Archive for the ‘Imagining Love’ Category

  • Grade School Memories: love imagined

    Date: 2017.05.07 | Category: Imagining Love | Response: 0

    GOD THE FATHER

    My fifties childhood wasn’t unusual.  Yes, there were only three of us in my grade school whose parents were divorced, but that made us special, not weird, that made us friends.  Yes, I had experienced unforgettable but minor childhood trauma.  Not wanting to go to kindergarten.  Scared of the teachers.  Afraid to tell the teacher or the librarian I had to pee and instead peeing on my wee self in shame.  But, I didn’t know I wasn’t white, not even sure if I knew I was poor, but not being white or poor didn’t ostracize me, didn’t keep the neighborhood children  from playing with me, even though I discovered only recently that they knew what I didn’t!

    Kids liked coming to our home-it was lived in.  We were allowed to play hard. The carpet was worn, the furniture second hand. Plastic didn’t cover our used davenport.  Mom’s sewing machine was always in the dining room and pins and needles and patterns on the dining room Duncan Phyfe table.  We had a television and a hi-fi.  The neighbor lady whose husband worked for Wonder Bread supplied us with Hostess Cupcakes and Twinkies.  On summer afternoons we set up a card table in the living room and shuffled maj jong tiles (you could hear the shuffling of tiles a block away) or played Canasta or Sorry or Monopoloy.  We had a second hand upright piano on our front porch that we all took turns pounding on, “Here we go up a row to a birthday party.”  We played with our dolls.  We dressed my baby brother in our baby girl doll clothes.  In the winter we had a skating rink in our back yard, in the summer we had a sandbox that covered one-fourth of the back yard, an enclosed playhouse that took up another fourth.  We had a stone fireplace to roast hot dogs and marshmallows.  In the front yard we played Captain May I and Red Rover Red Rover.  We played baseball in the street, only to be kept in when they, once-a-year tarred our street.  Being caught ever so often with oily tar on our tennis shoes, shoes we didn’t usually have to take off when entering our home.

    In second grade my writer’s voice appeared from nowhere.  As children, we were taught to be charitable, even though nobody probably knew we were the receivers of charity, of turkeys at Thanksgiving and blonde blue-eyed dolls from the Salvation Army at Christmas.  I wrote my first poem in second grade:  save your nickels and dimes, Channel 2 needs you, bring your money to school!  My teacher paraded me in front of each elementary school class where I recited my lines and solicited money for a cause.  Later, in high school, when the Church solicited money from our neighbors, asking to help the poor family who needed a new roof on their house, or was it to pay the mortgage, the good Christians gave generously, but that money was never given to my mother, and shame burdened my mother until the day she died.  Shame isn’t an isolated incident, shame sneaks up on you, says you’re not worth shit, says it over and over and over again-even if you’re not listening.  Even if it takes a lifetime to  recognize it, to name it.

    My sister eagerly quit confirmation, but I needed the Church.  I needed God, my only father.  I needed unconditional love and forgiveness, but was love and forgiveness truly abiding in the Church?  I stayed a devoted member of the Church, a member of the choir, and later editor of the church’s newsletter.  Once, I even got married in the Church. At first the minister wouldn’t marry us because we were living together, supposedly that’s a sin.  We lied, said we would separate until the wedding, and had a shot gun wedding.

    Eventually, I ran from religion because of what I believed to be sexist, and racist practices/doctrines of the Church.  I no longer folded my hands to “here is the church here is the steeple, open it up and see all the people.”  However my belief, my faith in God and prayer and miracles –in love imagined-remains strong.

    In fifth grade I was a participating member of a poetry club.  I was sheepishly proud to see my words on blue-lined paper, mimeographed so all the fifth graders could read: “pitter patter, pitter patter/ the rain does splatter.”   I belonged to a community! By sixth grade, however, my pride falleth.  Emotional puberty threw me a curve ball.  Although popular enough to be elected student council class representative, I still ache each time I remember having been called to attention by my teacher.  Shame.

    She reprimanded me for hovering in the doorway of Standish school, at recess, instead of playing on the playground with all the other kids.  How could she not have known what I knew-that no other kids would play with me.  That each budding bra wearing sixth grade girl had a guy she was pining for, and a girlfriend to whisper it too.  I was pining to be a nun.  I wanted to be Catholic.  Catholic girls, although not necessarily any more popular than me, they were smart, and they had been confirmed in fourth grade.

