At this point it can be stated without reservations that Fabio Morátibo is the author of a solid body of literary work, written on his own terms, unhurriedly and unceasingly. In around forty years he has published more than twenty books in various genres (poetry, short stories, essays, novels, and others more difficult to classify). All were written and published originally in Spanish, a language that—while not his mother tongue—he adopted in his youth when he moved with his family from Milan to Mexico and began to make this country and the language he learned there his own. There are, nonetheless, deeper roots beneath the question of the maternal in his literary experience; it is not only a matter of the silent persistence of this first language, this “language of my tongue,” as he dubs Italian in one poem. The figure of his mother herself also plays a decisive role in his literary handiwork—an impassioned reader whom a young Fabio adopted as a role model, and to whom he owes the “disorderly and playful education” that, as he has said, shaped him as a reader and a writer.
Looking at his work in perspective, and having the good fortune to have known him for more than twenty years of “correspondence, coincidence, and communication”—as all good letters of reference claim—I would like to take a moment to ponder certain nuances of this statement on his literary education and the possible ways it has manifested itself in his writing. I suspect both adjectives, “disorderly” and “playful,” reveal an inalienable condition of Morábito’s work: the condition of the rebellious child who, following no preconceived order, discovers the world to then put it in order, rather than re-order it, according to the manner in which he discovers it; a manner that, in turn, is governed by a precise set of rules born of observation itself, which dictate the dynamics of each play and each decision in this singular game of chess that comes together over the course of his writing, with an open disregard for any and all impositions. In other words, behind the evident and manifest intelligence and ingenuity that shines through all of Morábito’s writing, there dwells in silence the wisdom of a rebellious child, possessed of an obsessively curious and scrutinizing gaze, which allows him to identify precise meanings and goals, well defined, whose validation requires nothing more than the courage of his own convictions. Thus, all the work of the adult author—whose eternal joviality is pronounced—is simply the result of the implementation, realization, and deepening of what was learned and discovered through the fascination of a childhood won over by wonder at the world. Induction, more than deduction, is the privileged method behind this investigatory adventure. From the small to the large-scale, from the particular to the general. We can imagine him in the wee hours of the morning, following these teachings life has given him while all others sleep, staking out the noises of the neighborhood, his ear pressed up to walls to determine the course of the building’s internal waters and of all the possible waters of existence; looking from a distance at the park swings to glimpse the children’s initiation into digression and melancholy; or gazing at his classmates’ naked mothers, who have climbed into the trees to hunt for love affairs and get out of the heat—an eloquent expression of summer’s arrival.
His whole body of work, in the various genres he has cultivated, makes up a web of communicating vessels in which the themes that configure the index of his obsessions appear, reappear, and are recreated. Among these themes, childhood—or, rather, discoveries made in childhood and their repercussions on the rest of life—lies at the center.
For some minor infraction, the protagonist of his novel Home Reading Service (translated from the original, El lector a domicilio, by Curtis Bauer), is sentenced to read a book aloud to others. In the first text of his book El idioma materno, titled “Scrittore traditore,” the speaker confesses to having discovered his vocation as a writer—and as a traitor—from an episode in his youth when he failed to come to the aid of his beloved friend Massimo, whose scant reading abilities, “despite his angelic appearance,” rendered him “an utter ass.” This confession encapsulates, all at once, a discovery and a perception of his literary fate:
I made an abrupt decision: I would read worse than Massimo. I think if I had done this I would now be a better man than the one I am. If there are decisive episodes in childhood, this was one of them, because after deliberately messing up the first line I realized I could not let myself ruin a single word more, and I broke into reading with a fluency of which the teacher approved with a look of admiration on his face. Now that’s how you read, he said, and I think that was when I surmised that my vocation would be for writing books, almost at the same time as I first tasted betrayal. I have always thought the two vocations are closely linked.
