The Face of Smell

– Parody of Nancy Morejón’s The Dead

Heaven Lake

The smell is what’s absent,

invisible, unforgotten.

Queen of the Night blooms,

its loneliness swaying amid the moonlight.

The smell comes from my dream

or it comes from the dusk

to feed my repulsion,

from wind chimes,

from father’s molded winter coat,

from perilla leaves,

from spoons and sea sprays,

from the knife blinded by use,

on the graffiti of malls,

on the shadow,

on the skin,

on spin.

In the droplets of fog,

appears the face of smell.

In the fragment of the Heaven Lake

upholding high clouds,

lies the hidden smell of history.

The smell remembers.

The smell dances.


The Ancestors

Shanhu Lee

Coral reefs in changing climate

The ancestors live in the warm Siberian thaw in spring,

With rising carbon dioxide and methane.

The ancestors sing in the deforested Amazon rainforest.

Moonlights rain in the wildfire.

The ancestors roam in the yard with Canadian geese,

white-tailed deers, and hellebore flowers.

The ancestors bloom in blue, red, and white coral reefs.

They hide in the Forthesia bush with cardinals.

The ancestors play Nintendo with children and chickens,

in the Sunday afternoon in the kitchen.

The ancestors cook shiitake and chanterelle risotto,

For my fifty-fourth birthday.

The ancestors climb ice in the Boulder Canyon in January.

They tell me to watch out for blackbirds.

The ancestors traverse to the moon. They live with

two ­rabbits, and a flute made of moonstone.


Not The Furniture Game

Shanhu Lee

Forever Aspen

Her smile was subtle like the rain on a sunny summer day.

Her eyes were brown like olives ripe on the desert.

Her nose was her delicate weapon for survival.

Her teeth were strong as a chainsaw that could cut the oak tree.

Her ears were sensitive antenna receiving signals from hundreds of miles away.

Her brain was as small as a peanut but full of imagination.

Her mind was the representation of God.

Her heart was like a tender and sweet strawberry.

Her paws were the language of love.

Her tail was a tall flag held by a royal soldier, sometimes disappearing between her legs like a mouse hiding from a cat.

Her hair was soft and silky like my grandmother’s hair brush.

Her body was my warm blanket.

Her smell was the most delicious beef stew.

Forever Aspen.

I will look for you in heaven.



Shanhu Lee

Acadia National Park

Sometimes things just don’t belong to her.

The jade earring just came out from

her ear and slipped on the ground silently,

when she walked Aspen this evening.

She went out to look for the earring in the dark

with her iPhone flashlight. She walked gently

and carefully not to smash the little earring

that lay on the cold ground.

Sometimes things just don’t belong to her.

They are tiny green jade drop earrings.

On her 24th birthday, Thomas presented to her.

The first gift she received from her lover.

On the second date. His eyes were as green

as jade. But she had never worn them. Somehow.

She lost the poles, one by one. She kept

the earrings in the safe for many years.

They traveled with her from Japan to France

To America. From Boston to Boulder,

to Denver, to Kent, and to Huntsville.

This spring she got new poles.

She had her jade earrings for the first time,

Today. Then she lost one earring

on her walk. Seems that sometimes

things just don’t belong to her.


Artificial Kat

Shanhu Lee

Black Cat

White boots and the black legging,

Little Kat wears an oversized sweater.

Pink strikes scatter on her brown hair,

Fake purple braids dangle loosely

On her face, like the tails of dead mice.

Huge blue eyes with the red shadow

Curse like a confused witch.

Tarnish silver wire ring rests

On her thin middle finger.

Her silhouette reflected on the mirror

Shuffles around me like a distant shadow.

Only her nose-pierce ring glitters

Like the black cat’s eye at night.


Hot Tub

Shanhu Lee

Ko Pha Ngan

Whenever I am in the hot tub,

I feel I haven’t looked at my body

For a long time.

I discover a red spot on my leg,

Bitten by the brown recluse spider,

I find acne on my belly.

I stretch my legs as long as I can

To reach the far side of the bathtub.

I let my body sink into lilac-scented bubbles,

I contain my arms in the hot water,

I close my eyes.

Then I sigh, deep & long.

Each time in the hot tub,

I feel I haven’t seen my body for a long time.

My skin is rough, my bones ache.

It seems this body doesn’t belong to me.

Seems this body doesn’t need a man,

Who wants to admire me.

How did this happen?

When I am in the hot tub,

I think of Ko Pha Ngan,

The pristine beach and coconut soup.

But I cannot remember

What I have done today.


Dingle Peninsula

Featured at Rattlecast 139 (1:49)

Shanhu Lee

Cicadas and crickets cry aloud,

compose a waggish orchestra. A garden spider

sways between layers of silk net, like an old

woman shuffles in the moonlight.

Camelia blooms. Crepe Myrtle

jaded. Chanterelles call me from the woods

on this September night. Air smells

like the sea—

as if I was on the Dingle Peninsula.



Shanhu Lee

Birds & Blooms

I have a complicated relationship with bluebirds.

