No Road Back Home

soprano and piano
(2021) 5′


In the past, when approaching the challenge of writing for voice, I’ve often looked to the texts of the past – sometimes the distant past – for inspiration. I can’t say precisely what explains this tendency, except that perhaps the age of these texts puts a certain emotional distance between the words and me. But when soprano and close friend Rachel Schutz approached me about a new piece, one that would deal with the theme of struggle, I opted for a different approach, choosing a text which is just over a year old. So this piece, No Road Back Home, is a departure for me, and it would likely be impossible for anyone – knowing the context of the poem itself – to approach it with emotional distance.

The poem was written by Abduqadir Jalalidin, a well-known Uyghur writer who has been held in captivity in one of China’s internment camps since at least 2018. The poem itself was written during his imprisonment and was likely transmitted from inmate to inmate, each having memorized the verses, until it reached the outside world. It eventually made its way to Jalalidin’s former student, historian Joshua L. Freeman, who has translated the poem’s themes of isolation and despair into English. It’s this translation that I’ve set here, and in turn I’ve sought to translate those same themes into music.

No Road Back Home is dedicated to the poem’s author, Abduqadir Jalalidin, and to all those who remain unjustly and inhumanely imprisoned in Xinjiang, with the hope that all will be freed one day soon.

No Road Back Home
by Abduqadir Jalalidin
Translated by Joshua L. Freeman

In this forgotten place I have no lover’s touch
Each night brings darker dreams, I have no amulet
My life is all I ask, I have no other thirst
These silent thoughts torment, I have no way to hope

Who I once was, what I’ve become, I cannot know
Who could I tell my heart’s desires, I cannot say
My love, the temper of the fates I cannot guess
I long to go to you, I have no strength to move

Through cracks and crevices I’ve watched the seasons change
For news of you I’ve looked in vain to buds and flowers
To the marrow of my bones I’ve ached to be with you
What road led here, why do I have no road back home

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