In the text “Robar,” from the same book, we find a learning experience and another discovery along these same lines. It begins: “At the age of thirteen I used to steal money from my parents. Every day I would take just enough coins to go to the movies, where I always went alone, escaping the stifling atmosphere of my house.” Weighing up the consequences of this habit would turn into a task for the future writer, who observes:
I know not what repercussion these thefts had in my life, and I have wondered if they influenced my inclination toward literature; if writing has been a continuation of them, because they afforded me, along with shame and remorse, an introspective tendency that later led me to read many books, and to write a few. I therefore do not regret these thefts. I even think the students of literary workshops should be taught to steal small quantities of money, because when one writes intensely one is truly stealing, picking from the pockets of language the words necessary for what one wants to say—just those words, and not one more. Still today, after many years, I am in the habit of getting up very early to write, while everyone is asleep. I conceive of writing not as illustrious but furtive. I look for just enough coins to escape the same stifling atmosphere as ever. Since I get up very early, my friends admire me for my discipline.
We can gather from what has been said and read up to this point that, paradoxically, the result of this supposed “disorderly and playful education” has been none other than the formation of a disciplined and rigorous writer: a writer whose creativity may involve a great deal of play, but whose play is always governed by the dictates of the rules he discovered as a child, which have served to guide him in his literary work. Likewise, it seems clear that behind the “thief,” the one who really calls the shots, as a consequence of this long learning process, is the writer of frank straightforwardness and honesty; nothing could be further from Fabio Morábito than the pursuit of scenarios in which to show off false identities, literary affectations, or insincere bookish pretension. We find an exceptional testament to this, from my point of view, in another text from El idioma materno—one that is especially emblematic of his conception of writing, and that returns once again to that time of youthful discoveries that has marked his literary life. This text is titled “Samsonite,” and I quote it here in its entirety:
Between the ages of twelve and thirteen I got into drawing the interiors of mobile homes. On graph paper, I would sketch lines that represented the dining area, the kitchenette, the bathroom, the closet, and the cupboards. I had been to a camping exhibition and I knew the measurements of every object. The trick to a mobile home is to make the best possible use of the space. You have to fit a family of four, who eat, cook, sleep, and go to the toilet, in a four-by-two-meter living space. Mobile homes are full of ingenious solutions. What is an attractive dining area by day turns by night into a double bed. A long while after, I published my first book of poems. The whole thing was written in short verses, almost always heptasyllabic, which seemed to me the smallest possible living space in which to say something in verse. My poems sought concentration, not expansion, and, coming from the first book by a young poet, this caught readers’ attention. The book was favorably received in its reviews—one of the most recurring words in them was “rigor.” When they invited me to do a public talk and asked me about my main influences, I answered that I had written my poems in the same way that, many years before, I had drawn the interiors of hundreds of mobile homes: making as much material as possible fit into as little space as possible; this was why I had used short lines, because I needed a limiting framework that would force me to find only the strictest solutions. But when people ask about literary influences, they want to hear about acclaimed writers, and I noticed the audience was somewhat perplexed by my lucubrations on mobile homes. I can now say I have always written poetry like someone squeezing only the most essential of their belongings into a piece of lightweight luggage, someone leaving for a place they’ve never been before who doesn’t want to lug around any bulky bags. I’m afraid they wouldn’t take me seriously this time either if I were to claim my greatest literary influence is not some distinguished poet or another, but rather Samsonite-brand suitcases.
We can state, with good reason, that “with a confession, there’s no need for proof.” Morábito has always emphasized the decisive impact on his literary fate of the capers he pulled as a restless young boy, his imagination and ingenuity brimming over. He always found in small things the right expression and manners to explain and represent the complexities of a world that would be incomprehensible any other way—complexities that would ultimately provide teachings and discoveries without which the reader and writer he is at present would not exist: a reader and writer who will always, inevitably, carry the weight of his “crime” and his “punishment.” Without the traitor and the thief, there would be no shame and no remorse, but nor would there be the poems, the stories, the novels, and the essays that have turned us into his devoted readers.