Springtime for Aspen

Featured at Rattle Poetry Podcast on April 3, 2022 (at 1:49)

Shanhu Lee


Aspen is my favorite opera singer;

barking at the postman, every day. 

Chasing after chipmunks, like a rocket.

Digging my garden, like mining diamonds,

excessively and tirelessly. Aspen is my best

friend. Faithful and honorable; cheerful and

grateful; curious and patient. Funny and

hilarious. Like Chaplin. Intelligent and

insightful. Aspen is a genius. What a 

joy to live with Aspen. Aspen is a 

kick-ass dog. Aspen has the best life. A new   

leash on life; a new light in my life. What a 

miracle that Aspen decided to live with me.

Napping all day; dreaming of long walks.

Obedient, but thinking out of the box. Wild and

precious life – Aspen reminds me of this

quote on The Summer Day. Restless,

relentless, and resilient. Aspen is my 

sweet baby. Aspen is the definition of love.

Thoughtful and wise, like grandma. Aspen has

unique markings, she looks like a cow. Aspen is more

virtuous than people. If all humans behave like Aspen,

we will have no war, no homophobia, no

xenophobia, no Facebook. Year after

year, we will only have a peaceful and

zestful life; enjoying the little things, like Aspen. 


Signs That You Are Not Ready to Become a Scientist

Shanhu Lee

You are a not big fan of mathematics because numbers give you a headache and you cannot stand them. You do not see the difference between zero and infinite, because they both are invisible.

You have a seizure if you work in the lab. You have strong allergies to PPE, such as lab-coat, vinyl gloves, and facial shields. You have a panic attack if you are near a high-precision scientific instrument. 

Getting up early makes you feel nausea and puts you in a bad mood for the rest of the day. You never work in the evening or during the weekend, because you have many interesting hobbies to pursue. 

You never carry a notebook with you because you can remember everything in your head. You never use a pen and when you must take a note, you take a picture with your smartphone. The picture will be stored in the Cloud, which is far more secure than making a note on a piece of paper that will disappear sooner or later.

You are not good at working with people or in a team; most of the people around you are incompetent or lazy or annoying. 

You cannot work independently, because you cannot stand being lonely. 

You don’t like to give presentations in front of the crowd because you are too introverted or too shy. You cannot listen to someone’s presentations, because you constantly fall asleep.

You like glamour and high life. You wear a tie and three-piece suits every day at work. You cannot make your hands dirty, because you have to keep your freshly manicured nails intact.

You believe you can do many things, but you do not have a will to finish what you plan to do or you do not like to put long hours on the same project.

You never trust your intuition, because you are a deep thinker. 

You are not good at logic, because you tend to make decisions by solely relying on your intuition.

You believe Einstein is the founder of a good bagel store.

You do not like to mingle with other scientists at the conference, because you don’t know anyone and it’s too uncomfortable to make conversations with strangers.

You are not competitive at all, because you are a laidback easy-going dude. It never bothers you when you find out someone just published a new work with the same idea that you have been working on.

You do not know what is Science or Nature magazine. 

When you have to read a paper, you “find” or “search” the word that you are interested in and only read that line.

You are not good at working under a stressed schedule, and you have to work on your term by taking time.

You are not a curious person. For your entire life, you have been frightened by unknowns and uncertainties.

You never feel any sensation when you see a picture of the space or an exotic animal or a rare plant. You are not interested in anything that is not relevant to your everyday life.

You do not believe in publication because if your work is good and original, it will speak by itself and one day, someone will contact you and inquire about your scientific findings.

You are too stubborn and not flexible at all. 

You are not stubborn, and you tend to easily give up your project if it does not work out instantly.

You are against becoming famous or being well-known, because you are not interested in that kind of superficial external stuff. You are way better than that.

You cannot stand being rejected.



Shanhu Lee


I live on Cambridge Trail, a little street, sitting on the small hip of Monte Sano. There are only nineteen houses on the street. When I drive up on the street, it curves gently from the north towards the east, over a little hill. Tall oak trees converge from both sides of the street up in the air, a small section of the sky visible between trees. The neighbors keep their yards naturale without growing lawns. Every yard has abundant giant exotic rocks. 