    In fourth grade, I expanded my Christian practices by holding a girls’ club, once a week, at our red formica table, in our yellow kitchen with the red cupboards where we hid the ginseng (today I wonder if it was really ginseng or just plain ol’ ginger).  Our club was based on Unity’s Wee Wisdom magazine.  I can’t remember, but only can imagine us, nine year old girls, praying together and drinking kool-aid.  But, I do remember that my mother, a firm believer by then in the Unity church-that if you sent the church money, they would pray for you.  That belief, along with our belief in the Ouija Board, brought our family the answers to many prayers.  Unity also taught me to make “treasure maps”-visual prayers, an added assurance that our needs would be met.  That’s probably what my Wee Wisdom Club did, cut and pasted our dreams in the pages of sample books of beautiful, sometimes flocked, wallpaper.  It’s what I still do today.

    In fourth grade, my Sunday school teacher asked our class if we thought a Black family should be allowed to become members of our Church.  I could only subconsciously have known that I was Black, yet I wondered aren’t I already a member?  Shame. The family was not allowed to join, but years later, when a new minister arrived, he and his wife arrived with several adopted black children.  If I was truly white, if I truly blended in as a child, why are my memories so vivid of knowing what I didn’t know, and didn’t think others knew even though they did?

    Today, the Church I had a love/hate relationship with has been transferred to Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church.  “The Oromo (uh-ROH-moh) people are the largest ethnic group in East Africa. Facing persecution by the Ethiopian government, thousands of Oromos have fled to the United States since the 1970s. About 12,000 Oromos live in the Twin Cities area. There are five Oromo churches in Minneapolis-St. Paul; Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Standish Neighborhood is the largest, with 700 plus members.” http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2007/11/27/welcome-oromo-evangelical-lutheran-church-farewell-our-redeemer-lutheran-church

    When I first learned of this beautiful congregation I cried.  Tears of joy and forgiveness.  And the music (forward through the video to the music) http://oromochurchmn.org/index.php/videos/video/march-3-2013 reminds me of my choir days, and even though I couldn’t hold a tune, I loved the music-and my heart sang, and contines to sing!

    http://oromochurchmn.org/

    http://metrolutheran.org/2007/12/our-redeemer-merges-deeding-building-to-oromo-evangelical-lutheran/

  • First Drafts, Broken Rules

    Date: 2017.03.19 | Category: Assignments, Imagining Love, Poetry, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    First Drafts, Broken Rules

    Someone said, and many have repeated it-where the rumor started, I don’t know-that a writer shouldn’t send first drafts out for the public eye.  But, I am a writer who makes up her own rules, does her own thing, ‘cause someone said, and many have repeated, a writer needs to take risks or she will just sound like the choir (although I do like the music of choirs, but the point is sometimes I need to sing alone).

    On another note, a writer I truly respect told me I revise the energy, the spirit, the meaning out of my poetry when I revise.  It’s true, revising for me is like shopping.  Once my cart is full, I throw out some things, others I put back and exchange them for another.  Sometimes I do this again and again.  This basket of strawberries.  No, this one, the similes are endless.  These tomatoes on the vine.  No, these are are full of contradiction.  Chocolate marshmallow fudge ice cream.  No, vanilla, subtle.  This bread.  Yes, give me all the nuts, the flax, the wheat-concrete images. Yet, sometimes I just say, be gone, be gone.

    Some say a writer must write every day, early in the morning in fact.  Early for me is 10 a.m., and by then I am already running late.  I write when I’m sitting in a class and the demand is to write following the guidelines of a particular writing exercise.  Surprisingly, I’ve gotten some good poems this way.  But, I don’t often sit in writing classes.  My norm is, when self-pity fills my lungs, when anxiety and fear punch my stomach, when country songs and chic flicks don’t soothe my troubled soul, I reach for my 3 x 5 or my 4 x6 index cards, my leaking roller ball pen, and I write.  I number the front, the back.  The stack rises. The purge releases words I don’t know.  There’s a rhythm too it.  A longing.  A stunning revelation.

    It’s been months, years, sometimes only weeks.  Yesterday’s sorrows became yesterday’s poems.  I read them over and over mouthing each sound, whispering, repeating, louder now, faster now.  Until, I’m inside out, exhausted.

    Awake now, today now, I risk giving these poems to anyone that wants them, anyone that might need them, anyone that wants to rip them apart and theorize them.  This is a selfish gift.  A gift nonetheless.  Someday I may want to return, to revise, to revision-to edit, and I’ll know where they are, and that they served me well.  And maybe you will not notice the blemishes, but the possibility.  And maybe your next poem might be about your great-grandmother or begin with “If truth be told” and maybe you will give it to the world pleased with its inception, free with its release.

    ©Sherry Quan Lee, March 19, 2017

     

    IF I TOLD YOU THE TRUTH

    If truth be told my friend is a born again Christian, my son is a redneck.

    If truth be told, loneliness is my demon and always has been.

