April 20, 2009

Nu Griots2
Woven Voices
April 27, 7pm
Penumbra Theatre
270 Kent St., St. Paul

Inspired by the artistry of Sonia Sanchez & Carolyn Holbrook, the writers from the 2009
Givens Black Writers Collaborative Retreat will perform a collection of original pieces.

Admission by donation - no one turned away for inability to pay

For more information contact Ellena Schoop 651-895-5603

April 2, 2009


In Saturdays class we used the triggering subject of hands, women's hands. We wrote for 10-15 minutes. Here is my piece.

Aunt Rose was in the kitchen making herself something to eat for lunch. She had on her blood red robe that zipped up the front with small lace design around the collar. She moved from the back cupboard to the table with a plate, then a bowl, which she filled with lettuce. I watched her pour the dressing over the top of the lettuce. I recognized her hands, the long thick brown fingers like her brothers, my dad's. Aunt Rose shuffled to the refrigerator for the left over chip-beef sandwich from yesterdays outing. She pulled open the styrofoam container and I saw the palm of her hand. A chocolate color crease marking her life line, long like like mine. Her hands, like my hands.

Reminds me of the last visit when she shared how her husband's hand hit her, slapped her. How her hands took a hammer and broke up ice outside to get the water hose, frozen to the winter ground. How her hands dragged the hose in the house, to the bathrooom, to the tub. Her hands turned on the water and her hands carried the hose and nozzle to the bedroom where her hands unleashed a spray of cold water, dousing her husband. Spraying him in bed till he was soaked. Her hands fought back.

I was in Philadelphia visiting my dad's family. And when I saw my Aunt Rose again, I didn't realize how much she favored my dad. Down to her mannerism, down to her hands. Hands say different things about a person. Color, tecture, and size all come into play. I have many creases, lines around my knuckles. They make my hands look old and yet strong. I have big palms and give firm hand shakes. I believe that my hands are the way they are because I need to be able to hang on to life, when things get rocky. These hands need to know how to fight back.

Whose hands do we have and how do we use them?

October 22, 2007

From how to write....notes that saved a woman's life

Next to the last note: It’s not about the man and the dog

though they both keep barking. It’s not about good writing or bad writing.
The woods or the inner city.

I can write notes forever, and might have to
to live. It’s okay. It’s okay.

It’s also okay to not write. To not write notes. To not write suicide notes.

It’s okay to put away the putting away.
The putting away of concrete things.
The putting away of judgment, of being judged.


wherever we are, whomever we are, we are remembered.

The color red may be remembered, but not the dress or socks.
The red that is you will be remembered. Is remembered

not the poem that you wrote, but it’s aroma, its taste, its texture, its sound.

The writing is not good or bad. The man and the dog are not good or bad.
The woman, the husband, the sister, the brother-in-law, the teacher, the minister are
who they are.

I used to believe in purgatory, always
attempting to escape,
and getting nowhere

the paradigm is magic.
Life with a sorcerer’s hand—the witch and the writer.
Allusions. Illusions.
I can make my fake self disappear

the invisible seen, the silent heard, the fearful unafraid; angels triumphant!

Living is hard. Writing is hard. The dark clouds invite us to rest, to mourn,
to gather our black hats and swords.

I’m not who you think I am; you’re not who I think you are.

It’s all in the shuffling, it’s how the cards are dealt. It’s all in who is holding the cards.

Now you see me, now you don’t.
I am not today who I was yesterday.

I cannot write today what I could have written yesterday and tomorrow
ghosts will appear and angels. Slight of hand

missing the movement, the moment, the transition, the process
conjured by one’s private muses.

There are no rules.

There are no rules, there are only familiar recipes that haunt us, that speak to us,
that call our name, and demand that we stir the pot and boil the soup.

The man and the dog disappear. Abruptly.
The sun softens in the west and the evergreens lose their sharp needles.

I practice magic.

A word here, a sentence there, a poem, a story.


Mix snakes and rabbits and choke-cherry trees.
Mix black eyed peas and string bean chop suey.
Mix tuna noodle casserole and apple pie.
Mix and stir, shake and shout, and turn myself about

freedom. F R E E D O M each letter a note in the song,
in the singing, in the longing, in the giving, in the receiving.
Last line, end of the line, end of the poem, the story, the book sets us free
then, begins again.

It’s my words and how I write them.
My ghosts and my angels and how and if and when and why I receive them.
It’s my madness and my happiness and how I perceive them.
It’s what I want to give and who I want to give it to.

Stir the pot or let it simmer.
Jump in or taste what’s cooking.
Smell the dream or toss the nightmare.

Truth is smooth like jazz, hot like Tabasco, wet like whispers, salty like pork, sassy like laughter, smart like girl friends, slick like water.

I want it to not hurt.
I want it to not waste my time.
I want it to be nobody’s fault (it is).
I want it to not be fatal.

