Me reading my poem “That Absent Person” at The Bookworm

That Absent Person

I don’t keep track of the days anymore

For years I spoke
in the hours before sleep
and in dream awaited

— reply? spirit?
windows to open?
days turning to years

I think of ancient poets banished
to their frontiers
and know death is not final
but what a road to get there

This was part of a poetry reading highlighted by U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith at The Bookworm, Beijing, on October 9, 2017, hosted by Anthony Tao, also featuring Mario Bojorquez, Yi Lei, Ming Di, Simon Shieh and Kassy Lee.

The title of this poem comes from a line in a letter the Chinese poet Liu Xia, wife of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, wrote to an American friend in July 2013: “I can only wonder how or through what special power you manage to keep on writing when the protagonist for whom you are pleading is absent… I have faith that there will come a day when that absent person writes another part of his (her) story.”

The poem’s first line is from an interview Liu Xia gave the Associated Press in December 2012, two years after she was put under house arrest for no crime except being Liu Xiaobo’s wife.

The poem’s final line (“I love you, I miss you”) was spoken by Liu Xia on April 23, 2013, outside of a courthouse where her younger brother, Liu Hui, was fighting dubious charges of financial fraud. Now released on bail, Liu Hui had been sentenced to eleven years, the same prison term Liu Xiaobo received in 2009 for state subversion.

Liu Xiaobo died on July 13, 2017 with Liu Xia by his side. As reported by the New York Times, one of his final handwritten notes read: “Love as intense as ice, love as remote as blackness. My praise is perhaps an unforgivable poison.”

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