Martinez’s “History as a Second Language”

Dionisio D. Martínez (1956- )

History as a Second Language


I grew up hearing the essence

of conversations in the next room.

My father and his friends conspired

in the next room. The new regime

succeeded in spite of their plot.

The next room is usually dark. People

whisper in it. You hear only so much.

Just enough if you know what to listen for.

I thought I heard a murder in the next

room. It was the radio. I thought

I heard a murder long after the radio

had been thrown against the wall and smashed

to bits. It was a whore at the end of

a long day. Families like mine

always managed to have a whore or two

as “good” friends. It made us look

less rich, less whatever being rich meant.

In those days things became

the meanings we gave them and not the other

way around, not like today. The next room

mean the room next door. If you looked

hard enough you could see through the wall.

The specifics of a conversation

were not necessary to understand a plot

or a confession; the blurred

view through the wall was enough

to know more or less how the whores

earned their pay, how a government

might have failed, how a single threat

would keep a family together through war

and sabotage. The room next door

made us what we became with time in exile:

failed lovers, experts in the mechanics

of things we never learned to name.


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