San Francisco, 1987

He has become a different type of man
Now that the plague assaults him, friend by friend,
Finding resolve in each shake of a hand
To battle the immune cell to the end.

He does not like that statue's Greek physique
These days, its contours just lifelike enough
To be the man he visited last week,
Two years ago a swaggerer in love.

The moments dripping slowly from his life
In spinal taps and blood draws fill his bed
With sweat. Who will there be beside his wife
Alive to sit and talk with of the dead?

What He Said

That day you went the cracks of dawn
That fractured us like porcelain
Ran down your road. You called upon
All things but us to start again.

That day I stayed the autumn fell
Whose ancient, cyclical demise
Could not for worlds of red instill
October in my August eyes.

Your life, I'm sure, has come out well:
Your husband hauls the dollar home,
Your baby has my eyes and Hell
Is freezing over in your own.

So Long

So much there is beyond the sweep of things
You understand — roses that do not care
That you care for their colors. Evening wrings
From someone else's mind a different air
Than aught you could conceive of even breathing.
You do not know that Lethe has been seething
With memories of god knows who or what.
It is a matter of knowing in your gut
How much the brain has sheltered you from dream
To keep your world perfect as a rhyme
You don't quite like to hear. Some have to scream
For words to mean one breath. Don't ask me why.
If all men do is breathe, eyes merely see
This does not live. You can let it be.


Funny Thing about Chinese Poetry

The funny thing about reading modern Chinese poetry:

The more learned, erudite and recondite the language gets, the easier it is for me to understand and to appreciate. The layer of cultural resonance that draws on classical references, on phrases drawn from or patterned off of medieval poetry, on images reaching back hundreds of years for their associations: this is all easily assimilable to me and really, really enjoyable. Whereas the more colloquial, and plainspoken the poet gets, the more impenetrable I find it. Poems that imitate conversational style just wind up as lexicographical exercise, where I try to determine subtext in a language which I have no experience with, no emotional resonance with, and only read by accident.

Wang Anshi on Allusion

"Poetry suffers from overplus of allusions. The problem is when poets choose only those allusions corresponding to the subject of their poem, arranging them according to category, as if they were collating references by subject matter. Even if they do a good job, what's the point? If however one can imbue an allusion with one's own meaning, borrowing from an ancient event to express fresh intent, then any amount of allusions may be used without detracting from the poem."

詩家病使事太多,蓋皆取其與題合者類之,如此乃是編事,雖工何益?若能自出己意,借事以相發明,情態畢出,則用事雖多,亦何所妨

-Wáng Ānshí, quoted in Cài Jūhòu's "Remarks on Poetry", tr. Yours Truly

The Pagan Under Justinian

After Não a ti, Cristo by Fernando Pessoa

The Pagan Under Justinian
By A.Z. Foreman

It is not you, O Christ, that I rebuff.
In you, no less than in the older Ones,
I will confess belief. You are no more
Or less than all the other Cosmic sons

And daughters. What appalls me is the slaves
Who foist you to a place above your peers.
For I love you for what you really are,
Even in the face of these men's spears:

Beware, idolaters of the exclusive.
Each star in heaven is a different sun.
And only when you multiply your love
Will you speak any truth worth deeming one.


A Quote of Relevance for Today

From Maxime Rodinson's Marxisme et Monde Musulman, translated by yours truly.

So if I may bring to bear upon your problems the opinions of a foreigner - a foreigner well-versed in your history and in the social and cultural structures of your countries, but a foreigner nonetheless, however sympathetic he be to your aspirations - I would like to make an appeal. 
Firs of all, I appeal for lucidity. Myths can be useful for certain mobilizations but in the end they mystify, blind and lead astray the very people who manipulate them. To retreat into myths, especially the use of the past to elucidate the problems of the present, is yet another sign of weakness. If forceful ideas are needed to guide action, it is preferable that they be as close to reality as possible. 
Next, I appeal for open-mindedness. I have already said as much: societies that turn inward on themselves and on their own particular problems are dying, stagnant societies. Living, progressive, dynamic societies are not afraid to borrow in order roll their sleeves up and forge a new synthesis. The same is true for individual people. The most congenial and promising trait of the studious Algerian youth I have met is their thirst for learning, to drink at every fount, to assimilate every stimulus. 
Finally and most especially, I appeal for open-mindedness toward a universal vision of existing problems, the only kind that is truly revolutionary. I'm afraid must insist on this point. There are three ways to devote oneself: to God, to the group and to Mankind. To devote oneself to God is to have a faith which it is not given to all to share, and which in any case does not, in general, preclude the other types of devotion. 
To devote oneself to the group which one belongs to is necessary, and it becomes a primordial human duty when that group is humiliated or oppressed. But the group should not be deified, placed above all else. That would be what classical Muslim theology called shirk, associationism, the act of associating some other entity with god.
The group is not everything. An exclusive aspiration to the greater glory of the group as the supreme value would lead to an anarchic world of hateful nations locked in eternal struggle. Beyond the group, the ethnos, the nation, there are universal values which transcend them: liberty, equality and fraternity for all men. Integral and exclusionary nationalism leads logically to a barbaric attitude towards the rest of humanity outside the group. Its slogan: "my country, right or wrong" translated into German, hung over the gates of Buchenwald. And here in Algeria, one can ask the following question: if the nation is the ultimate value, how does one justify the actions of those Frenchmen who defended the cause of Algerian independence? Were they then mere traitors? If, on the contrary, the value which one looks to above all others, the vision which one holds before ones eyes, is a universal value, namely the struggle against all iniquity, it implies a constant renewal, for the forms of iniquity forever renew themselves, posing problems which are always new, unexpected and unprecedented. The Kingdom of God is not of this Earth, there is no end of history, and the struggles will never cease. He who struggles in the name of justice, the militant, the radical revolutionary, he who attacks the root of iniquities has no right to halt and fall back into the blissful satisfaction of the righteous man through whom Heaven has descended unto Earth. I am no prophet and do not like the prophetic style. But if one can draw a lesson from past experience and from the rational analysis thereof, it is that the future which lies before us is a future of struggles, a future which demands courageous souls, and thus a future worthy of Mankind.

