The Three Rings of Beijing

Here are some Mongolia and Beijing-inspired poems. Enjoy.

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By David G. Allan

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July 2002 on the website David’s column, The Wisdom Project, can be subscribed to here:

In the days overlapping China and Mongolia I was in the poetic spirit. Here are six poems that captured the zeitgeist for me.

(#1. The capital city of Beijing is bordered by three concentric circles, or rings, from the city center out. The first ring consists of the walls of the old Forbidden City where the Qing [pronounced “ching”] and Ming emperors resided. The second ring is a road that loops around the heart of the city and under that road was built the main artery of the Beijing subway system. The third ring is simply another road on the outskirts of town. Hutong are the narrow old lanes of the city, often rundown and in constant threat of being bulldozed. Kelly Gallagher is an old friend of Kate’s and a new friend of mine whose excellent Chinese and disposition, combined with the patience of Buddha, made our touring of the city filled with more than we could have hoped.)

The Three Rings of Beijing

Emperors Qing and Ming
Kept sound and sleeping
Safe in the imperial walls of the First Ring

Tienanmen’s revolutionary soup
The Chairman’s Mao-soleum coop
A proletariat’s smog-induced croup
Hutong roofs droop
Over an Underground City entrance stoop
All in the subway’s Second Ring loop

The Worker’s Stadium on game day
Military Museum artillery play

The foreign dirt of Embassy way
Green parks under a dome of gray
Beijing Zoo feeding horses hay
Tiny tea served on a tiny tray
And where Kelly Gallagher likes to stay
The small comfort rooms of the Hotel Hua Bei
Contained in the embrace of the Third Ring’s beltway

(#2. We went out to the Great Wall. We climbed the Great Wall. Because of the fog we barely saw the Great Wall. Written down it is easier to tell the poem is spaced in the shape of a castellated wall.)

Great Wall floating in and out of the mist
Unfolding just as you climb along its top
A brick ribbon monument like the rigged back of a dragon
over peak and gorge in a grand futile attempt at national security
a big broken wall that contained little more than tourist expectations

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(#3. Our first night in Mongolia Kate and I got to sleep in a traditional nomadic dwelling, called a ger [pronounced gare]. The poem is a haiku.)

Mongol ger sleeping
Stars through wagonwheel roof hole
Moth falls on my face

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(#4. For nine days we trekked though Outer Mongolia with about a dozen of Kate’s fellow Luce Scholars, all of us taking turns riding in what I affectionately dubbed The Green Machine, a Soviet-made transport vehicle. The driver, who we called Crazy B, drove that thing to it’s limits, and ours.)

The Green Machine

Madman behind the wheel guns for the enormous pot hole.
We go into the air, gear sways this and that, everything is in a new place.
And the driver smiles broadly to himself.

The Soviet van is tank green inside and out.
Shocks optional. Handlebars on the ceiling standard.
The door is roped shut.
Everything else is free to move about the cabin at every speed(up) bump.

Through the Mongolian plains it is a teetering bugmobile
kicking up a long parachute trail of dust,
a desert wake on choppy terrain,
a people papoose on the verge of rolling over.

It is splendid memorable transport with a multi-decade international pop soundtrack
and a laughing mad man of a Mongolian driver
wearing a crew cut, cut-off jeans, a Hawaiian shirt
and a grin broader than his country.

(#5. We got to ride Mongolian horses out at the beautiful and remote Great White Lake of Mongolia. Most of the horses were not happy with the tour. My old beat horse liked to eat. And on one occasion his reaching down for food toppled me over his head like the obligatory scene in a John Ford western. The horse was spooked and I sat in the dirt as he galloped to the other side of the valley. The poem is written in the third grade Mother’s Day card made in school style. A yert is the Russian word for ger.)

Yert pullers

Ought to

But while
Eating you’re

On to the

(#6. Mongolia is like an unspoiled America before the Western Expansion. In every direction you see valleys and hills and stretches of plains. Airag, fermented mare’s milk, is the most popular drink in Mongolia. Vodka is number two. Everyone drinks airag and it is always offered to you when you visit a ger. Chinggis Khan is the Mongolian [read: correct] way to pronounce their revered Mongol leader, Genghis Khan.)

Mongolia the Beautiful
(sung to the tune of America the Beautiful)

Oh beautiful
Gray cloudy skies
For rocky plains of gers
For horses, cows, sheep, yaks and goats
Fermented milk from mares

Mongolia, Mongolia
Buddha casts his eye on thee
From dusk to dawn
Praise Chinggis Khan
From Siberia to the PRC

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CNN’s Editorial Director of Features (Travel, Style, Wellness, Science), plus The Wisdom Project column. This account represents my personal views, not CNN’s.

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