You Wait for Me with Dust: Worldwide Reading for Liu Xiaobo
Today, nearly one hundred fifty individuals, organizations, bookstores, and PEN centers are participating in a worldwide reading organized by the International Literature Festival Berlin (ilb) to honor our imprisoned colleague, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo. In a show of solidarity, supporters will read Liu Xiaobo’s “You Wait for Me with Dust,” translated by Zheng Danyi, Shirley Lee, and Martin Alexander, and published by the Asia Literary Review.
This reading features PEN American Center’s outgoing president, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and incoming president, Peter Godwin.
Since winning the Nobel Prize in 2010, interest in Liu Xiaobo’s essays and poetry has grown in the West, leading to a number of new translations. No Enemies, No Hatred, a collection of essays and poems curated by scholar Perry Link, Liu Xiaobo’s wife Liu Xia, and Independent PEN Center’s current president, Tienchi Martin-Liao, was released in January. June Fourth Elegies, Liu Xiaobo’s collection of poetry in memory of Tiananmen Square victims, translated by PEN Member Jeffrey Yang, will be released in April.
Here at PEN, we believe that keeping Liu Xiaobo’s words alive is the best tribute to our imprisoned colleague.
You Wait for Me with Dust
for my wife, who waits every day
Nothing remains in your name, nothing
but to wait for me, together with the dust of our home
amassed, overflowing, in every corner
you’re unwilling to pull apart the curtains
and let the light disturb their stillness
over the bookshelf, the handwritten label is covered in dust
on the carpet the pattern inhales the dust
when you are writing a letter to me
and love that the nib’s tipped with dust
my eyes are stabbed with pain
you sit there all day long
not daring to move
for fear that your footsteps will trample the dust
you try to control your breathing
using silence to write a story.
At times like this
the suffocating dust
offers the only loyalty
your vision, breath and time
permeate the dust
in the depth of your soul
the tomb inch by inch is
piled up from the feet
reaching the chest
reaching the throat
you know that the tomb
is your best resting place
waiting for me there
with no source of fear or alarm
this is why you prefer dust
in the dark, in calm suffocation
waiting, waiting for me
you wait for me with dust
refusing the sunlight and movement of air
just let the dust bury you altogether
just let yourself fall asleep in the dust
until I return
and you come awake
wiping the dust from your skin and your soul.
What a miracle–back from the dead.
April 9, 1999
Translated by Zheng Danyi, Shirley Lee and Martin Alexander