Archive: You Wait For Me With Dust

Web-exclusive from Asia Literary Review No. 18, Winter 2011: China


© Harry Mayesh


Watch video



WEB-ONLY: Harry Harrison's birthday cartoon for Liu Xiaobo's birthday - 28 December 2011.

WEB-ONLY: The original poem in Chinese - 和灰尘一起等我 - 给终日等待的妻

WEB-ONLY: I give everything to you, by Liu Xiaobo





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

those layers

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.


translated by Zheng Danyi, Shirley Lee and Martin Alexander


Worldwide readings


This translation, which was first published in the Asia Literary Review, has been re-translated into fifteen other languages. It was read alongside Liu Xiaobo's Charter 08 on the 20th March 2011 at a series of events worldwide in support of his release.

     The readings spanned 34 countries and the two texts headlined a petition signed by prominent writers including Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, JM Coetzee and three Nobels (Mario Vargas Llosa, Herta Mueller and Elfriede Jelinek).

     The Worldwide Readings were organised by Authors for Peace and the LiteraturFestival Berlin. For photographs, click here.


BBC broadcast: on the 3rd November 2010, The Strand broadcast a short poem by Liu Xiaobo and tranlated by Zheng, Lee and Alexander. This was accompanied by a discussion on the state of poetry in China. It was this broadcast that led to the inclusion of 'You Wait for Me with Dust' in the Worldwide Readings.


UPDATE: 20 March 2012. At the PEN America Centre, outgoing and incoming Presidents, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Peter Godwin respectively, read our translation of this poem as part of the 2012 Worldwide Readings.

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