–Karen An-hwei Lee–


It is snowing and raining at once 
in Chicago, so I hail a cab.
         The silent driver 
with an Asian face
    turns around to study mine 
in the headlights.
What now, I think 
 as he looks at me.
You are Chinese, he says quietly 
as the cab idles under the L 
on Van Buren.
    I am an American-born 
Taiwanese, I reply.
Can you guess what I am? he says.
Thai? No. Hmong? No. Laotian? 
No. Mien? No. Burmese? No, no. 
Mongolian? Uzbek? Uzbekistan?
   No, no. 
   Khazak? Khazakstan?
In the rear-view mirror, his face 
breaks into a grin. Yes! Yes!
      You are the only American 
who sees who I am.
Snow in the cities, snow
        on the steppes.
Bowls of hot shorpo. Mother. 
Sister. Red weavings on the wall
    and kyz-kuu or catch the girl 
on grulla horses.
Who is an exile?
Nomadic tears 
evaporate with traces of the Aral Sea
as the cab driver 
merges onto Lake Shore Drive.



On my way home,
I observe
a plumeria tree with short branches,
dwarf cousin of one long ago
flourishing over the dog-yard
in our archipelago girlhood.
I count blossoms on this – seven
to hundreds in memory.
As girls, we plucked on tiptoe,
strung them with cotton thread
for leis. Flowers
     on our ears
day and night, life-giving candles
of fragrance. On the island,
we never did see the sphinx-moths
said to visit at night.





This buckling roof is cypress
  drilled ardor of bees
This highway overpass
  a mortar cliff for swallows
This skyscraper is a crag
a she-falcon roosting
Journey of wind turbines
        where rock doves vanish
This parking lot is a mirage
where dark crows rise
Unbound book of starch
is a silverfish feast
Old corrugated boxes
of ravenous paper moths
A window is heaven

so we never stop flying