We live in the woods. 

Goldfinches, cardinals, bluebirds, umber-chested robins, and red-head woodpeckers are chirping over the street. All year round, hundreds of birds migrate in and out of the woods.


My house sits on the downslope towards the southwest. After autumn leaves fall from the trees, from the sliding door of my living room is a spectacular panoramic view of the sunset, the color of the sky changing gradually and dramatically from blue, pink, orange, red, purple, to a dark blue as the sun sinks into the horizon. It is a million-dollar view

Now in the middle of the summer, all I can see is the lavish green leaves surrounding my house, so green as if they could burn my eyes. Through thick green leaves, little sun lights are dripping down to the warm porch, where I sit and spend hours reading on the weekend. 

When I travel, I miss my sweet home.


Our street has a small cul-de-sac at the top. The beauty of the cul-de-sac is the community of neighbors. This little community has become my extended family, my surrogate southern family. 

Every year, I spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at Benson’s house with their family. They live in an 8,000 square foot mansion, surrounded by sixteen acres of woods, on the top of the cul-de-sac. The family owns a construction business and several funeral homes in the Tennessee Valley region. Bobby and Suzie, both in their 80s, are master gardeners. Their garden has been selected several times by the city as the Best Garden of The Year. They taught me how to seed flowers, prune roses, mulch, and take care of my garden. 

During the holiday, the dinner guests argue how unfair it is for rich people to pay more taxes in America and spend long hours discussing why our country needs President Trump. They confront me, the only liberal at the dinner table, about why Democrats want to kill unborn babies. They try to convert me to a Republican. When I come back to my cozy home, my mysterious presence in Benson’s holiday gatherings often perplexes me more than their dinner conversations do.


I moved onto this street in the fall of 2015, after living in a small midwestern college town for ten years. My realtor, Melissa, presented me with a pink flower Crape Myrtle after I declared that every Alabama home musthave a Crape Myrtle in their yard. And I bought six pots of autumn mums, all lavender-colored, from Enchanted Forest on the University Drive. I laid them on the flower bed that the previous owner had built near the street, and planned to plant them after opening some boxes. 

The next morning, when I got out of the house to walk my dog, I saw all my plants were gone. They had completely disappeared, my autumn mums and Melissa’s Crepe Myrtle. When I came back from work in the evening, I looked at my empty sad flower bed and felt hollow. I wondered if this was a subtle, or not subtle, sign that my neighbors wanted to send to this Asian woman who just moved into their pristine white street. 

Then a few days later on Halloween morning, I saw my plants were miraculously returned, all of them, to the exact spots I had originally placed them on the flower bed. While the disappearance of the plants was surreal enough, the return of the missing plants felt even more unsettling. 


I decided to cut down some trees in the front yard. I felt as if the massive trees would quickly expand into my house and grow in my bedroom. As my yard guy was helping me clean up my yard, a big red-haired woman, in her 60s, drove out from a house on the opposite side of the street. Later I learned she was a piano teacher and the chancellor of a nearby private high school. 

The chancellor pulled down the window of her car and observed me carefully. She had this lousy makeup on her face, with a glittering imitation-pearl necklace and matching earrings. The chancellor shouted at me from her car, “What is your name?” 

I said, “Anna.” 

She shouted again, “Do you have a last name?” 

I stood up and looked at her enormous mouth and blazing red lips. Before I began to say a word, she spotted the blond yard guy, and asked me again, “Is he your brother?”

That afternoon, the yard guy dug out large poison ivy shrubs, which had crooked roots that were longer and thicker than their stems. 


As I was chatting with Bobby, on the street, one of our neighbors came out from his garage next to the chancellor’s house. Bobby had mentioned to me that this man was a brilliant scientist and he used to design high-tech toilets installed in rockets at the Redstone Arsenal. The rocket-toilet-scientist came down to the street and introduced himself to me, “Hi, you must be our new neighbor. Welcome! You can call me Dr. Farhang.” 

Bobby laughed aloud, and he quickly said to the rocket-toilet-scientist, “Azar, you can call her Dr. Lee.” 

Whenever I see him taking his trash and recycle bins to the street, the rocket-toilet-scientist always cheerfully waves at me and gives me a big smile without calling my name.


