Archive for the ‘Imagining Love’ Category

  • Assignment Number Four: Hands

    Date: 2010.12.26 | Category: Assignments, Imagining Love, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    It’s been sometime since I wrote a poem or posted a blog entry.  My mentor gave me an assignment to use the “triggering subject” of hands.  I often wonder where the words come from.  But here they are, straight from my pen to paper to computer-honest to God, I’ve made no revisions.  I can’t touch this poem (sorry mentor, I didn’t write a 2-3 page prose piece this time), not yet, not now (okay, I had problems cutting and pasting so the orignial format is off and I can’t seem to fix it).


    If anyone knows the history of “here is the church here is the steeple”  I would like to know.  I haven’t taken the time to “google” it.*



    Assignment Number Four:  Hands

    Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people.



    Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people.

    1.     Hands that pray, hands that play. Hands in the sand building castles.  Rivers of

    clay. Sand in the shoes in the socks.  Restless hands.


    2.     Mother’s hands.  Sewing. Stirring the empty pot.  Stretching pennies.  Counting

    the children, 1-2-3-4-5.  Hands too tired to pray the day the baby died.


    3.     Hands that touch to be touched.  Hands that flee.  Forgiving hands.  Hands that

    write.  Hands that reach for the sky for the blue for the moon for the body for

    the man for the woman for the child.


    4.     Hands that ache.  That can’t make the next generation of hands not hurt.  Can’t

    wash away history embedded in the hands of children or mothers or fathers.


    5.     Hands that shoot guns, detonate bombs, cinch ropes, bury the dead in the name

    of God, fighting for God against God.  There is only one God.  Hands lost in

    the name of God.  For God’s sake we must take back the hands.


    1. The veins in my hands are rivers of mud.  Stories flowing around the castle of

    hope.  Wrinkles of time gather abundantly covering the innocence of here is

    the church. Yet, I take my grandchild’s hand into my own and show him the door

    and where the people are hidden.



    Sherry Quan Lee

    December 26, 2010


    *Okay, my curiosity got the better of me.  Wouldn’t you know “Google” has all the answers, but I’m glad I didn’t research this rhyme before I wrote the poem, it probably would have been a different poem.


    Date: 2010.11.14 | Category: Assignments, Imagining Love, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    What “triggers” your writing?  For me, it can be a movie, a book, a photograph, a map, a memory.  But, often, it can simply be a word.  Last Spring, in a writing workshop, the word I chose for a triggering subject was silence.  If I hadn’t been interrupted, perhaps I would still be writing, still finding the true subject, the deeper meaning.  However, I’ve revisited silence, revised it, and in so doing recognized how my stories are my stories and they return to me like winter returns to Minnesota.  Each story a snowflake -snowflakes are snowflakes but if you look closely, each are unique like the rhythm, the tone, the texture, the format of each of my very same stories. A writing teacher once told me that each of us has a story we will tell over and over and it’s okay.  What a blessing he didn’t tell me it’s not okay.

    (Recommended reading for writers: The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo)



