The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Diane Wakoski

Raven T'ai Chi

                                                                Periodically I try to study T’ai Chi, and this poem is a meditation
                                                                inspired by another beginning T’ai Chi student whom I watched
                                                                one day


At each T’ai Chi class,
she comes dressed in
black trousers loose as summer,
black shirt with sleeves as long
as Michigan winters. Soft black
shoes like earth feet. One look and you forget her,
as if she were just a customer in a line at the
grocery store, or a stone that blends into the field, a girl whose
face seems erased,
whose heavy body looks as if the bones weigh a lot.
I call her a girl because I am almost
seventy, but she isn’t
a young girl.
Today, alone,
in the pick-up class, where we each asked the
Master to help with parts of the Form we didn’t remember,
when she stood alone in the grey room,
and began moving with her eyes closed,
I forgot for a moment her
anonymity because
            she had become something out of
                        night-weaving, out of the imagined dark and light that plays us into sleep.
From the ungainly girl, she had moved into a floating
black sketch, a blot of film, a contained
raven with no voice. The Master
helped her with some slow passes of her wrist into Rollback
and then said, “But now, I want you to open your eyes
while you do this.”
It was hard for her,
and I realized that as I had watched her, she had never once opened
her eyes. She learned T’ai Chi in the realm
where she could be as she imagined herself,
the pale visage of Ingmar Bergman’s Death, the black
field, clothed beyond life into a
dreamless dream-sentry, guarding
against intrusion.
The Yang Form, as opposed to Yin, developed with the martial artist’s need,
defensively, to know everything that is happening around oneself. So the
eyes must remain open.
While the gaze is always focused
ahead, somehow the eyes, the senses
must always be casting beyond the circles
of the hands and feet.
But the eyes are only the first
Could this girl have jumped ahead, to observe some inner Form that might be a better one
for her to study?
I have no quarrel with the Master. He has
great patience with the untalented, like
myself. And in my own life I, too,
am guilty of pushing students to learn a tradition before
following their own inner voices. So, I silently agreed with him,
as he corrected her Form, but it frightened me a little
that she might lose that surprising beauty
once she opened her eyes.
            I was impressed with her knowledge that
her body was something
different than what I, or anyone, saw. It
wasn’t the motions that displayed this, but her
patiently lowered eyelids.
And the Master was kind,
            merely suggesting and not pursuing it,
when she once again closed
her eyes.
So, now I know something I didn’t
about the despair I often feel when I am sure I have created beauty
but that no one perceives it.
            When you leave your eyes always open,
            perhaps you see what others see, but what is this life about
            except hidden beauty?
Our Master’s favorite movement is
White Crane Spreads Its Wings, but perhaps this girl has taught me
to recognize a new movement for those of us not comfortable in our bodies:
Raven Balances Herself With Eyes Closed.




DIANE WAKOSKI is a celebrated poet with numerous book publications. Her most recent book is The Diamond Dog published by Anhinga Press. She is a Michigan State University Distinguished University Professor and she serves as Poet-in-Residence to the MSU English Department.



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