Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

In Lijiang, the sign outside your hostel
           glares: Ride alone, ride alone, ride
alone – it taunts you for the mileage
           of your solitude, must be past

thousands, for you rode this plane
           alone, this train alone, you’ll ride
this bus alone well into the summer night,
           well into the next hamlet, town,

city, the next century, as the trees twitch
           and the clouds wane and the tides
quiver and the galaxies tilt and the sun
           spins us another lonely cycle, you’ll

wonder if this compass will ever change.
           The sun doesn’t need more heat,
so why should you? The trees don’t need
            to be close, so why should you?


Copyright © 2015 by Sally Wen Mao. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 6, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles’ is taken from a sign I found outside a hostel in Lijiang, China, a beautiful city in Yunnan province. It was a sign with the English phrase, the number 2418, and Chinese characters, which were indistinguishable to me. I imagined traveling for 2418 miles alone, and at the time, I think I’d traveled even further than that, going halfway around the world in utter silence. The beauty and loneliness of those experiences will stay with me my whole life, and that’s why I wrote this poem.”
Sally Wen Mao