The Power of Conversation

My old friend Charles Cameron has become involved with a very interesting conversation with an erstwhile al-Qaeda leader that has been going on in the blogosphere. Al-Masri’s reply to Charles was very interesting. Here is what I said to Charles:

This is an amazing correspondence. Bravo on being part of it.

For me the most significant thing, underlying all the others, is the
Richard/Saladin image. Basically the import of Al-Masri’s writing is
a desire for respect, to be treated as an honorable equal. That was
why he responded with such chivalry to Farrall and with such
enthusiasm to your own revelation of your warrior ancestry.

I think that the Ummah itself wants one symbolic victory, where it has
the moral advantage and the chance for magnanimous action in victory.
It was Egypt’s few days of success in the Yom Kippur war that gave it the
sense of self-respect to make peace with Israel.

[If we allowed] breathing room for the grand, generous, sexist, sentimental sense of
Muslim honor, all or most of our strategic objectives might be
achieved in negotiation.


China Photos

Check out my China photos on Facebook.


Goodbye to China

The Traveler Packs His Tent of Words

How quickly Yichang has become my home,
How dear the places where I cooked and slept.
But for us humans, all is to and from,
And nothing can be saved and nothing kept.

Just to sit down and eat we make a place
That is the center of a little world,
And merely the direction of one’s face
Becomes a kind of tie or anchor-hold.

A dream! To waken is to leave behind
The one we were before sleep’s little death:
It is the penalty of humankind,
The rising dark between our every breath.

But always, on a ship or on a plane,
I can put up the tent of poetry,
The flimsy fabric that keeps off the rain
Of loss, loneliness, and mortality.


And Another

At the Source of the Yang Jia Shi River

There’s been no moon since I came to Yichang.
Mist and rain hid her white face from view.
And so the ancient poets of the Tang
Seemed to say: “This was not meant for you.”

But now I’ve reached the place the Yang Jia Shi
Bursts from the mountain in three spouts of white,
Fed by the fog-wreathed crags that roar to me
The same moon-foaminess I missed at night.


Another poem from Yichang

The Girls of China

I see your conscience and your sheer clean hair,
Your graceful carriage, pliant as a feather,
How when a duty of the heart is there,
You press determined little lips together;

I see your stylishness, your quiet chic,
As you walk arm in arm with a girl friend;
I see the trace of color in your cheek,
When there is something that you should defend;

I see you under your light parasol,
Transparent darkness in your clear brown eyes,
I see your odd thought and your forthright soul,
Obscurely simple and naively wise.