(ed. note: Last December we asked Mong-Lan to reflect upon violence that plagues her in home city. Here are her thoughts on the riots that erupted on a day that was intended to be a celebration.Read Mong-Lan's previous blog post here.)
“Cerraba los ojos y entraba en la ardiente oscuridad olvidado de todo, como el fumador de opio que al entrar al asqueroso fumadero donde el patrón chino huele a excremento, cree recobrar el cielo.” (He closed his eyes and entered into the ardent obscurity, forgetting everything, as the smoker of opium who enters into the disgusting smoking room where the Chinese patron smells of excrement, believes to have recovered heaven.) -- Roberto Arlt, Los Siete Locos (The Seven Crazies) (1929)
Nuestro destino (a diferencia del infierno de Swedenborg y del infierno de la mitología tibetana) no es espantoso por irreal; es espantoso porque es irreversible y de hierro. El tiempo es la sustancia de que estoy hecho. El tiempo es un río que me arrebata, pero yo soy el río; es un tigre que me destroza, pero yo soy el tigre; es un fuego que me consume, pero yo soy el fuego. El mundo, desgraciadamente, es real; yo, desgraciadamente, soy Borges. (Our destiny (unlike Swedenborg’s hell or the Tibetan mythology’s hell) is not awful for being unreal; it is awful because it is irreversible and of iron. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river that steals me away, but I am the river; it is a tiger that destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.) Jorge Luis Borges, "Nueva refutación del tiempo" ("New Refutation of Time"), Otras Inquisiciones, (Other Inquisitions) (1952).
[Translations from the Spanish to English by Mong-Lan]
The world, fortunately or unfortunately is sometimes real; it depends on how you look at it. But what is there for those who have little or nothing? In the deep of the night, those who sleep on cold streets under winter blankets stir slowly like dead logs.
Grief like my own name, that follows me for centuries. Grief like a three-headed creature that fights and argues with its own nature. Grief, scathed in tears.
Buenos Aires, a city at war with itself, burns from the inside. The youths burn cars to ashes. Desperation rising, the economy has been about to explode for years now, and does so recurringly.
Perhaps the youths have been told they cannot do whatever their heart desires, for whatever reason, . . . helpless, yet wanting to leave a mark, and therefore they go out and destroy what belongs to those in authority, half-hazardly, burn cars, sack stores, destroy and take what is not theirs and what could not be theirs otherwise.
La Nacion: “El día del hincha de Boca terminó con barbarie y saqueos.” (The day of the Supporters of Boca Junior soccer team ended with barbarity and sacking.) That day was 12-12-12.
I’ve been thinking (and feeling) about this for half a year and then some. When connection breaks down, there is violence. Where there is desire, unmet, there is often violence. Although it was a day specifically named for celebration, for the supporters of the famous soccer team Boca Junior, ironically, the celebration ended in destruction hard to comprehend.
As if a war of the self, turned external, to a macroscopic gruesome level. I witnessed the aftermath of it, so unbelievable that it was as if taken from a horrific movie. Or it could’ve been the aftermath of a very real war. It left behind a space that was empty and barbarous. Destruction on a scale that is not understandable.
During what was to have been a joy march, in celebration of the supporters of Boca Junior, it ended in utter senselessness. The supporters of Boca Junior threw rocks, broke into the TV channel station, stole computers, telephones, anything and everything electronic. Five shops broken into, among which was a cell phone shop, “Movistar;” a store selling men’s clothes, the Channel 13 TV studio, shattered by large rocks, and everything taken, computers, telephones; the McDonald’s lights busted, . . kiosks broken into, the shattered glass of lamps.
And the people walked around in disbelief . . . stunned, a reminder of the futility of life. What was proven? There is only freedom to destroy, to unfetter themselves from the shackles of their own non-ability and helplessness. Is it violence inherent in this culture, the soccer culture, that incites such fierce animosity, such energy that leads to destruction? A lack of respect responding to a lack of respect, leading to more lack of respect? In the face of such barbarity, such violence, over 150 people were detained, but then released. What kind of coincidence is it that the present governor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, was once the president of the Boca Junior soccer team?
The elite Buenos Aires of Borges saw little place for such atrocity. Borges, brought up in a bi-lingual household, read books in English as well as Spanish. The Buenos Aires of Roberto Arlt, that of the belligerent streets, the gritty daily existence of Porteños trying to negotiate their way through their crazed lives, resonates more with the pulse of uncompromising Buenos Aires. Even then, perhaps Arlt could not imagine such violence on a grand scale.
Irreversible, awful, and seemingly unreal.
Is it a question of using power correctly? The power to be, the power to exist, to use power to create, not destroy; using power not to hate, but to love.
her native Vietnam, on the last day of the evacuation of Saigon. Multidisciplinary poet, writer,
dancer, visual artist, singer, and educator, she is the author of five books
and two chapbooks, including her book on the tango, Tango, Tangoing: Poems
& Art (the bilingual version: Tango, Tangueando: Poemas &
Dibujos). Find a complete list of titles here. Mong-Lan has won the Juniper
Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Awards, a Stegner
Fellowship at Stanford University, and a Fulbright Fellowship. She received a
Master of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona. Mong-Lan’s poetry has been
frequently anthologized -- in, for example, The Best American
Poetry. Visit: www.monglan.com