Poem from China: Watching Tai Chi by the Pearl River by Lynda Myers

Watching Tai Chi by the Pearl River

I’ve inked today’s quota of departmental forms,
Checked out my classroom, sent students their assignment–
Now I’m walking alone along the Pearl River,
On a tree-shaded path, under a leaden sky,
Watching old men and old women practice tai chi.
The young are not here on this cold winter Tuesday-
Guangzhou children are busy in school, their parents,
Jaded offspring of the Cultural Revolution,
Determined to make them wealthy entrepreneurs.
Only these elderly pensioners, practicing
An art from another era, have come to bend
And sway by the side of the river under trees
Whose names I, newly arrived, clearly out of place,
Do not yet know. They weave their ancient movements
In groups of three, of eight, to music only they
Now hear. Two women heckle a friend they deem clumsy.
He tries again; their hands shoot up in mock despair.
Housewives in regrettable tights and gay blouses
Giggle as they blunder through the ritual gestures.
A man with chiseled face and intense hollow eyes
Looks inward, dipping with the grace and precision
Of a bird of prey. I envy them, these dancers,
Clearly at home, miming the landscape’s deep rhythms,
Under this sodden grey sky, beside the Pearl River.


Lynda Myers retired last summer after teaching for 38 years at St. John’s College in Santa Fe. She is currently a Senior Resident Scholar at Boya College, the experimental liberal arts branch of Sun Yat Sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. This semester she is teaching a class on Euclid’s Elements and Lobachevsky’s Theory of Parallels (in English). She has loved and studied poetry from her youth but has never before attempted to write a poem.

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