protect against winter, instead gives the impression that it is waiting for winter. We are waiting along with it.
When I find myself thinking of the coming season, I turn not to Herrick’s poems but to the writings of Elena Garro. Garro is a Mexican writer credited with pioneering magical realism. Her most celebrated novel, Los recuerdos del porvenir, was published in 1963. It is translated to English sometimes as Recollections of Things to Come and other times as Memories of the Future. I prefer the former because of how clearly it presents the irony of Garro’s work. To recollect is to hold a memory or already-visited place with you in the present time. To recollect something that has not yet occurred, something that is to come, requires the opposite action, to entertain a factionalized future, crafted in the present.
For all of the casualness of the phrase, the ease it implies, The Recollections of Things to Come doesn’t capture the full temporal scope of Garro’s daydreams. They begin with force, the future blurring with the present so that it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish one from the other. Trying fruitlessly to settle the narrator in place and time, Garro writes in the first pages of Los recuerdos del porvenir:
“Here I sit on what looks like a stone. Only my memory knows what it holds. I see it and I remember, and as water flows into water, so I, melancholically, come to find myself in its image, covered with dust, surrounded by grass, self-contained and condemned to memory and its variegated mirror. I see it, I see myself, and I am transfigured into a multitude of colors and times. I am and I was in many eyes. I am only memory and the memory that one has of me.”
Garro tries to begin the story in a matter-of-fact way, but she is unable to maintain such straightforwardness. In only the second sentence, the narrator becomes lost, confused as to where she sits, unsure if she is observing what is around her in the present or looking over a memory.
How curious, no? The progression of seasons, one constantly pushed by another so that it is impossible to set myself firmly in time. I confuse the waning of one thing for the beginning of another. The character of the seasons seems to dominate whatever uniformity might come from living in one place. New England cities with four distinct seasons make residents feel like constant travelers who are pulled from place to place with the change in weather.
It is by this change, the annual fall of leaves, that I’m brought to remember my time on campus last year.
Confession: I left Yale before the end of the 2021-22 school year, my freshman year, because I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what it would be like to go. The memory of how this plan originated is still clear to me. I spent my freshman year in one of many red-brick buildings along an expansive lawn nestled with oaks and statues called Old Campus. We have short time to stay, I thought, moving into Bingham in August, already fearing that my four years of college would go by in a blur. As Herrick kept watch over his daffodils, I looked over the Old Campus oaks, measuring the passage of the year through their changes. I believed myself to still be firmly within fall as I walked back to campus on a late-November afternoon, just as the Branford bells began their toll.
While returning through the same gate the next day, I felt peculiarly that I had been gone a long time, although I had left Old Campus only that morning. It was at least seven degrees cooler than it had been all week. A steady wind, too, left the lawn much emptier than usual. Only the previous afternoon, an unusually bright and warm day, athletes had amused themselves playing catch. Nostalgics rested in grooves for an hour or so of meaningful poetry. These collegiate rituals, always picturesque, were set among the leaf-cushioned lawns. In only a day, the autumn leaves that had fallen on the ground had been raked and removed. The grass underneath and the trees were now starkly bare. I stood still for a moment, not yet fully through the gate, and realized with a jolt that fall was nearly over.
My uneasiness began then. The initial thought, not even true, stayed with me: “I have been away for some time.” It kept me from my work, drew me outside for what would prove to be the first of many strolls. On these habitual walks, in the comfortable seclusion of evening, I could indulge in daydreaming.
I imagined leaving for Mexico City as the church bells tolled. During the change of seasons, there comes a gloom from the canopy of trees as they let through the day’s last blue light. Walking during the blue hour, I confused the temperate change of seasons—the sudden chill, the early darkness—with the dawning of evening in Mexico’s tropics. Soon, I even began to anticipate the rain. I imagined it falling as it did during the rainy months in Mexico City, from late afternoon to early evening.
Do you see what I’m trying to show you?
Those were the whimsical evening hours when I walked feeling a yearning akin to homesickness for a place I had only been once before. I looked to the future, thought of it incessantly in a form of daydreaming, and confused it for having bearing on the present.
In New England, it is impossible to escape the seasons. One is in constant anticipation of what is to come. When I imagined Mexico City, however, I saw it fixed, always, during the rainy summer months. In escaping to Mexico City, I hoped to escape the change of the seasons. In escaping the change of the seasons, I hoped to escape the passage of time.
Alas, each tropical summer month took on a character of its own. January and February, when I had yet to adapt to the new city, were demure. March, with the promise and deception of spring, is the month of irony. April marked, finally, the beginning of the rainy season.
