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.