First Drafts, Broken Rules

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 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


About Sherry

Author. Poet. Teacher. Mentor. Chinese/Blackbird.

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