When I opened my mailbox, inside there was a magazine called Gun Digest. The cover had loud-colored pictures of various short guns. I have never seen real guns in my life, and I have never heard about Gun Digest or any magazines like this one. At the first glance, I thought someone was making a practical joke by placing it in my mailbox. Then I saw the mailing address on the cover of the magazine, with the printed name of my neighbors, Dr. Larry Collins. I didn’t know Larry liked guns or owned guns. 

Larry is an extremely chatty man, and since he lost his late wife three years ago, whenever he sees someone, he clings onto very long chats. I always tried to avoid making those tedious boring conversations with him. But after seeing the magazine, I noticed that I was examining myself about whether I could have been accidentally rude to him or had unknowingly offended him on any occasion. I thought next time when he tries to argue with me about the China virus or global warming “hoax”, I will try to be extra-polite and extra-friendly with him. 

Who knows, a shooting can happen, even on this beautiful street? 


Most people living on our street are retirees, in their 70s and 80s, and always stay inside their home, like indoor cats. So the street was extremely quiet, until a couple of years ago. One day, when I was preparing my dinner, I heard sudden bursts of noises and laughter, the sound of activities. From my kitchen window, I saw a very good-looking couple, tall and fit, running uphill on the street, with their two young boys, screaming wild. 

The Joys have moved onto our street. 

Every day after school, the two pre-teen boys, and their father, an English teacher at a middle school, spend hours together playing basketball on their driveway. The Joys set up a tall swing set, a very comfy hammock between two trees, and a giant trampoline on the ground. At the night, they light up Tiki torches and bake marshmallows over the bonfire. While the boys play and run around, their parents sit on camping chairs, head to head, as if they were still high school sweethearts. The previously vacant ghost-house was instantly transformed into The House of Joy.


Seems once life begins, it only expands. 

As I was weeding at my flower bed, I saw my next-door neighbor, a young banker, was coming out from his house with a baby stroller. Inside was a small baby girl sitting quietly, her large blue-green eyes wide open, curiously staring at me. My neighbor proudly showed me his baby daughter who just turned 18-months. This girl was surprisingly calm, especially at a very young age. This was the first time I saw the girl. I had not known they were expecting. I told him that I never heard any baby-crying sounds coming out from their house, and he said his wife gave birth to their second child, a little boy, three months ago. So much life has been growing next to my house, without my knowledge.


This morning, I had my coffee at the flower garden, which I expanded along the street over the past six years. Tiger lilies, Madonna lilies, Black-eyed Susan, Daisy, yellow sun drop, rose campion, butterfly milkweed, and colorful zinnia flowers were all blooming simultaneously. Baby sage and Russian sage were exuding mauve fragrances in the tranquil air. And giant butterflies and hummingbirds, in their outlandish outfits, were fluttering over the flowers. The flowers and birds and butterflies and the lovely morning lights were mixed together, composing a beautiful watercolor.

As if a rainbow delightfully landed on my garden.



Shanhu Lee


Quietly licked my left ear,

A brown recluse spider. Last night.

His thin legs, soft and vain.

I slept in the roaring hurricane.

So he left a polite little mark,

On my neck. Purple-blue circles grew

Around the bluster, formed a cyclone eye.

In the morning, the storm unrolled

Into a wildfire, which scorched

My neck and my tongue and my feet.

In the midst of falling faint,

I realized:

It was the same sting I had

When I was rejected from Science.


E = mc^2

Shanhu Lee

The orange-red sun in the slant pink sky

Has a vivid blue belt in the middle.

Singular. Solitary. Not lonely.

Emits energy and absorbs my imagination.

Blue dragonflies flutter over cosmoses,

Reflect the lights of the sunset.

Time is expanding like space,

Space is traveling like time.

Some memories ingrain into my body as genes.

Others evanesce into a distance as dreams.


