“When you’re fifty, go wherever you like!
The Chinese will be as rich as the Americans,
and I’ll be on my pension, or dead—” I thanked him
for the advice, and left his office. I thought of how
my children, perhaps yours,
would be born without that striving sense
that says life is elsewhere, somewhere better,
in the West.
I only want to go where you can grow too.
All I want is a city you’d grow old with me in.
All I need is a bed.
Imagine what humans would’ve done
if the shade didn’t call us daily to rest.
Imagine what lack of love would be left.
When I’m fifty I’ll have loved you for half of my life.
My younger cousins will be getting married,
and their mums will not worry
about the in-laws’ salaries.
We’ll be as rich as the Americans
and that’s the end of it, I hope. We’ll be as full
as a monk putting his mouth to the stream
that flows ceaselessly. We’ll be as complete
as his closing his lips, licking the droplets,
and taking his leave.
May I grow to slake every thirst
I possess, except for you.
May life come as easily
to our children as water to the lips.
May they know when to dip their heads,
and when to lift.
Yuan Yang wrote this poem for the Free Word Centre, an international centre for literature, literacy, and free expression. It was written as part of the programme of an event entitled "Is there an alternative to the growth imperative?", where literary and economic voices came together to discuss whether Europe could come together to forge an alternative approach to our economies.