I read from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project that bluebirds are a symbol of happiness.

I bought a watercolor painting of a bluebird from Boulder Arts Festival during my sabbatical and it has been hanging on my bedroom wall for more than a decade. In my kitchen, I have another oil painting of a little bluebird. Every morning I drink coffee with my favorite bluebird mug, eat my toast on a bluebird plate. So I had a wonderful relationship with bluebirds, until this spring. 

I saw a baby bluebird on the front porch when I took my dog, Aspen, out for a walk. Maybe a half-size of a robin. Crawling slowly. Aspen immediately attacked it. I quickly pulled Aspen hard, and gently released the little bird.

Then, suddenly two large bluebirds, perhaps daddy and mommy birds, were flying straight at me and attacking my head. I had to instantly pull my fleece jacket over my ears. Good thing that I had a baseball cap and sunglasses on. The birds were striking my head over and over. I was screaming but the birds did not reduce the speed and they would swing in the air and struck at Aspen’s little head.

After we finally went to the street and walked for about 20 minutes and then returned to our front yard, the two bluebirds were still waiting on our porch and started to attack us again. 

Now we made enemies with bluebirds.

Bluebirds seem to not know that I do not eat animals, especially I do not eat birds. 

How can I make bluebirds forgive me? I want to have a good relationship with bluebirds because I still believe that bluebirds are a symbol of happiness, even though I am scared of them every time I see them, even when I drive. 


Pearl Necklace

Shanhu Lee


I have had this beautiful pearl necklace for more than 30 years. When I was a graduate student in Japan, someone presented this to me. Someone badly wanted to go out with me.

Japanese people dress like they just jumped out from the Vogue magazine. Every woman wears expensive designer clothes and several pieces of beautiful jewelry and carries the same Channel handbag. It was 1990. I just came from China. Back then, China was still very poor and I had only ugly cheap clothes. Then someone presented me with this pearl necklace out of nowhere on Christmas.

It came with a gorgeous gift box which had a lovely silver ribbon. It was wrapped in hundreds of layers of soft peach-colored papers and placed inside an outlandishly large shopping bag. The ivory-colored pearls were breathtakingly beautiful. They looked noble, very special. It was such an extraordinary piece of jewelry that I had never tried to wear it. Even when I went to friends’ weddings, I didn’t dare to wear the necklace. I was afraid I would lose it when I was drunk or dancing and I would not notice it.

When I moved from apartment to apartment, from country to country, from continent to continent, and even when traveling for conferences, I always carried the necklace in my purse. It was a nervous-breaking task to keep this valuable piece of jewelry with me wherever I was traveling.

Last year, during the Pandemic lockdown, I became very sentimental and started to look at my precious necklace and wondered what I would do with it if I caught COVID or I would die suddenly. I started to wear the pearl necklace in my house, with my pajama on, indulged myself in the reflection of the dazzling pearls in the mirror. I regretted having not worn it at all these years.

It occurred to me I would like to know how much it would be worth. I brought it to a jewelry store to ask about its market price. The guy, who was in his 60s, with a huge belly and big chest, studied the pearls with a microscopic magnifying glass and looked at me. Then he said, “They are not pearls. They are glasses.”

I was shocked, I felt I almost fainted out.

He asked me aloud, “Do you want to know why I say they are faked?” He placed the pearls in a glass of soap water, and quickly I saw some thin plastic foils peering out from each peal and floating in the water.

I came back home, and put the entire necklace into the soap water inside a large soup bowl, and waited until every pearl lost its plastic foils. I took the necklace out and gently rubbed it in a bath towel. Now each glass-pearl became completely nude and looked even brighter than before without plastic wrapping.

So all these years, I kept this faked glass-pearl necklace as the most valuable thing I owned in my life and did not wear even a single time.

The next day, I dressed up in crispy white shirts and a black skirt with black tights and went to another bigger jewelry store. I had my faked pearl necklace on me, I also had diamond earrings and a blue sapphire ring. A good-looking woman in the store instantly noticed me when I entered the store and smiled warmly towards me. I pulled out my necklace and handed it to her, “Could you tell me if they are real pearls or not?”

This blond middle-aged woman had many diamond rings on her fingers. She looked at my pearl necklace carefully and told me cheerfully: “Yes, they are real. They are gorgeous. They are really beautiful.”

I smiled back to her, “I had this for 30 years and this is the first time I am wearing it outside of my home.” As I walked out of the store, I still felt her brown eyes following my back.

Since then I have started to wear this precious faked pearl necklace. I always see someone admiring my necklace as if I was wearing some expensive real South Sea pearls.


Girl With A Pearl Earring

Shanhu Lee

Johannes Vermeer

In the blue of the arctic night,

a young girl dons a cerulean turban.

Her face, tender and tranquil.

Green eyes, quietly looking back.

A pearl earring radiant in the air,

shaped in a seashell.

The pearl, ironically large

to the age of innocence.

Her smile mystic,

as if she is not smiling,

but about to whisper

or awake.

As if a little butterfly is about to

flutter away,

wondering about life.