I Am in Love with Nick Flynn

Shanhu Lee

I am in love with Nick Flynn. Let me be clear. I have never been in a relationship with Nick Flynn. I have never met him. Nick Flynn doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know my existence on this planet. So naturally, Nick Flynn cannot possibly be in love with me. But I am in love with Nick Flynn. My love for Nick Flynn is not romantic, although it can be romantic in some sense because I am very attracted to him physically too. But more precisely, I am in love with Nick Flynn, literarily and poetically. I do not expect anything from Nick Flynn. I do not have a desire to meet with him in person. I want nothing from him. My love for Nick Flynn is unconditional.

My love story with Nick Flynn started in the summer of 2004 when I was vacationing by myself in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. This was one of the most turbulent years in my entire life,[1] and I needed to go away into nature.[2] I went on this big camping trip, with a yellow tent, a blue sleeping bag, and a pair of brand new hiking shoes, all from North Face. I had done lots of hiking on high mountains in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and some ice climbing. But always within a group. This was the first time I was doing three weeks of long camping trip all by myself alone.

For the trip, I brought several books and some latest issues of The New Yorker magazine with me. I arrived in Yellowstone and set up my tent and sat down on my new camping chair. I grabbed the latest issue of The New Yorker, and there was a long essay, “Button Man” by Nick Flynn.[3] I did not know who Nick Flynn was. But it immediately caught my attention with this bizarre title. I was so absorbed that I read the entire article in one sitting. After reading, I became restless during the entire vacation.

It was an article about Nick Flynn’s father who was a con-business-man, who considered himself as The Next Greatest American Poet (even though he never wrote a single coherent piece), who was jailed, intoxicated, evicted, and became homeless on the street of Boston. His father was absent from Nick Flynn’s life, since his father had left his mother when she was pregnant with him. While working in a homeless shelter, he unexpectedly reunited with his father when he appeared there as a “guest” one day. Nick Flynn’s mother killed herself after reading young Nick’s notebook where he had written about his mother.

The article was a long excerpt from his forthcoming new memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.[4] This used many different forms, such as poetry, prose, and play, but it read mostly like a poem. I had not read anything like this in such a hybrid form. The writing was beautiful and brutally honest, and it resonated with me instantly. The ever unsettling landscape of New England, which I was familiar with. Endless heartbreaking stories and his painful struggles to survive. Hearing his vulnerable voice at that specific moment of my life, I felt as if I was walking out from long hours of hot Finnish sauna and straight jumping into a dark cold lake. I read “Button Man”, over and over. And I did not see the serene lakes surrounded by pristine forests, the spectacular water falls, and the breathtaking geysers erupting from the mysteriously green basin. I only thought of Nick Flynn.[5]

As soon I got back to Boulder, the first thing I did was google-searched Nick Flynn. I found he was teaching at The University of Houston, and split his time between Houston and Brooklyn. Impulsively, I drafted an email to him:

“Dear Nick,

I just finished reading your new article in The New Yorker, ‘The Button Man’. The article is very beautiful and powerful. I cannot imagine, after going through all of this, you still write. And write well. I am looking forward to reading your memoir.

Best wishes,


I wrote this within one breath and sent promptly. Then I realized that I had never sent a fan letter to any author. I did not know what to expect.

Immediately, I drove to Barnes & Noble and asked when the bookstore will acquire Nick Flynn’s memoir. They said it would arrive in six weeks. I counted every day, and on the exact release date, I went back to the bookstore. I asked the help-desk guy in an extremely small voice, “I would like to know if Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City arrived today.

The guy looked at me and said loudly, “Can you speak a little bit louder?”

I said with my normal voice, “Do you have Nick Flynn’s new book, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City? It is released today.” I felt all eyes around me were staring at my face, as if I was some kind of a strange hazardous species.

As soon as I bought one copy, I drove straight back home and finished reading on the same day.

During the following days and months, I learned from the internet that Nick was in a relationship with an actress named Lili Taylor. She looked lovely. The Wikipedia said she grew up in a normal and happy and warm family. Very different from Nick’s own experiences. Of course.[6] There were some photos of them together, and they looked very much in love. This did not surprise me and did not upset me.[7]

Several months later, one day when I was in my office, I saw an email from Nick Flynn. It did not immediately occur to me it was the real Nick Flynn. That Nick Flynn. My Nick Flynn. Then slowly, I realized that it was indeed Nick Flynn, but at the same time, I could not believe it was really Nick Flynn. I had not expected his reply. I did not know authors reply to emails sent by their readers. His email was brief:

“hi anna,

thank you for you note. i rarely venture into my Houston email, so i read this now. i really appreciate your kind words… 


There was no email signature. But I instantly knew it was Nick Flynn because he wrote every word in lower case as he did in his memoir and his poems. I read the email again and again. I did not know what to do with the email. There wasn’t the slightest trace of hint that he was interested in any further correspondence with me.[8] I was relieved this email conversation was over. I did not want to say anything more to Nick Flynn. All I wanted to say, I could say, was said in my earlier email.

