Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint
State of exception
On the plaster walls, dirty with blood, there are last words left for you to ponder. This was done to me, the walls say. The passive voice. The unidentified subject. Always circling around, always retreating from the self. To me it was done. This. A finger pointing into an abyss.
What remains are the material things. The shoes they took off your feet, the wrist watches, the engagement rings. Dispossession and repossession. In the piles of things, dead people’s things, you search for photographs. There are scraps of metal in the yard and you are putting them back together. You are building an airplane to take you away.
But where will you all go?
Memories implicate objects. The pliers, for pulling out teeth, or toenails; the rope, to bind hands and feet, pulled taut around the neck; the baton, the lead pipe, the wood planks, the chair, the broomstick, the belt with its heavy buckle, for beatings to the head.
You salvage scrap metal from the yard to construct your own salvation. You are trying to recover the referential meanings of things: the pipe for the sink, the chair to sit in, the belt to wear around the waist. You sit facing plaster walls, facing the void of memory, the resistance of memory. The faces in the photographs are not black and white, but softened in sepia. Diaphanous eyes gaze into yours.
For years that was all the loudspeakers played: military marches day after day after day. Unpaired slippers in the gutter and barricades left standing in the streets. Curfew fell on the city at twilight. Uniform men with machine guns kept watch at the corners.
Come out and see the blood in the streets.
From a distant quarter there was the sound of dogs barking. Across the street a fluorescent bar blinking in a tea shop where moths had gathered. The shop was empty. Beds were empty. You waited for the missing to come home. You did not leave when you still had a chance.
And now, the impulse to leave a trace. A scintilla of suffering. To immortalize yourself through art, through artful words. Poetry written in the red dust of the bricks that had built walls around you.
There was a loose brick in the wall. You kept your secrets there.
You were the lucky ones, the ones in brick cells. There were others who slept on bare concrete. There were others who were kept in chains.
Pigs were slaughtered for weeks nearby to drown out your cries. That’s what you sounded like: a pig. Who knew you were kept here? The neighbors? Who among them knew what was happening, why the pigs were made to scream. The butcher must have known, and his wife. Their children must have heard the whispers from doors left ajar. In the school yard, the boys and girls must have played a game of guard and prisoner, squealing like pigs. That was how the truth was reenacted, how memory acquired its texture. In a playground with children brandishing butchers’ knives.
On concrete floors, a poem was scrawled in red paste made from brick shavings and saliva. It was a poem about love.
We love you, the loudspeakers had pleaded. We are only doing this because we have to protect. We are only doing this because there are insurgents everywhere, they are everywhere hiding among you.
In a state of exception, love must be willing to murder. In a state of exception, murder is love.
This is an excerpt. The full text of Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint's State of Exception can be read in the print edition of The Arkansas International 5.
Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint is the author of the lyric novel, The End of Peril, the End of Enmity, the End of Strife, A Haven (Noemi Press, 2018) and the forthcoming family history project, Zat Lun, which won the 2018 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize.