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December 3, 2003

Red East

JAMA. 2003;290(21):2878. doi:10.1001/jama.290.21.2878-a

This is my father performing tai chi, hair hit
By silver circles through canopies of moon-lit
Pine trees, swift and sharp, and impromptu ant
Migration. The hands move with the wind, slant
In East and West, mystical planes intersecting.
He was a painter, brave strokes attracting
Black chicks with seven well-placed dots
Of his sable brush, as imperfect circle blots
Onto soft paper, taking shape, and becoming
Alive. Until the Red Guards broke in drumming.
A counter-revolutionary, they sent him to Dalian
With an abacus, to count the kilos of oat bran
At dawn, they made him slap his hands in the air,
"Shake the trees to rouse the sparrows, scare
The vermin eating all the rice in the granaries."
He watched intently as they flew from trees to trees,
Awakened from sleep by rattles of willow branches.
He laughed as their tired bodies fell, appendages
Flapping in momentary unison before the crashes
In impossible angles, and amazed at how clean the flesh
On the backs of their wings were. Soon, locusts invaded
The fields and devoured the green in sight, this negated
The need for granaries. So they told him to read the Red
Book. Wave the Red Book. Yet he didn't drop dead
Like the starved artist who gorged on too many dried
Yams and bowls of wintermelon soup. But he cried.

Editor's Note: Both poems were winners of this year's William Carlos Williams poetry contest. Please refer to the MSJAMA Web site (http://www.msjama.org) for more information about the contest.—ED.