Belief and Philosophy Blog Divorce Poetry Reading & Writing Self-help


Cut the Cord

I cut the cord of connection

of belief

of desire

of obligation

of responsibility

of care.

I cut the cord knowing that

indifference casts myself into an unknown.

I cut the cord knowing

it no longer matters.

I cut the cord understanding intimacy

is not violent, it is knowing.

I cut the cord knowing to be seen

I need to see myself.

I cut the cord.

I cut this cord to move into

the world as my full self.

Everything I need to navigate life—

I have.

Every symbol I have

Comes from a reflection of my


I cut a cord and know that

on my own I am full

on my own I am free.

I cut the cord without fear.

I cut the cord.

© drstephaniehan #cutthecord

Blog Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: Out of the Depths

I have written and posted about Out of the Depths in a few places. It was previously published, in a different form in Vice-Versa as a prose poem. I wrote this poem in a fit of absolute despair? I wrote it quickly. I’m reluctant to act like this was some mystical act of writing because in the end, writing is about going to the page whether you want to or not. But this was an example of those moments where the words fly in. They do this now and then, only if you don’t judge yourself, if you allow yourself to be vulnerable to the impulse of feeling. I was living in Hong Kong. I was supposed to be working on on the dissertation. This choir program was sent around that time.

I was touched by this. It was sent via email from one I think of in many ways as my very first boyfriend in that the emotional pitch of that adolescent relationship was intense: during that time I experienced a myriad of feelings I had never felt prior. It was exciting. I remember thinking, wow, I get it! I understand what the books say, what love means in the movies! Older people forget and dismiss the feelings of young people all the time, but because the feelings are brand-new, they are intense, wonderful, miserable, and complicated. I was 17. He was a friend’s older brother’s friend. He was backpacking around Italy at the same time I was singing in a school choir and we fell in love. There was Florence and Rome. Sculpture. Art. Food. My senses were suddenly awakened, to love, to beauty, to an environment that was unusual and lyrical. I think of this time with fondness. It was funny and lovely that he had kept that program all of those years. We have not seen each other in decades and like most people, now and then chat on social media.

At the time this was sent to me my marriage was more or less, emotionally over. There was work. Obligations. It was a time of severe unhappiness because I was hoping for a revival, an awakening for a moment that would ultimately never come, and I had, I think, suspected that it would remain in this state and it was driving me mad. This was the poem. It was the last time my ex would see me read a poem too–rather fitting, in hindsight. A lot of young women approached me after this reading. Memory. Heartbreak. Hope.

I also find it interesting that this was a choir program and it got me thinking more recently about how I used to like to sing. Then for years I went into silence. I stopped all song. I sang to my child when he was little, but by the time of this poem, I had entered a phase of  quiet. He was slightly older. Silence reigned. I’m not singing yet, although I am more inclined to do so these days. Hula taught me to smile. Singing: defiance and joy. I was inclined to write in a peculiar space–something I can think of as akin to snow.  Too many words to fill the page. This was written in that space.

I added a phrase long after the poem was done: Madness suffocates the heart. I took out the date, 1982 that was in the title because I wanted the poem to float more in time.

I had begun to make a lot of connections between past and present, an idea of traveling and finding love in an unpredictable geographic space. How we disappear and move. The why of hope and memory. How we become what we dream and how we persist in dreaming. Death. We ferry to the end. How desire brings us to our knees. A longing for intimacy beyond the violence of indifference.




Out of the Depths


I learn to sing for love: St. James Church, Florence, Italy, 1982.

Out of the Depths. Aus der Tiefe.

Bach knew voices peel notes before gods.

In foreign lands, terrain is the body.

Journeys: autumnal kiln walls,

cobblestones beating boot leather,

dust of clay and time.

An alabaster youth towers,

crowds gather, transfixed.

Madonna’s electric blues,

her child’s peach fists,

halos, halos everywhere.

This air shouts love and belief.

Passion: a cigarette nipping dusk,

March cold whipping the back of my knees,

a quiver and kiss, a penance for longing.

The hope and embrace of supple flesh,

passion so wide, skin barely holds it.

Memory is now.

What is Love,

but an ancient bridge over an ageless water,

flocks of birds that hurry to heaven,

skies that echo eyes?

In youth one knows its purpose:

the creation of memories, urgent, desperate, alive.


Such things follow me to China.

Here, continents and decades away,

I push back memory’s cloying scent

to stay alive.

What now, but to sift and store

my love from the past

remains in a box I always carry:

This is what it means to have innocence.

What of love now?

A familiar traveler,

a wanderer,

a man of rage and longing,

a rough rock of intelligence.

Madness suffocates the heart.

Poetry is difference, the unknown.

We unfold like origami—lines remain—

to create the map I came to follow.

*                      *                      *

The compass rose blooms and points,

directs us to deserts and possibility.

I know the gravity of love,

how it breaks and mends,

its flowers and soil,

the cracking of its perfect wood,

its thirsty jagged roots,

a light it demands and gives

or Death: this ocean comes.