The Original:

Ainsi, si je puis apporter à vos problèmes l'opinion d'un étranger — d'un étranger instruit de votre histoire et des structures sociales et culturelles de vos pays, mais quand même d'un étranger, si sympathique soit-il à vos aspirations — Je me permettrai de lancer un appel.
D'abord à la lucidité. Les mythes peuvent être utiles à certaines mobilisations, mais ils finissent par mystifier ceux-là mêmes qui les manipulent, par les aveugler et par les égarer. L'évasion dans les mythes, spécialement le recours au passé pour éluder les problèmes du présent sont encore des signes de faiblesse. S'il faut des idées- forces pour guider l'action, il est souhaitable qu'elles soient aussi proches que possible du réel.
Ensuite à l'ouverture. Je l'ai déjà dit, les sociétés qui se replient sur elles-mêmes, sur leurs problèmes propres sont des sociétés qui meurent, des sociétés figées. Les sociétés vivantes, dynamiques, progressives ne craignent pas d'emprunter pour rebrasser et forger de nouvelles synthèses. Il en est de même d'ailleurs pour les hommes. Ce qui est le plus sympathique et surtout le plus prometteur dans la jeunesse algérienne studieuse que j'ai pu approcher, c'est cette avidité d'apprendre, de boire à toutes les sources, de s'assimiler tous les apports.
Enfin, particulièrement, je me permets d'appeler à l'ouverture vers une vision universelle des problèmes, qui seule est vraiment révolutionnaire. J'y insiste un peu. Il y a trois manières de se dévouer: pour Dieu, pour le groupe, pour l'homme. Se dévouer à Dieu, c'est avoir une foi que tous n'ont pas et qui n'exclut d'ailleurs pas en général les autres dévouements. Se dévouer au groupe auquel on appartient est nécessaire, c'est un devoir humain primordial lorsque ce groupe est humilié, lorsqu'il est opprimé. Mais le groupe ne doit pas être déifié, mis au-dessus de tout. Ce serait là ce que la théologie musulmane classique appelait du shirk, de l'associationnisme, le fait d'associer quelque autre personne à Dieu.
Le groupe n'est pas tout. Une aspiration exclusive à la plus grande gloire du groupe comme valeur suprême aboutirait à un monde anarchique de nations haineuses en lutte pour l'éternité les unes contre les autres. Au delà du groupe, de l'ethnie, de la nation, il existe des valeurs universelles qui les dépassent : la liberté, l'égalité et la fraternité pour tous les hommes. Le nationalisme intégral et exclusif conduit logiquement à la barbarie à l'égard de l'humanité en dehors du groupe. Sa devise: "my country, right or wrong" traduite en allemand, s'étalait à la porte du camp de Buchenwald. Et ici, en Algérie, on peut appeler à méditer sur le problème suivant: Si la nation était la valeur suprême, comment justifier l'action des Français qui défendirent la cause de l'indépendance Algérienne? N'étaient-ils donc que des traîtres?
Si, au contraire, la valeur que l'on met au premier plan, la vision que l'on place devant ses yeux est une valeur universelle, la lutte contre toute iniquité, elle implique un constant renouvellement, car les formes d'iniquité se renouvellent sans cesse, posant des problèmes toujours nouveaux, inattendus, inédits. Le Royaume de Dieu n'est pas de ce monde, il n'y a pas de fin de l'histoire, les combats ne cesseront pas. Mais jamais le combattant de la justice, le militant, le révolutionnaire radical, celui qui s'attaque à la racine des iniquités n'a le droit de s'arrêter dans la satisfaction beate du juste par lequel le Ciel est descendu sur la terre. Je ne suis pas prophète et je n'aime pas le style prophétique. Mais, si on peut tirer quelque leçon de l'expérience du passé et de son analyse rationelle, l'avenir qui s'ouvre devant nous est un avenir de luttes, un avenir qui exige des âmes courageuses, un avenir à ce titre digne de l'homme