T’ai Chi

From Poems for China
(for Zhang Weiping in prison)


If the space where they keep you
the next years is just a little
larger than the length of your outstretched
arm, you’ll be able to visualize clouds
and move them away
with a slow graceful turn
of your hand should they frown
or darken to form rain. A few movements
will shape you trees to shade your head
and the hard board of your bed
will be earth sprung bright with flowers
and new grass. You might be tempted
to tense a melon out of the early vapours of air
and imagine, oh imagine that cool caress for breakfast.
These acts will make you
strong, subtle as ink brush-stroked on paper
all those centuries ago.

Remember the story told of the woman in prison.
She knew Beethoven well. From inside
each day she conducted a quartet. Each part separately
in her head, then putting all four instruments together
silently as she sat there in solitary confinement.
It took years, but the music lifted the sky
into that darkness, and the sun

gave back her life.