I want it to sing. I want it to laugh. I want it to dance. I want it to embrace. I want it to soar. I want it to live. I want it to live. I want it to live. To live. I want it.

The man and the dog. I want them to live (just not with me).
I want the woman to live (just not with me).
I want the child to live (just not with me).
I want to live.
I want to live.
I want. To

write. Fewer
suicide notes.
Fewer notes.
I want to write love.
I want to write love letters.

This is a letter of love.

© Sherry Quan Lee 10/21/07

It’s True What They Say, I Am A Writer

Yes, I have a writer’s curriculum vitae ten pages long.
Each line item is a step in a long journey of survival.
I write to survive.
I started in second grade.
I should have started in kindergarten.
I should have started the day I was born.

I remember only what I want to remember.
The rest of it I make up or avoid.
Imagination is the same as truth.

I am not as bad as I imagine.
I am good.

Every word, every phrase, every verse, every paragraph I write
is a blessed breath, a will to live,
a protest against invisibility,
a protest against death.

I am a writer.

I teach writing.
Yes, writing can be taught.
I can teach you.
I can teach you to create a curriculum vitae.
Each line item a blessed step in your life’s journey.

Writing can save your life.

The first photo taken of me was in front of our stucco house
on a hill in South Scandinavian Minneapolis. I am dressed
in blue silk Chinese pajamas with tiny pink frog closures.

The mandarin collar is choking my smile.

I am looking away from the camera.
Down the street.
Past the Lutheran church.
Past the houses of little blonde girls who attend the Lutheran church
Sunday school with me.

Past the family I don’t know.
The family that does not recognize me.

The family that dignifies me by binding my feet
in black brocade Chinese slippers.
The family that poses me in front of the dolly buggy
where the blue-eyed baby-doll is comforted
by my brown-arm embrace.

Caretaking, for me, comes from a history of caretaking.
It’s hard to shake. Mama shook it, though.

Mama shook her black mama, her black siblings.
She shook her black grandma and the plantation owner’s son who claimed
he loved her. Great-grandma said no and meant it.
But she accepted the gift of a pig.

(We do what we have to for survival.)

My mama’s family had dignity. Integrity. Didn’t matter, though.
Babies were still born.
Women were raped.

Mama shook the south and southerners and black Baptists.

She shook so hard, like Black Sambo giving away his purple shoes and hat.
My sisters and I were the rich, creamy butter she got in return for all her glory.
All that shaking, though, didn’t make Mother thin.
She was fat in lies and deception.

She was fat from carrying five babies, fat from sheltering, protecting
those babies into adulthood. She taught us to fit in, to blend, to hide,
to be invisible. She also taught us, if the neighbors and the school children didn’t believe we were white—be Chinese. Be exotic. Wear embroidered silk,
play mah jong, eat chow mein.

Mother fantasized about Chinese men.
She read romance novels about British ladies and Asian men.
She loved my Chinese father.

We could be Chinese, she said, but only
when necessary; we could never be Black.

Mama shook so hard. She shook so hard Daddy disappeared.
I was five years old.
The only history I don’t have to imagine is a five year old girl in Chinese pajamas
in front of a doll buggy in front of cement steps, in front of a stucco house on a hill in an all white Minneapolis neighborhood.

I seductively paraded my baby Asian exoticism at the Powderhorn Park doll buggy parade

(sadness can easily be mistaken for seduction).

This is the first line on my curriculum vitae: 1953, I am five years old,
my daddy has disappeared.

What is the first line on your curriculum vitae?

On a day when you are sad, when you are feeling lonely, when you don’t love yourself very much
get a notebook, a purple pen.
Write a book.
A memoir or maybe you’ll call it fiction.

Take your time, don’t rush.
What is it you remember?
What is it you have imagined?
What subjects do you want to cover?
Name the chapters.
How do all the chapters interrelate?
What is your theme?
What carries your journey as a hero forward, and back, and forward?

Then, put your notes away.
Wait a day or two or a week or a month.
Wait until the next time you’re feeling sad, you’re feeling lonely, you’re feeling worthless, you’re feeling you have no purpose in life.
Then, with, or without, your notes, begin.

Not necessarily at the beginning, the chronology will sort itself
when it needs sorting. Begin with what’s on your mind now!
What obsesses you? Who are you mad at, in love with, jealous of?

I am Chinese and Black, but grew up passing for white.
My theme is overcoming invisibility and silence.

Your theme will slowly become visible as you write, the more you write.
When you discover it, name it.
Say it aloud.
Remember it.
Imagine it.
Write towards it.

My theme is sewn together in words on paper bags, note paper, in journals; words published and unpublished.
Words read to small audiences and large audiences.
Words that were mostly imagined.

Imagination a vehicle to understanding.

© Sherry Quan Lee 10/21/07