     My mother’s words were sewn shut, stitched like the four identical dresses my sisters and I wore, hand crafted by Mother’s intuition, likeness creates invisibility, we looked like all the neighborhood girls though our hair was black our legs thin, our feet small we even went to the Lutheran Church praying to God the Father because our Father disappeared and we couldn’t claim him though we tried by playing Mah Jong on hot summer days teaching the neighborhood girls it gets complicated who was fitting into whose life, and chicken subgum chow mein was just part of our diet like Campbell’s Soup and Wonder Bread and turkeys from the Salvation Army at Christmas; at Christmas our dresses were red velvet and frilly and girly until they weren’t and they were simple and seductive and maybe that’s when the silence was broken, not with words but with images and the faith that stitches could be undone, but it would take work, the skill of a craftswoman, an artist, a magician, a hair stylist because one of us had thick curly hair like Mother’s, one of us had silky straight hair like Father’s and yes one was beauty and one shame hot combs and gas flames and it’s complicated pretending to be someone in order to escape being someone else, someone like the Black man who killed Susan Smith’s children ask Cornelius Eady how it feels to be a myth, to be mythical, to know you will die sooner or later by someone who wants you dead or not or just temporarily and Mother just wanted us safe and to marry the white lieutenant so we sang over and over and over again you’ve got to be carefully taught how to be exotic like Liat and talk happy happy talk because Oriental has always been exotic, the women, not the men, well actually the men too, exoticized, and Asian men are rhyming about the complexity of their identity and I wonder if my mother ever desired the language and the permission to say what it was like to be a Black woman passing for white and her right to be safe but neighbors had guns Father was on the run and Mother shut doors and closed windows locking in four daughters and a son (and it wasn’t the first time Father had left Mother often he left late at night to shuffle tiles at Maj Jong tables where bets were large and the winnings small and men were Chinese and some of them like my father wanted to be white like my mother wanted to be white but neither of them speaking to the other of desire each reaching for the gold pot differently one by hiding the other by assimilating and the children sat on red stairs spying, unafraid, how could they fear what they didn’t know how could they know their life was a game and the winner was the one who couldn’t be found who could keep the masquerade, who would not ask questions who ate the raspberry Jello with bananas who didn’t see relatives hiding in the dark except one fair skin cousin because in South Minneapolis neighbors drove Ford trucks and drank Hills Bros. coffee and boycotted Blacks from entering the Church until the new minister and his wife arrived with three adopted Black children but even then I had to be cautious and wore white to communion as if white could forgive my sins still the minister walked by me with the wafers and the wine as if he didn’t know I was a member of the congregation, baptized and confirmed, I sang in the choir, I taught Sunday school, I was married in the Church all this against my mother’s wishes because the Church collected money on our behalf to help with our roof or our mortgage or some humane thing but the money our neighbors thought they had given to us never touched my mother’s hand but I didn’t understand Mother’s shame I only knew as a girl that God was my father, literally, and I needed him, maybe wearing white was uppity of me even though I had been wearing white since the day I was born so I looked for other gods in other neighborhoods and at sometime understood why mother stitched her words and her desire inside her womb until the day she died while Father was not celibate at all and my brother who Father claimed didn’t exist was conceived maybe even the same day as his ½ brother or maybe a day too early or too late and that’s why Father wouldn’t claim him and maybe why the amphetamines claimed my brother at a young age when being a father should have claimed him or were the drugs the only answer to a young man’s son dying of a crib death on my birthday maybe my younger brother and I understand things my older siblings don’t we all cope with our sorrows differently, separately, yet how could my sisters and I manage without alcoholics and drug addicts who will fix a toilet, paint a room, tile a floor and even if it’s about the money there is love in the give and the take the need to both help and to need help it is the love that gets lost in the silences because it is never not about love but fear is not just any ol’ emotion it is hung by a rope, it is kkk, slavery, it is Chinese men working on a railroad who can’t marry someone white or bring their Chinese wives to America it is history that I am tired of telling because it takes too much oxygen and I want to breathe love to let love escape from the narrow crevice of my life because love had to be small it had to take a back seat to my anger even when I didn’t know why I was angry when I didn’t know the complexity of little girls growing up fatherless, and poor, and girls, and not white but not not white silenced invisible unidentifiable but now I speak, unafraid, I speak, I write even though at times I don’t know proper English, don’t know what a word means, only how it feels  and it makes sense that my family spoke in tongues that the neighbors couldn’t understand but neither could we grade school gave me Dick and Jane and Sally and Puff and Spot and college was also a playhouse of  confusing characters although I earned A’s I didn’t learn anything useful some scholars owned language the way some men own some women and women were about property as much as language was about position and we want everyone to be literate but we don’t want everyone to be equal and certainly not rich it’s not about I didn’t do it I wasn’t there I’m not a racist  it’s about love, it’s about love from her not so privileged view looking out locked windows in a house on a hill surrounded by a white picket fence where Mother kept her words to herself,  it is her story, her love I embrace, the story I tell, lovingly, over and over, that keeps me.


