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  • The Years of Learning, and: What Counts
  • Oscar Cruz (bio)
    Translated from Spanish by Katherine M. Hedeen and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez

The Years of Learning

when my motherwould beat my backwith her belt, i'd oftencurse her on the

inside. "hold backthose tears, asshole,for when you'll needthem. this is so

you'll learn to behavelike a man." she hadan easy violence. eagerto teach, like

strict Makarenko.the language of the blowswas beautiful. my motherin a whisper, with a belt

in her hand, sayinggreat things, my mother(lashes penetratingmore precisely than

a drill into wood.)my mother—static shots—,close up and long images,body standing in front of me [End Page 39]

saying, "respect medamn it." let's see: i listenbut never understand. whatsuddenly comes to me are great

desires to kill alwayscalling me into mother, with the beltin her hand,

was right. the pileof manure i am. the voiceof excrement i am. theface of a man urinating i am.

i am saintly and spoiled.mother, i want you to sing methat song about the losing patienceor pride, sing to me.if you don't know it, find another.i know you weren't good at singingbut the belt

you remember. otherssang for me. i recalldetails so clearly. for my use,remains of love. you had

gray hair and a slenderwaist. i almost loved you.but [. . .], now i'mstill. like an ox

sleeping beneath the rain,i sleep and dream alongsidemy mother. her presencethough, isn't the presence

of evil. i don't know a more pleasantchildhood . . . than the onei built beneath the blows. I saythis happily: words [End Page 40]

that don't drown,that don't accept another realmof words. they persistpainlessly and so pain

becomes desirable. the onei am, cowardly acceptanceof what i was, like an oxsleeping beneath the rain,

contemplates a small flowergrowing in the pond. youknow, lost flower, lostmother. like a boy

who doesn't understand anotherlanguage. everythingthat loves me i tendto beat with her belt.

What Counts

what counts is being there,on the edge of the stands.the dogs barking in front of you.dogs trained in the art of killing.welterweight dogs more than thirty pounds.(i liked being there). the folks who cometo these places are interesting.folks terminally ill with lifeless faces.folks who come out of love: love of shoeslove of clothes, love of disaster;and disaster with its force beganto appeal to me.

the dogs were in their essence beautiful.more beautiful than my parents,more beautiful than God. they had red tonguesand a masculine way of drooling. [End Page 41] i felt like my life was bound to that drool,to that depraved way of i pulled out two hundred pesosand put them on the nobody dog, a dog that had neverfought against anotherwho'd been in sixteen.a dog unbeaten and secular like a government.they began to kill each other,their mouths making violent crime.instants of hard pleasure.dogs fighting for what's possibleand impossible for man.i looked at the stands and saw brutal facesof deranged, happy folks.folks betting on a lifeless pup.after some minutesthe dog i'd bet on won.on top of the other it wouldn't stop was carried off like a hero and the mobheaded back home. we were silent.listening to how the winnerslaugh, how they speak.that evening i knew what a loser was.i saw the defeated dog in a plastic bagon the side of the didn't matter that he'd been in sixteen.the glory in these places doesn't last long.and that's what counts.not much love or not much life isn't so bad.what counts is knowing you've bet.that you've come here like...


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