I have moved countries again.



Time, time, from one cradle to another.

Love—bound in a man without a country,

began in the hiss of summer’s heat,

through the eye of an Empire’s possession.

This East swallows: I am one of its minions,

a snack, a witness, nothing more.

A boat ferries me over water

delivers me on hands and knees

to anchor dreams

that sweat from my flesh,

to love that awakens again.




Belief and Philosophy Blog Divorce Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: An Ocean Ago

I haven’t read poetry in public over the past decade, so in March when I had the opportunity to do this with The Literary Cypher run by LP Kersey and Obsidian Pen Publishing, it was really fun! Poetry is community and the expectations around reading and writing poetry, at least for me, are much different than writing prose. I read some poetry from my manuscript Passing in the Middle Kingdom, which is, if you have been tuning in, what I am also blogging about–specifically ideas of creative process.

The point here is to show you or anyone who may benefit from writing poetry how a poem unfolds, and how and why writing poetry can help us answer and ask questions.

This poem An Ocean Ago was written and submitted to Great Ocean Quarterly in Australia. They ended up taking another one (I’ll blog about that later), but it gave me some confidence that they had liked it, although admittedly, this poem was dramatically rewritten over the course of a decade. I was living as a Korean American expatriate in Hong Kong who was four generations in on the Hawai’i side. Most Asian Americans pivot between two countries: the US and the country of their ethnic origin. When you throw that third country in, stuff gets a little different, also when you throw in another country due to a partner. So you start dealing with 3-4 countries and you start to see how reductive life can be if you insist only upon a dichotomy and polarization of two sides. We can’t and don’t live that way anymore. We all inhabit a global economy. All I can say is there is a nuclear accident in Japan and the stuff washes up off the Oregon coast, what does that mean? One planet everyone…yep…

When I first wrote it, I was really trying to understand what I was feeling about marriage, motherhood, and place. I had gotten it in my brain, as writers do, that if I write something a certain way, then I would will my life a certain way. This is both true and not. You cannot write you love someone if you do not love someone, and suddenly start to love someone. You can write to convince yourself you love someone, but this only goes so far. I was trying to write into this question. So the first draft was me desperately trying to write and through writing, rationalize my situation, no matter what. Later, I became more comfortable saying there was confusion and finally, no. Love gone. The poem turned. It worked out. Writing confirms what we know and allows us to search inside of ourselves.

This poem was also about memory, about a road trip to Arizona when we first met, about aging and what this means, about pregnancy and the movement between Hong Kong and the US, back and forth, on and off for years. There was always a rather frantic dynamic, this is a polite or euphemistic way of describing what can only be said to be harrowing. I know now such feelings are linked to living with and under trauma. I live very differently now. My body is recalibrating. For anyone who has lived in this way–I will tell you this: Just. Step. Away.

Also the thing about aging is that it is linked to death, of course. What it means to die. How we die. Why we die. Fear of dying. We all die. You will not be saved from the truth that we will all perish. Every person you see, every tree or sign of life that you witness or experience will perish too, just as you do. You can do whatever you want to try to stop this: pray, exercise fanatically, get plastic surgery, have a child, find a new partner, move to a new home or city, get a new job, but guess what. The Big D is coming for you. And the flag the Big D is waving says this: Take No Prisoners.

That’s right. The END is real. SO…what does Dr. Stephanie Han say about this?

Be real. Be kind. Be fair. Here’s the poem below–


An Ocean Ago


A shower runs down my husband’s back.

Torks, twists, a broken spine.

He hoists our child on to his shoulders.

A shift in his gait. Silver hair thinning.

An ocean ago.

We floated in a blue pool

he held me up to a red rock sun.

Will you love me

when I can no longer lift you to the sky?

So late, so fast,

an ocean ago,

a splash, a belly, a pink bikini.

Liquid pooled between my legs,

the current pulled.

Our baby fought the crossing.

His arrival, our return.

An ocean ago,

money crushed the fetal grip,

trash floated, we swam the harbor

of age and loss, panicked

through tubes and wires.

Tread water, refuse to drown.

We searched for an elixir,

discovered gray vapor death.

Will you love me?

Let me lie, I said,

I do.





Poetry Reading & Writing

Read & Write with Dr. Han: Creative Process, PEN-Los Angeles Emerging Voices, ‘Company’


A poem for National Poetry Month: ‘Company’. Stay healthy everyone. The world awaits and needs your well-being. We will be better than we were before. Keep the faith and believe in the possibility.

I’m grateful to say that I participated in the PEN Emerging Voices Workshop, part of PEN America. PEN fostered then, and continues to nurture, the idea of voice and letters, and dedicates its efforts to protecting the beauty and ferocity of our humanity as expressed in speech, words, and writing. (Shout out to Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, PEN president of Hong Kong!)

I am deeply honored to be affiliated with PEN. PEN sings to what we should be as writers, artists, and citizens. It is a special group to be a part of, particularly within the context of Los Angeles and Hollywood. PEN reminds us: The Word Matters.