    Sherry Quan Lee

    April 23, 2010

    Revised November 11, 2011

    Revised November 13, 2010


    Date: 2010.08.22 | Category: Imagining Love, The Art of Writing | Response: 1

    I’ve gotten through another weekend.  I’ve learned if I can get through another lonely Friday night, weekends can be momentous.  Thank God for sisters.  My sister came to my rescue Friday night and we did what we do best together-played slots (while listening to great music (Soul Tight Committee, Saturday we went to garage sales, my favorite store in North Saint Paul (, and to satisfy our hunger we ate burgers at the oldest bar in Minnesota (  After shopping for groceries, we both went to our respective condos and took a nap! 

    For me, Sunday is almost always a day of work.  Today I found it quite soulful to scrub floors, clean my ice box, vacuum and dust, wash clothes—all the things that help me relax and get ready for another work week.  But, as often is the case, by Sunday evening I remember that I am a writer.  And by Sunday evening I wonder why it takes so much stressful energy fighting off being alone, followed by a surge of activity, before I can actually sit down to write.

    My friend, who I also consider my mentor, has given me assignments.  She told me to write stories. The stories have to be two pages, nothing longer.  Also, I was told not to revise, not until I have a dozen or more short stories. She gives me prompts.  The first assignment was to write a story that begins at the end.  The second  assignment was to write a story about a secret.  I have given myself two rules.  One, the stories have to be written in third person in hopes to move away from the personal (I am not worried about admonishments as to whether I have written fiction or nonfiction, my stories are drafts and who is to know, including me, if they are true or not). Two, the stories have to be about love.  I challenge you to also accept this assignment.




    The secret belonged to her mother.  She, the youngest sibling, did not own it.  She, sixty years old/young, had no secrets.  Never had any secrets.  Her mother was dead.  She died still white as an angel’s frock.  Perhaps, unafraid at last.  Her mother had become what she said she was, White.    Even dead, she was White and she had told her children, no funeral.  No funeral, they assumed, because Mother didn’t want her relatives to mourn her, or damn her to hell.    Her children promised cremation; no confession of sins, no truth telling.  Dead or not, the color black was not allowed.

    The residents of her mother’s nursing home celebrated each death with story.  Whether they knew or liked each other before death, whether they sat together at meals or played Scrabble together on Thursday afternoons fighting over the legitimacy of a word, whether they said hello to each other every day or never, whether the sat in their wheelchairs in the TV room watching “Days of Our Lives”– at the gathering to celebrate yet another passing, they never said anything ugly, not even about her mother.  They celebrated her mother’s passing with stories, some very funny.  Some, the daughters asked themselves, “could this me my mother they are talking about?”  It was important to conjure up goodness and humor after yet another resident was hurried off in an ambulance, not to return.  No one told her mother’s secret at the celebration, they probably didn’t know, though some might have guessed.   There were no stories linked to race or class.

    The daughter she was weary.  How much time, and energy, and anger, and defiance, and information, and confrontation, and how many poems, and how many stories, how many lost friends, how many lost lovers, how much loneliness did it take for her to uncover and shed her mother’s lies.  What is the cost of truth?  Was her angst and sorrow and loneliness any more than what her mother endured by not telling the truth? 

    Neither were right or wrong.  We do what we do because we have to.  We do it with compassion.  We do it for love.

    The mother:  slot machines, romance novels, garage sales, peanut butter kisses, chastity, shame; prayer.

    The daughter:  dark chocolates, poetry, slot machines, thrift stores, and romantic liaisons; eventually, no guilt and no shame; prayer.

    She would not let her mother’s family disappear, though for years they were hidden in dark shadows.  She gave them life with her words, though she had much to imagine.  Her mother read her book Chinese Blackbird, and said in a whisper “we are proud.”  

    Was she proud, or perhaps angry, perhaps sad, that the only way to keep her daughters’ from race riots and dark men was to prep them as exotic Asian girls, praying for them to marry the White Lieutenant; a safety net, what Bloody Mary demanded for Liat?  Her prayers were mighty strong.  Four daughters, eventually 13 ex-lieutenant husbands.   The youngest was  brave, “be gone” she said.  But often she wondered, “what if.” 

    At sixty, the youngest daughter is weary and lonely.  Is martyrdom worth the isolation?  Are political allies true friends or lovers?  Why did she need to expose her mother’s secret?  Why did invisibility scourge her?  Did she know she had a secret of her own?