    My sister does not talk to me my mood swings cause her stress; she’s

    done it before, stopped loving me when I loved a woman,

    and the woman, my mother, well my sister stopped talking to her, too.

    If truth be told, according to Mother, I am white, white, white, but I’m not

    and neither is she.

    If truth be told I’m not a writer, my advisor was right they didn’t teach

    me and somehow I knew it was my fault.

    If truth be told I don’t want to go to church, or book stores or plays where

    I know I either have to listen or perform;

    or comedy clubs.

    If truth be told I want to see my three-year-old granddaughter.  My nine year old grandsons.

    If truth be told the gig is up-shopping, gambling, even eating and though the smoke has

    already cleared I don’t need therapy or an excuse to hide my feelings.

    my heart is an old open book full of clichés, chocolate truffle smears, and tears.

    If truth be told I have been cloistered-it’s not my calling but my situation.

    If truth be told my car isn’t safe, my house isn’t breathing, I could in a wink of an eye be homeless.

    If truth be told I don’t want to fly I don’t want to wander; I haven’t missed anything in 70 years.

    If truth be told I’ve fallen before, but this time the fracture wasn’t worth mending.

    If truth be told I want to sing it is done, get over it, I am over it.

    If truth be told there is nothing beyond survival, I have nothing to give you, the world

    is wound too tight we can only untie knots, try not to slip on the laces.

    If I told you the truth I always wanted to be the clown the stand-up comedian the one no one

    would guess wasn’t me.

    If I told you the truth I wouldn’t tell you the truth but ease into your life.

    If truth be told being of a certain age is not what someone else says it is, not what you expect,

    and everyday is a question mark.

    To tell the truth today I looked out my window.  Satisfied.  Rocking. Back and

    forth, catonic-like, rocking.

    If I told you the truth the youth have the words, the works, the camaraderie, the meet and greets,

    the relationships.  Solidarity. Each other’s backs.

    If I told you the truth I’m not a bridge, never pretended to be one.   Every breath, every step difficult.

    If truth be told it’s too late for me to be anything, but

    righteous.  And, alone.  And, lonely.

    The truth is I’m tired.  It’s late.  I have [no] regrets.

    The truth is I don’t want to recycle.  Spin it anyway you want, but I won’t step outside

    my skin. The stretch is all mine.  Was mine.

    If truth be told the world sees no one, story becomes someone else’s theory, and you

    and I don’t meet online, or in a bar, in the future or the past.

    The truth is tomorrow, I might leave my house, walk to the mailbox, but today in this moment

    I’m in my pj’s, eating popcorn, watching Netflix.

     

    ©Sherry Quan Lee

    March 18, 2017

     

    Saint Patrick’s Day 2017 (1948-    )

     

    Dear red hair son of the Irish plantation owner do you know how complicated you’ve made my life?  You, so absent in your southern ways.  A prickle in history not so long gone, nameless, yet, ever present in my naming.  Did your father teach you not to fear consequences, did he tell you my great-grandmother was yours for the taking because he owned her.  Or did he say, hands off, son, she’s mine?  Money can’t buy everything, it certainly can’t buy complacency.  But, yes, Ms. Greer kept your house clean and the both of you, sons of southern hospitality, well fed.  And you, in return, paid her in lust, in rape, in pregnanc(ies).  Sure there were the rumors, you loved her, my great-great grandmother, her glistening, black skin and textured thick hair; strong legs, warm hands; but, it wasn’t a love story.  But grandmother was born anyways.  Beautiful, free, and independent.  It was her own doing she traveled North, married a man with his own black white history and the babies kept coming.  Mother denies she is born black, but if black was a lie, she would have nothing to lie about and I, her daughter, would have no truths to tell, secrets to uncover.  So many secrets that have filled books and heartache and joy- sometimes joy- knowing there once was a plantation and a red hair boy, but if she had only known she really needed only this, this one poem, this one little splash of green, a bit of humor, and a blind eye, if she only knew she didn’t have to give up her life to know who she is, if she had known.

     

    Sherry Quan Lee

    ©March 18, 2017

     

Artist Statement

Sherry Quan Lee approaches writing as a community resource and as culturally based art of an ordinary everyday practical aesthetic. Lee is a Community Instructor at Metropolitan State University (Intro to Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing), and has taught at Intermedia Arts, and the Loft Literary Center. She is the author of A Little Mixed Up, Guild Press, 1982 (second printing), Chinese Blackbird, a memoir in verse, published 2002 by the Asian American Renaissance, republished 2008 by Loving Healing Press, and How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life, Loving Healing Press, 2008.

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SHERRY QUAN LEE

HOW DARE WE! WRITE

LOVE IMAGINED

CHINESE BLACKBIRD

HOW TO WRITE A SUICIDE NOTE

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