on the sky that now falls on our heads
i tell you, a coup will not abolish chance
will not abolish luck, bad fortune and flowers
here we are in the magic of the hoax
of standing like a block of ice in the sun
of shaking off the dust, of grasping water with a sieve
i tell you, this is no place for beginners
if you can’t take the heat, stay out
don’t mess with the anthill1
if the sky falls
Advanced course in political philosophy.
Today’s theme: “Power and the masses.”
– You deceived us, you deceived us!
– Me? You’re the ones who deceived yourselves.
– No, we believed you!
– But I wasn’t talking to you.
translator’s note: In the summer of 2016, during the impeachment proceedings for Brazil’s then-president Dilma Rousseff, I found a PDF of GOLPE: Antologia-Manifesto in an unassuming blog post, free to the public (the original editor was Punks Pôneis, and the book was published in print in 2017 by Nosotros Editorial). The collection includes the work of 137 Brazilian contributors, all protesting the unconstitutional removal of Rousseff from office, and was organized by Ana Rüsche, Carla Kinzo, Lilian Aquino, Lubi Prates, and Stefanni Marion. The selected excerpts include a translation of the preface, written by philosopher Marcia Tiburi, and poems by Rüsche, Annita Costa Malufe, and Denise Bottmann.
Although the 2016 Brazilian coup d’état was cloaked in political respectability, the removal of Rousseff, a member of the Brazilian Workers’ Party, from office and her replacement with vice president Michel Temer, a member of the center-right Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, was a violent act intended to put the government back into the hands of conservatives.
“Our central aim was to coin the word ‘coup,’” said Rüsche. “The reason is that many social actors began to construct a narrative, describing the whole absurd process simply as ‘impeachment,’ a narrative to normalize the debacle. There was an impeachment, yes, but the legal basis to this day remains weak,” as evidenced by the much more egregious offenses of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president and a far-right populist, whose power has yet to be questioned by the Brazilian government.
COUP is a radical literary action stationed in opposition to this narrative, an effort to give a voice not only to the millions who benefited from the programs instituted by Rousseff and the Workers’ Party, but also to the marginalized people who lost their power when Rousseff lost hers. The flap copy of the print version was written by Rousseff herself, and though some contributors, including Rüsche, are critical of her policies, “this concession of words to a woman stripped of her power is very special.” This is especially poignant given what Tiburi called the coup’s misogynistic character.
Rüsche commented that while the organizers invited as many poets as possible, they also sought out media figures “because it was important for the anthology to have some weight” against Brazilian mainstream media. For example, Tiburi’s work appears frequently in newspapers and magazines, and other contributors included Gregorio Duvivier (whose HBO show “Greg News” Rüsche compared to John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight”), Laerte, Brazil’s most prominent cartoonist, and singer-songwriter Letrux. Of the 137 contributors, sixty-three are women, including two trans women. The authors represent a large racial diversity and, although many of the contributors are from the Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo axis, Rüsche said, a geographical diversity as well.
The individual pieces that comprise the anthology are short, averaging 1-2 pages per contributor, and cover a wide breadth of formats and literary styles, including poetry, prose, poesia concreta, crônicas, comics, and visual art. Jéssica Balbino’s contribution, “33 x 1,” juxtaposes the abuse Rousseff faced under Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1970 with the injustices endured in modern-day Brazil. The title refers to a sixteen-year-old girl raped by thirty-three men in Rio de Janeiro in May 2016. The constant refrain: “It’s a coup.” Laerte’s contribution includes a cartoon figure riding a bicycle (hands-free) made from the word “GOLPE” saying, “Look, ma! No military!” The text fosters a voice of dissent that remains necessary in Brazil’s current political climate, a cry from the oppressed, a call to action.
The word golpe was particularly challenging to translate into English, as it encompasses any number of meanings approximating strike, blow, or hit, in addition to coup d’état. English, on the other hand, borrows the French coup and uses it almost exclusively in a political sense, making the semantic ambiguity of the Portuguese difficult to render. Compounding this is the number of forms golpe can take, including the verb golpear and the noun golpista (literally “scammer,” or one responsible for the coup). Because of COUP’s explicitly political objectives, I chose to translate golpe as “coup” in all instances (with the exception of golpista and golpeados in the preface), adjusting where I could to imply the polysemy of the original while keeping the political overtones clear to the Anglophone reader.
“Everything was done in a hurry, with a good deal of urgency and emotion,” Rüsche said of COUP, and I felt the same urgency with these translations. The 2016 coup, like our current pandemic, suddenly and drastically revealed in stark relief the systemic abuse and oppression inherent to late capitalism that were there all along, making works like COUP exceptionally relevant for any country, in any language.
I am deeply indebted to the authors for allowing me to translate their words and patiently clarifying some of the trickier passages. I want to specifically thank Ana for providing commentary on the project and context to some of the references in her poem; Marcia for her knowledge and resources; Lubi Prates for helping connect me with the authors; and the editorial collective at Barricade for working so tirelessly to make this work available under such dire circumstances.
GREICE HOLLERAN writes poetry and translates literature from Portuguese to English. She is a graduate student in the Department of Portuguese at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
MARCIA TIBURI holds a degree in philosophy and arts, as well as a master and doctorate in philosophy (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, 1999). She is the author of numerous books on philosophy and the humanities, in addition to several novels. In 2015 she published Como conversar com um fascista: reflexões sobre o cotidiano autoritário brasileiro (How to talk to a fascist: reflections on daily life in authoritarian Brazil) (Record, 2015). She is a columnist for Cult magazine.
ANNITA COSTA MALUFE, poet and professor, was born in São Paulo in 1975. She fears silent dictatorships and microfascisms. Education, in her eyes, is the only way out.
ANA RÜSCHE tries to always be in the streets, listening. It doesn’t always work. There are days so astonishing that she takes refuge in her headphones. Sweet dreams also bring fear.
DENISE BOTTMANN, who believes in the idea of good and tries to defend the good, today, is fighting against the coup in our country.
- From “Pisa Ligeiro,” a popular chant in Brazilian protests. The full chant is, “Pisa Ligeiro, pisa ligeiro, quem não pode com formiga, não assanha/atiça o formigueiro,” which translates roughly to: “Tread lightly, tread lightly, if you can’t handle the ant, don’t mess with the anthill.” Typically, a protest leader will shout “if you can’t handle the ant,” and the rest of the crowd will reply “don’t mess with the anthill!” The chant originated from protests for the protection of indigenous land, but has also become popularized with other causes.