    The daughter of the mother who passed for White wasn’t as Negro or Chinese as her birth certificate proclaimed.  Culturally, she was White.  Scandinavian neighborhood.  Norwegians and Swedes.  Lutheran Church.  Hot dish.  Dick and Jane. Wonder Bread.  White picket fences.

    At sixty, she is restless.  She still wants the apple pie, the American Dream—this is her secret.  Perhaps being a grandmother she wants her world to be smaller, kinder, without labels, without definition.  No trying to save the world, no trying to control.  Just to survive each day; sometimes with joy.  With a heart full of love.

    Loving her children and her grandchildren she knows:  that her mother’s secret, and her secret, are not so very different.


    Sherry Quan Lee

    August 16, 2010

    Admittedly, minor revisions, Sunday, August 22, 2010

  • What Love Isn’t

    Date: 2010.06.13 | Category: Imagining Love, The Art of Writing | Response: 1

    Here I go again, sharing a first draft of a poem, letting it go before the fear of releasing it can claim it to a drawer, a computer file, or a wastebasket.  And here I go again, writing in the abstract, not being specific about what the poem is about.  I am leaving the “triggering subject” out of the poem because the details aren’t as important as the understanding.  Does it matter that I may not have crafted a “good” poem?  I don’t think so.  What matters is the heart of the poem, the heart of thought, of thinking through experience to know how I feel and what I understand or what I’m trying to understand that may actually go beyond understanding.  The poem not as objective witness to an event or a conversation, but the poem as heartfelt and honest as it can be in its subjectivity.  Lately I seem to be writing without apples and oranges and flowers and feisty verbs and pretty adjectives.  It’s a phase I’m going through, I guess, like growing old.  I challenge you to let go of whatever you have learned about writing and just write, just once with no critic looking over shoulder whether that critic be you or someone else.


    As always,




    What Love Isn’t


    Sometimes I wonder if the good guys are any better than the bad guys I mean the good guys who a woman thinks are good but surprise you just when you’re feeling comfortable, feeling safe, feeling loved and you think you know they won’t hurt you, they, the ones you think are gentle and kind and generous okay maybe not generous but the ones you trust with all your heart to know that you a woman hurts or have been hurt and you trust that they know that the history of  violation against women doesn’t go away but often gets hidden and if you’re a lucky woman the violence gets sheltered by the goodness of men and women who understand violence is not okay yet even the slip of someone’s tongue sends you spinning into anger into fear into running far far away from even the possibility that someone’s fear or rage or defense, even if it’s not against you, can hurt you or anyone and yes there are degrees of violence of attack of even hurting someone’s feelings but I have trouble distinguishing between a woman, or a man I may not even know being assaulted, beaten, raped, robbed, manipulated, controlled or myself if I am the intentioned victim because violence is violence and even contemplating violence to me is violence and sometimes I think I am careless in my righteous opinions but today I renounce any unease, any guilt, any second guessing myself because today I realize it is better to be safe than wonder what if….today I know angels have always been my muse, my protectors, and the possibility of love isn’t worth the risk of the repercussions of hate, and that not being loved isn’t necessarily death, but death is not loving; but loving doesn’t mean allowing myself to be someone else’s punching bag nor does it mean I sit back and shut up and comfort you in my arms as you violently, in thought or deed, revenge an unjust world while I passively repress my discomfort.  I am not ashamed of my many attempts to be loved, neither am I ashamed of running from what I hoped and thought was love but wasn’t and there I go again judging, saying I know what love is or isn’t but I do know what it isn’t.   Today I feel, though the earth is trembling, I feel a gentleness of spirit, a calm resolve, I feel like praying.



    Sherry Quan Lee

    June 13, 2010

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.





Septuagenarian by Sherry Quan Lee


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How Dare We! Write by Sherry Quan Lee

How Dare We! Write

by Sherry Quan Lee

Giveaway ends June 09, 2021.

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Love Imagined book by Sherry Quan Lee


Chinese Blackbird Book by Sherry Quan Lee


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