Here, Katherine Anne Porter writes scholar and critic Kenneth Burke from Mexico, where she had traveled four times since 1919. Porter, previously involved in the radical political movement there, had lost interest by the time of this letter. Her visits to Mexico influenced the stories she wrote throughout the 20s and 30s, included in the collection “Flowering Judas.”
Apartado 2075, Mexico, D F
March 20, 1931
Cheerful news came from the Guggenheim Foundation people the other day, and I am now a Fellow. My gratitude for your part in it, we won in this lottery! I am just ingrate enough to be peeved over the fall of copper, along with our other severe falls of the year past, which cut my stipend from $2500 to $2,000, because of my being an “unmarried Fellow,” as they explained. I was immensely pleased to think that if I had had a husband, the Foundation would have helped me take him to Europe; this is a very enlightened attitude on the one hand, but disconcerting, on the other, to the unwed who already have penalties enough.
Your article (rejoinder to Wilson) on boring from within the conventional citadels warmed my heart; incorrigible and unconvinced to the last ditch you are, and may you never go back on this state of mind.
I have moved to a suburb and have a long skinny house with a ragged garden and a small orchard full of debris and fruit trees and a swimming tank which leaks, and all at once I find myself leading a domestic life, with three chickens and two turkeys, a kitten, a puppy, and my cook Teodora who brought along her mother, a grand ancient who says, “Valgame Dios!” in a long chant over every smallest household accident. She sleeps on a straw mat and eats fried beans for breakfast, and is an example of fortitude and uncompromising adherence to the principles of her being and the traditions of her race. She greets me in the morning with “God be with you!” and says at night, “Sleep with the Angels!” and means it from her heart. God sends the rain, according to her, and God willed that she should have rheumatism, and it was God who decided that she should forget her beans and let them burn. I put up a good fight, but still I have an uneasy sense of being under the eye of a capricious Overseer who is likely to play almost any kind of trick on me at any moment. I live entirely among such people; the have only feelings, no hope at all; a resignation to poverty, to being tired every day, to looking forward only to sleep, to being thankful if they are sure of food for tomorrow. There are fifteen millions of beings just like this, here, in this country, and they have for weapons a sense of comedy like poison-tipped arrows, malice and humility, and a love of death. They are so in love with the thought of death it makes them happy to talk about it. When it comes to them they make no resistance whatever. If any one tries to tell you about the “Indian Revolution” spit in his eye for me…Some day if you would like to hear it I will tell you something about this “Indian Revolution.”
The novel goes along. I am waiting to see your “Declamations” made into a book.
From Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter: Chronicles of a Modern Woman. Porter, Katherine Anne, and Darlene Harbour Unrue. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012.