I walked incessantly in Mexico City, enjoying most of all the time just after sunrise and sunset. When the rain came in April, however, I was pulled away at whatever hour to go outside. I felt the rainy hours like a bloodletting. They brought on a weakness of perspective, and I found it difficult, even unpleasant, to imagine the future during them. The rain often fell so thickly that it was impossible to see more than a few feet in front. The city air, usually heavy with smog, was briefly cleaned. What would come after the rainy hours seemed hardly relevant at the time. And yet, arriving back home drenched, I found it exasperating that I could not exercise the same presence during other parts of the day.
My exasperation, I may generously say, resembles the concerns that readers and publishers encounter when revisiting the legacy of writers like Elena Garro. The problem is trying to modify something that exists at one time to exist in the future. In the case of Garro we may ask: how do you faithfully reinterpret the work of a writer who worked firmly within the social confines of her time? Does Garro’s writing let her transcend from 20th century Mexico where she was not fully recognized for her writing?
Recent reprints have worked to establish Garro’s work as a classic. In the Spanish newspaper El País, David Marcial Pérez wrote: “It is assumed that the classics will never die, but more than once, they have been forgotten for long periods, stuck in crumbling catalogs or exhausted editions, without anyone to reprint them.” He cites Garro’s Los recuerdos del porvenir as one of the most significant reprintings taken on by publishers in the past year.
The novel was originally published in 1963 by the editorial imprint Joaquín Mortiz, which was known for publishing the works of exiled republicans. (Garro lived in exile for 23 years.) In 1985, the publishing rights were absorbed by Grupo Planeta, another publishing company. The most recent edition was published by Alfaguara, better known as Penguin Random House, which plans to extend the sale of the novel to Chile, Columbia, and Spain. The previous year, Random House had published Garro’s complete works. The move by these publishers is part of a larger literary trend to solidify Garro’s place as a pioneer of magical realism, a genre better known through the works of her male contemporary Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and her place as one of Mexico’s greatest writers.
The movement to give female writers their proper due is not new. Judith Thurman, who translated poems by the Mexican poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, writes about the effect on her own career as a translator: “The feminist Second Wave was cresting when I immersed myself in the life of Sor Juana. We of that generation were looking for heroines — exceptional women who history hadn’t paid their due.”
Are we, of this generation, still looking for our literary heroines, as Thurman was? If so, Garro would cut quite the figure. Stylish and captivating in her personal life, her biography is as interesting as her literature. She is, in the traditional way, a scorned woman. Infamous for dying in misery in the house where she lived with more than a dozen cats. Infamous for her turbulent relationship with her ex-husband. Infamous for the conspiracies she engaged in later in her life. And yet, never quite famous for her writing.
If we were to go back in time and try to make a heroine of this figure, what part of her story would we tell? Would we take her own words as fact or emend her writings to fit the feminist movement that came after her? When we try to make heroes of authors, we run the risk of moralizing their stories, unfairly editing the reality of their life. And yet, I’m still tempted to edit Garro’s biography to suit my conception of what it is to be one of the most prominent female writers.
I refuse especially to take Garro at her word when speaks about her ex-husband, the renowned literary and intellectual figure Octavio Paz. Garro says that she “lived against him, studied against him…wrote against him. […] In conclusion, everything, everything, everything that I am is against him … in life, you don’t have more than one enemy, and that is enough. My enemy is Paz.”
I don’t believe that Garro was being truthful when she said that her enemy, her only enemy, is Paz. It seems unlikely that she would allow herself to be dominated in such a significant way and still write successfully. I think that her enemy is time. Unlike Herrick’s poems that seem subtly feminine in the way they associate the passage of time with physical decay, Garro describes time as being primarily enriching. Often, she even seems overwhelmed by the layering of the present with the past and the future.
The question of legacy, especially of how to reinterpret a legacy, seems well suited to Garro, an author who seemed constantly stuck in between times. We return to her words. “Here we sit on this stone,” we may say, trying to place ourselves within time. If we are pressed to say more, to describe our own reality, the temptation to go back to the past resurfaces. The phrase is then modified. We pause. We attempt to answer the question again, and we reach our hand down to the rocky surface and find that its substance is not so straightforward to describe. “Here we sit on this stone,” we may try to repeat, and again, we struggle to continue.
I sit in the Trumbull Library, looking out to the courtyard where fall begins to slip away from the single colorful tree that still stands. I hold Garro’s book. She is pictured on the cover somewhere in her youth, with a timid smile. Like Garro, I try to situate myself in time by beginning: “Here I sit in what looks like fall.” Pressed to continue, I hesitate. “Here I sit in what looks like fall but only my memory knows what it holds. I see what’s outside and I remember the coming of winter, as season flows into season. Melancholically, I come to find myself in its image, transfigured in a multitude of times.” The daffodils bloomed in their vase by the window, withered, and were thrown out. As summer went, so will the fall, then the winter and the spring.
This article is part of the November issue of the Yale Daily News Magazine. Read the rest of the issue here.