Everything was predictable. His memoir became a best seller, and he and Lili Taylor had a baby girl together, and they eventually married happily. He published new poems in The New Yorker and published more books. And in 2012, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City was made into a movie with the new title, Being Flynn.[9] The movie was well-made, but it was more plot-oriented and failed to capture those delicate emotions and lyrical tones one can only feel from reading a poem. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the movie tremendously.

This spring I went to live reading on Zoom, where Nick Flynn read some passages from his memoir and several poems from his other collections. He looked exactly like I had imagined. Handsome, reserved, a little bit rustic, blue-collared look. But he sounded very different from what I had assumed. The way he spoke was less masculine, even with his coarse voice. He spoke almost like reciting a poem. I wrote on the comment line, “I am thrilled to be here, listening to your reading. In 2004, I read ‘The Button Man’ and I fell in love with your writing.” Again, this was the first time that I commented on anything during a live reading. Nick Flynn did not reply to me. During the Q&A session, I sent out one question, uninteresting and uninspiring, “In your memoir, you have used several different forms, and I wonder how you decide the forms?” After the moderator read out my question along with my name, Nick Flynn answered, “I hoped readers read my memoir as a poem. Before the memoir, I published two books of poetry.” That was all.[10] The zoom ended as scheduled.

I feel Nick Flynn has become one of my old “lovers”. But unlike other lovers who have disappeared from my life forever, one way or another, Nick Flynn seems to stay with me all the time. From time to time, I imagine myself and Nick Flynn. Maybe, one day Nick Flynn would know me and want to talk to me. Maybe, one day.

[1] This was the year I was engaged to my psycho-boyfriend, we planned a wedding together, and eventually, he disappeared two days before the wedding, evaporated from my life. It all happened in the same year, right before my thirty-seventh birthday. Six years later, I heard from his wife that they were never divorced.

[2] Actually, I didn’t just disappear into nature, I disappeared completely from Boulder and got a new job and moved a thousand miles away and restarted everything.

[3] “Button Man” written Nick Flynn, Published in The New Yorker, June 12, 2004

[4] Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Nick Flynn, W. W. Norton, 2004

[5] I did not cry anymore for my psycho boyfriend, and I even almost forgot about him. At some point, I felt my humiliation, sorrow, and regrets seemed insignificant and even trivial, compared to what Nick Flynn had gone through.

[6] In his memoir, Nick Flynn’s father explains about his two marriages: “I was thinking of the children we would have together—it was important what their background was, that they came from culture.”

[7] Actually, I was happy for Nick Flynn. This was really true. As I said before, I was not expecting anything from Nick.

[8] Nick Flynn did not say anything like “let’s keep in touch” or “what is your profession?” or “please feel free to contact me when you are in NYC.”

[9] Paul Dano played Nick Flynn, Robert De Niro his father, and Julianne Moore his mother. Very interestingly, I found that Lili Taylor had a small role in the homeless shelter, which was probably created for her, as the memoir did not have her “character” explicitly.

[10] Nick Flynn did not say, “it is really good to finally meet with you, Anna. I wondered about you since I read your email in December 2004. Are you writing something? Perhaps, we should chat after the zoom.”


