Poem: “Rio gets the Olympics”


The Olympic games are right around the corner – 5-21 August. Everyone I talk to is wondering whether Rio de Janeiro can pull it off. The reasons are many, and they all break my heart, because it’s my hometown. So instead of talking about the negative stuff many of us know about, I’d like to share a poem I wrote as soon as I found out that Rio had won the bid to host the 2016 Olympics, on October 2nd, 2009.

I was working at a newspaper in North Carolina, where people were naturally rooting for Chicago to be the host. We were following the vote on TV, and when Rio was announced, I totally gloated. I think I also jumped up and down and shrieked a little. Brazil was doing well back then… it would host the World Cup and the Olympics just two years apart. It was being considered a BRIC and an emerging power. The air around me was filled with optimism. I was filled with joy and pride at that moment.

My, what a difference seven years can make.

The gloating went on back then: I published the poem on the newspaper-hosted poetry blog I ran. But it was more than that. As a fellow poet and reader pointed out, the poem turned out to be even more about me than about Rio and the honor and prestige (or whatever) of hosting the Olympics. It was about trying to retrieve a part of my own life I’d lost, through time, distance and my growing personal detachment. The poem also reinforces stereotypes about Brazilian people being party animals even on workdays, which is not true, except for carnival and, well, special occasions like Olympic announcements. But I’ve left those lines in because that’s how I wrote them originally.

I also left the part in where I say I’ll be there for the Olympics. That won’t happen, after all.

I wonder if, with all the restrictions imposed on them for the event, people will still be able to express themselves with the bliss they did back at the announcement in 2009: “Today, people have left work to watch the developments of the Olympic vote and are out in the streets drinking beer and partying like crazy,” I wrote in the intro to the poem.

Ah, Rio. This is still for you.

Instead of talking about fears over the Rio Olympics, we visit a poem I wrote full of joy and pride in my gorgeous, trouble-ridden hometown being made host. https://leipglo.com
Me at Arpoador, Rio de Janeiro, March 2013. Photo by Renata Ferreira.

Rio gets the Olympics

When I saw the masses
take to your streets,
holding a Christ the Redeemer
banner, and the
Brazilian colors in
balloons, I had to
fight back tears not to
appear too sappy at work.

I could see myself there, too.

Between me and you, Rio,
stood the TV screen,
and thousands of miles,
and nearly 17 years
since I left you.

That moment, my love for you,
often forgotten,

Rio, it’s been too long,
I never got to know you
that well, never got to enjoy
your weeklong parties,
to explore your streets
and be less afraid of your
notorious dangers.

I never caught the fever
of your other, easy-going,
beer-drinking, work-skipping
sons and daughters,
though sometimes I wish
I would.

They look so happy.

I never gave my family there
the attention I should have,
and I’m sorry for that.

I’ve forgotten who I am,
or maybe I never knew.

I never gave you my love
through the unspeakable
beauty of your hills
and sea,
the charm of your nights
and music, but
also the unspeakable
poverty and violence
blemishing you.

No matter where I end up
in the world,
I will be there with you
in 2016,
my hometown,
shining in Olympic gold.

You deserve this, Rio,
for this you’ve fought
so long. Why shouldn’t you
be given a chance
to show the world
that you can?
Like a beautiful recovering
beat-up soul.

By Ana Ribeiro, October 2009

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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