Practicing Tai Chi While News Plays from Tiananmen Square

June 4, 1989

My left hand points toward the door
while I face the palm of my right
focusing on the narrow path it travels

through the air away from me. Beyond it
the room becomes a blur of shapes
and my mind, turned away from custom,

finds itself moving down my legs.
I see the hand before me now
held open to a column of tanks

or splayed, dust-creased, beside a body
gnawed by pigs and flies, pressed against earth
far beneath my feet where the chi rises.

I feel the power of the gentle way,
how it almost swayed the brittle men
full of their ten thousand things

to surrender to change. If an opponent
came at me now, could I bend before that weight
to let his momentum destroy him,

just as for a moment, the people opened hands
filled with nothing and turned aside armies?
For a moment they were a river swelling

before the old ideas, a slide of rock and earth.
They were the supple force that slips through cracks,
the weight that gathers and cuts a new path.

Water and rock, an old argument. The dirt banks say,
“Here, you are a river because I contain you.”
While the river is heard answering,

“I bring to you animals and trees,
without me you are barren rock and dust.”
Each makes it claim on the other, but who can say

how we make ourselves? One hand cutting through air
to meet an opponent is the same hand settling to rest
on a lover’s back, yet everything is changed.

One man in a uniform becomes no longer just
one man, until the soldier acknowledges
the student’s open hand, and then everything changes.

But the brittle men resume their violent claims,
and now the people cup fear by its sharp edge
in their palms and wait. So I pray for them

while I may, safe in my world of petty
injustice cupped within vast cruelties,
and wonder how many lives the way requires,

what will a hand must wield
to brush fear off as gently as a fly
to turn to one side and watch it go by.

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