Thanksgiving Guest

Shanhu Lee

Last year, as usual, I was waiting to be invited to Benson’s Thanksgiving dinner. Dinner in the south means lunch at noon, and supper means dinner in the evening. Usually, Bobby would send me an email a few days before. During the past five years since I moved into Alabama from Ohio, my neighbor Bensons invited me to their family gatherings, Fourth of July BBQ, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Bobby and Suzie’s birthday parties, etc. Their sons Jake and David would drive from Nashville and Atlanta to join. Jake would bring his girlfriend, an occasional television actress, with elevated giant super-unnatural boobs. Tina, Jake’s daughter from his first marriage, came with different boyfriends. Jake’s second marriage did not produce any children. David did not bring anyone, instead, he always brought some beautiful stuff, like those very colorful collage paintings that he made as a hobby. And once I saw Bobby’s step-sister, who was younger than his sons and had a weathered face, as sad as an old Christmas tree in someone’s living room in the mid-summer.

Suzie is a great cook, she is truly the “Martha Stewart of Alabama”, she is one of the best cooks I have known. She does everything from scratch, sources, dressing, bread. And they live in this beautiful gorgeous mansion on the top of Monte Sano. A two-story spectacular colonial house, very spacious for an old couple. They would say, “it is only 8,000 square feet.” And it has sixteen acres of woods with several private hiking trails Bobby created by himself over the last twenty years, behind the public hiking trail that people can access from Stone Gate Street on the other side of Monte Sano. These private hiking trails have become our dog park, where every day I walked my dog, Aspen, a Border Collie-Siberian Husky mix, without a lease on her.

When I woke up on the Thanksgiving morning, I still did not see an email or text from Bobby. They might have finally decided not to have an annoying liberal Asian single woman at their ultra-conservative family dinner table. I felt a kind of relief. I stayed in bed later, reading, and at noon with my pajama on me, I went to walk Aspen in Benson’s trail. When I passed by their kitchen window, Suzie saw me, and she came out hurriedly and asked me if I read Bobby’s email. It turns out Bobby sent me the email at the very last minute, and as I left the house without my cell phone, I did not notice it. Suzie said, “Anna, Come in and join us for the dinner.” “Thanks, Suzie. But I am not dressed, look, I even didn’t take a shower yet. Maybe I will stop by around the later afternoon and have a bite of the pie?” I urged her to start the dinner without waiting for me.

When I arrived at their house, it was already four a clock and the sun started to set. Bobby was drying the dishes and Suzie was reading the Southern Living Magazine on her gigantic brown sofa. Their kitchen was vast and it had a large eating area with a breakfast table and had another large sitting area with two fireplaces. A man was sitting at the breakfast table near the window, through which I saw their meticulous garden and a marble statue of the Virgin Mary standing inside their Japanese-style gazebo.

He was a middle-aged Asian man, medium built but quite athletic looking with clean-cut short dark hair. I have never seen an Asian person in their house all these years. “Oh, they are trying to fix me up with someone.” My neighbors were always trying to find a husband for me. I was introduced to all sorts of men these last years, and the last man they mentioned to me was an alcoholic hoarder who lived in a small rural town called Brent near Tuscaloosa.  

While I stood between the brown sofa where Suzie sat and the fireplace with the faked fire near the breakfast table, Bobby and Suzie did not introduce me to this Asian man. The TVs were on two screens between fireplaces, the upper one showing a rerun of an old tennis tournament, and the lower one with the Fox channel on. “Hi, I am Anna. Nice to meet you,” I decided to approach the Asian man by myself. 

“Ah-Hi, I am Alex Wong. Nice to meet you too,” he replied with an uneasy smile on his face that did not look at me directly. 

“So how are you related to these guys?” I asked. 

“Oh, I am Dave’s friend.”

“I see, so you are working with David?” David used to be a computer programmer many years ago, but he was now working on some construction contracts, buying old houses and flipping them, and so he finally joined his family business.

“Oh No, I am a CEO of a company that sells natural supplements.”

“That makes sense,” I remembered, from a previous family gathering, David was very into some special diet programs and authentic health supplements. Bobby was still tidying up the kitchen counter and Suzie started to write her journal. She had kept her journal for almost fifty years. I sat next to her on this super-comfy brown sofa and asked her, “So where is everybody?”

“Jake and Megan just left. Tina went to another Thanksgiving dinner in her mother’s place. Dave is in his room upstairs, he is resting.” Suzie asked me, “And how have you been?” I told her about my endless deadlines and how much I was looking forward to the winter break. Bobby dried his hand and sat next to us on the brown sofa and watched the TVs. Alex was still sitting on the same chair, motionlessly browsing his cell phone screen. 

