“We speak cathedrals when we speak:” the 2010 RAWI conference

RAWI, the Radius of Arab American Writers, held its conference at the University of Michigan this past week. It featured two readings a day, by young and more established poets, playwrights, and novelists. The conference also included panels on topics as diverse at queering orientalism and teaching Arab-American literature. In solidarity, two African-American poets read, and a representative from the Asian-American Writer’s Workshop participated. In addition, writers enjoyed dancing, dinners, and drinks. The conference felt both like a wedding and (for some who may not have felt supported by their community before) a baptism. The dinner on the final night, which honored many of our writers, was capped in part by a speech from Samuel Hazo. Hazo read a poem from memory and many people were weeping at the end of the poem. I wanted to include it here for everyone who missed the conference, and for everyone who was there and wants to hold onto the poem as a sort of parting gift.

To All my Mariners in One

Forget the many who talk
much, say little, mean
less and matter least.
we live in times when broadcasts
of Tchaikovsky’s 5th precede
announcements of the death
of tyrants,
Forget that life
for governments is priced
war-cheap but kidnap-high.
Our seamanship is not with such.
From port to port we learn
that “depths last longer
than heights,” that years are
meant to disappear like wakes,
that nothing but the sun stands
We share the sweeter
alphabets of laughter and slow
languages of pain.
as coal, we find in one another’s
eyes the quiet diamonds
that are worth the world.
by the song of our keel, who
are we but horizons coming true?
Let others wear their memories
like jewelry.
We’re of the few
who work apart so well
together when we must.
We speak cathedrals when we speak
and trust no promise but
the pure supremacy of tears.
more can we expect?
The sea’s
blue mischief may be waiting
for its time and place, but still
we have the stars to guide us.
We have the wind for company.
We have ourselves.
We have a sailor’s faith that says
not even dying can divide us.


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