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SEEKING CHILDHOOD by Nathaniel Popkin • Cleaver Magazine
SEEKING CHILDHOOD by Nathaniel Popkin In early 1951, when the Mexican writer Homero Aridjis was almost eleven, he came home from playing soccer with friends and, following a vague urge, took his brother’s shotgun to the yard. He shot into the air, scattered the birds aloft from the sapodilla tree, and dropped the shotgun to the ground. The gun fired and struck Aridjis in the stomach. He barely survived. The accident, writes Chloe Aridjis, his daughter, “cleaved in two” his life and sealed off his early childhood “like a locked garden.” In the aftermath of the accident, Homero Aridjis began reading and writing in earnest, the crucible of an astonishingly prolific career, but without access to memories of his own boyhood. Twenty years after the gun accident, with his wife, Betty Ferber, pregnant with Chloe, the couple’s first child, Aridjis began to have “astonishingly vivid dreams” of his childhood. These dreams unlocked the garden of memory. He eventually recounted them in a slender memoir of childhood, El poeta niño, published in 1991. Now, Chloe Aridjis, the author of the novel Book of Clouds, has produced an English translation, The Child Poet, brought out by Archipelago Books this month. I am particularly hungry for this book because my own childhood is locked away, and my writing suffers for it. It isn’t clear why—there is nothing so acute as a gun accident in my history. My mother, like Aridjis nearing 76, is the keeper of the garden. She calls me with “sad news.” Stephen, a friend from when I was six, has died. “You remember playing with him, don’t you?” she says. I shrug, not because I’m callous, but because I can only conjure a vague image of a yard, a dark kitchen. Nothing about the boy. Another time she says she’s run into my third grade teacher, Mrs. So-and-So. “She was the one who got you interested in books.” Oh?