“You know what? The other day, when I was walking on your trails, I thought we might want to name the trails and I thought about some names. The longest one behind your vegetable garden can be called Irish since there are so many Irish flowers there in the spring. And the one from the tennis court to the water tower can be called hellebore because hellebores are blooming there almost all year round.” I picked the names of flowering trees they have in their garden, redbud, dogwood, Crape Myrtle, azalea, Camelia, magnolia, hydrangea, Buckeye, Hibiscus, Flowering Quince. Bobby and Suzie became excited, their eyes shining, upon hearing their favorite plants and trees. Encouraged by their enthusiasm, I grabbed a scribble paper sitting on the coffee table, next to a porcelain-chicken where Suzie stored her holiday candies, and on the paper I started drawing the trails and wrote their names.

We were giggling like three little kids and all this time, Alex did not move from his chair and did not turn his head to join our heated-up conversations, and did not say a word. When I could not help to look back at Alex, Suzie asked Bobby, as if she was making an important announcement, “Bob, did you put new beddings in the guest bedroom for Alex?”

“Yes, I discussed it with David over the email,” Bobby answered in his low voice, his eyes did not meet with mine.

“But did you put new bedsheets in his room?” Suzie asked again, this time louder.

“I made the arrangement with David. He knows.” Bobby’s voice contained remarkable traces of irritation. As I noticed Bobby never spoke to his wife like this before, a flash of lightning struck my cold back. I interrupted them, without knowing it, and continued talking about more flower names, Peony, Hydrangea, black-eyed Susan, but they no longer paid attention to the map I was drawing. 

“Hey, see who is here? Anna! Good to see you.” I heard David came down from the upstairs, with torques blue shirts underneath a black North Face fleece jacket. He looked fatigued, his hair more salty than peppery. He kissed me on my cheeks. Behind his shoulder, Alex was standing quietly, his head down. “So, we are going out to see a movie,” declared David. 

“A movie?” I was not sure whether I was asking a question or approving his statement. 

“Yes. We are going to see Jennifer Lawrence’s new movie. Anna, I am sorry you missed the dinner but it is good to see you. So, later.” He and Alex swiftly left the kitchen, shortly before I heard David’s Jeep started loudly its engine.

When I walked back to my house, the sun was completely set and the dark air was crispy cold and I regret I did not bring my thick coat. I met Diane, another neighbor of mine, on the street. She was walking her ugly and sweet Chinese Crested dog, Daisy. “So, how was the dinner?” Diane asked, cheerfully. She always envied me for being invited to Benson’s dinners, as she was never invited to their house, even though she was Suzie’s tennis partner for more than ten years. Diane always said to me, “I cannot imagine what it would look like to eat the foods that Suzie prepared in that beautiful house. Must be spectacular.”

“No, I didn’t have the dinner today because I was not invited until noon. I only stopped by for the pie, but they did not offer me the pie either,” I spoke as if I was stating a fact. Then I said, “But guess what? I met David’s new friend.”  

Diane stood there for a minute without a word, and searching her words carefully, she said, “I have known David for a long time since he was a kid. Oh, God. That must be very difficult for Suzie and Bobby.” She looked up at the sky and changed the subject, “It seems we are going to have a storm tonight.” Nearby someone was burning woods in their fireplace and the air tasted of smoky brown soot.


Portrait of an Asian Woman

Shanhu Lee

Published in J Journal in 2022


On the road we met an Asian woman,

We looked at her facial mask.


From a distant mirror,

in the physical therapy room,

I saw the reflection

of an old Asian woman.

Her dyed black hair was thin

and frail, like mother’s.


Oriental women always have a modest body,

someone shouts at an Asian woman

from his Toyota pickup at

the Walmart parking lot.


An Asian mom. 

A tiger mom.

No excuse, no defense.

Alex, my Aikido instructor asked

an Asian woman,

Where are you from originally?

when she said

she was born in Cleveland.


An Asian woman has become a VP.

A half-Asian woman

has become a VP.


Mulan, Mulan,

A little boy calls an Asian woman,

Her Cinderella shoes

are made of bamboo glass.