“I fell asleep standing like that” by Xu Lizhi (1990–2014)

The paper in front of my eyes slowly yellows,
As I carve varying shades of black into it with a fountain pen,
It’s full of the jargon of labor,
Warehouse, assembly line, machine, time card, overtime, salary…
These words have suppressed me into submission,
I can’t cry out, can’t resist,
Can’t accuse, can’t complain,
I can only silently bear my exhaustion.

When I first came here,
All I hoped for was a gray pay stub on the tenth of each month,
To give me some belated comfort,
[But] for it I had to sand down my edges, grind away my words,
Never skip work, never take a sick day, never take a personal day,
Never arrive late, never leave early,
Beside the assembly line I stand like a statue, hands flying,
How many days and nights,
Have I fallen asleep standing like that?

—Xu Lizhi (1990–2014), translated by C. Custer