Counting Obejas

Counting Obejas


Abel FL Berriz

Whenever I can’t sleep, I count obejas.

Not sheep. No ovejas.


Achy Obejas, to be precise.

Though her stories could provoke insomnia for sure.

They’re tough stories, punching stories. Uppercuts.

They hit you in the middle of the eye.

They hit you in the middle of the nose.

They break your jaw. They break your mouth.

They hit you in the middle of the chest.

They break you.

In the inside.

But that’s what I need whenever I can’t sleep.

I need an uppercut.

I need to bleed.

Whenever I can’t sleep, it’s because I’ve got too much blood inside.

I need to take off some of that blood.

So I count obejas. Me voy pa la calle y cuento obejas.

No ovejas. No sheep.


Como Achy Obejas.

She reminds me of my mother.

She was born in 1956, like my mother.

In Cuba, like my mother.

Unlike my mother, she left Cuba at the age of six.

That could have been my mother. My mom, she could have left Cuba at the age of six.

She could have been Achy Obejas.

A Cuban-American woman, writer, translator.

As she said, a Cuban exploring Sephardic roots.

But perhaps she wouldn’t have been my mother.

She would have been childless, surrounded by cats and pictures of old lovers.

Women lovers.

And she would have lived in Michigan City, Indiana, instead of Havana, Cuba.

And she would have attended Indiana University instead of University of Havana.

But she would have been almost the same girl, with dark eyes, deep.

With dark curly hair, a cross body bag, sitting upon a wall.

Like Humpty-Dumpty.

And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men would have lain at her feet, but she only thought of her cats and her pictures of old lovers. Women lovers.

And I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have been born.

I wouldn’t exist.

I wouldn’t count obejas para poder dormir.

Porque eso es lo que hago ahora. Every night.

I count obejas.

Memory Mambo.

Days of Awe.


Her novels.

My mother’s novels.

My non-mother’s novels.

My obejas.

In Chicago, Illinois.

In the streets of Chicago, instead of the streets of Havana.

In Lake Shore Drive, instead of Malecon.

In Hyde Park, instead of Vedado.

In Oakland, California.

In the streets of Oakland, instead of La Vibora.

In Harrison Street, instead of Calle Acosta.

A Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College, Oakland.

I close my eyes y solo veo obejas.

Girls with dark curly hair y ojos oscuros.

I see cats durmiendo al sol by the window.

The scarce sun. The cold sun.

The snow. Smell of snow. That cold smell.

Smell of heroin, of piss, of blood.

The smell of death.

Esto no tiene nombre.

A collection of short stories in a lesbian magazine.

In Miami.

We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?

Short stories. Obejas. Blows. Uppercuts.

I can imagine my grandparents saying that to my mom, to my non-mom:

‘¿Vinimos desde Cuba para que te vistieras así?’

In Hawaii, California, Illinois, Indiana, Florida.

No matter where. Always Cuba.

Cuba. Cuban. Cuban-American. American-Cuban. Cuban.

This Is What Happened In Our Other Life.

Poetry. The lesbian poet. The cat under the sunshine.

Sunshine sushi.

My mom also wrote poems. She keeps them in a secret box.

Never showing them to noone.

Never sunshine.

No sunshine sushi.

My non-mom is always in the sunshine. Even through a window.

Cuban sunshine.

Translations to Spanish. The girl with pelo rizado oscuro y dark eyes, writing for magazines y traduciendo al español. Always bilingual.

Translations to English. Cuban noir stories.

Always Cuba.

Awards. Pulitzer. Studs Terkel’s. Peter Lizagor’s. Lambda Literary.


Teaching. Creative Writing. University of Chicago. University of Hawaii. Mills College, Oakland.

My mom also teaches. Math.

My non-mom teaches writing.

I’ve taught writing.

I’ve been there.

That’s why, por eso, por las noches, when I can’t sleep, cuento obejas.

No ovejas. No sheep.


Achy Obejas.


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