Huge thanks to those who were with me in the literary trenches: Shonda Buchanan Renee Simms Carl Peel Rhonda Mitchell and more–William Archila, Lisa Nunez-Hancock, and those of an earlier cohort like Noel Alumit without whom I would not even be an alum! You all as writers, poets, thinkers, and dreamers changed my life. You were and are people who honor the muse and the voice, who deeply feel the call to speak and express, to tell the truths and sorrows and joys of living.

I saw then what it meant to write from a deeply intimate space, what it meant to create with joy and hope, with compassion and belief. My anguish at not writing and living up to your work, my desire for approval, my pleasure hearing your writing, my understanding that I was in the presence of those who wrote the heart and spirit, my determination to write better. It was all there. I will always endeavor, to the best of my ability, to write the truths that all of you write in life, and in books and poems and stories; I will strive to fight the good fight of freedom of expression and personal belief; I will try always to stand for justice over greed, to live honestly in words on the page and yes, in real life.


by Stephanie Han

With the tuck into hard night

we have become more

and less of who we sleep to be.

This disease is the killing.

Fear bred the dream

of kindness between toes and stars.

Through lips and water

we know justice is what we swim for.

Paddle to safety, to land, to shore.

Love is willed beyond salt and blue.

Share food on screens and know this:

We are nothing without belief.

Clap. Sing. Masks rip our worries

to shreds.  Open the hope of divine skin,

soft new and old. The fat stored

for lean times? Use it up. Now.

Company calls. You. Me.

The distance is as real as our

bicycle hearts. The stranger

across the street, whose eyes

tell us that holy is who we

are and were, is always, always

the best china guest

we invite into our home.

Reading & Writing

Read & Write with Dr. Han: Passing in the Middle Kingdom, Creative Process, and ‘Out of the Depths’


Here we are sheltering in place. So many people are now turning to literature, poetry, and art to get through these times. By now, many have started to write, to record their thoughts and feelings about a time that is deeply traumatic, confusing, and unknown. When we have no familiarity with what we are faced with we often turn to art for solace, redemption, and hope. To that end, I thought I would post and comment about my recent completion of a poetry manuscript. I am primarily a fiction writer, but I maintain that I turn to poetry when I have no words.

Poetry gives me a way out.


I have linked to the poem ‘Out of the Depths’ from my unpublished poetry manuscript ‘Passing in the Middle Kingdom.’ People usually don’t break down how a poem came about, but I think it can be useful to people who want to know how and why individuals write, especially my students. Watch for a few downloadable broadsides. The ms (manuscript) is out in the world, but its future is undecided. It is complete; I believe it to be a strong piece of work as a whole; I am now free.


This particular draft of ‘Out of the Depths’ is slightly different than the final draft, but I’ve decided to share it because the layout includes the original artwork, a choir program. I had written the poem prior to the journal’s call, but submitted it and have had a few poems published by Silver Birch Press ‘Gold Medal Hair’ and ‘Nebraska Trading Post, 1972’—their submission calls are playful, and are fun to try. The poems they published have a different tone than many I usually write as they are rooted in the recollection of my childhood and in this way, carry for me feelings that are infrequently experienced in my daily adult life.


‘Out of the Depths’ was written because I was sent the concert program by email. I believe, though never confirmed, that it was emailed by this very old friend in a sentimental and fond way, a gesture to not only the recipient, me, but also, I surmise, to the one who sent the program, a valentine to the young person he was at that time. A kind of do you remember? I responded with this poem, yes, I remember. Other than a rare social media post I have not seen this friend in decades, but it is amazing how someone can exist in another’s mind as unchanged, in memory, as a being who despite accomplishments, years, family, and journeys, is forever 17 or 18 years old, young, open, curious, ready to see and love and adventure with a backpack. And when I remember this, what happens is that I too recall in vivid memory, what it was to be 17, and conjure a feeling, a body, a place.

The experiences of our adolescence are often stark rainbows of raving madness, and always excruciatingly raw. These times become the dust and ocean truths that we keep in our bodies. These things, they make us who we are, who we become, what we remember. The PDF of this program sent to me across time zones and bytes, space and decades, continents and oceans had obliged me to remember, had forced me to unknowingly, both hopefully and hesitantly, catalogue and gaze upon my then present. This was difficult. The truth and illumination poetry gives us is often traumatic. Through words we swim, leap, fly parallel and perpendicular, across time and hope, follow seashell grooves from end to beginning, and discover in a grain of sand what we are meant to feel and believe. We read and write to save our lives, to find out who we are.


I began this manuscript in 2008, and while it went through another round of final edits in February 2020, earlier versions of the collection and individual poems are likely to be floating around in the dark backwater known as Submission-Land. This manuscript was shared and critiqued at readings and informal poetry gatherings in Hong Kong from 2010-2014. The poems were reworked dozens of times. Along the way, the ms was a semi-finalist for the Wilder Prize, and experienced plenty of rejection. Some rejections were rather cryptic (Oh, how I tried to interpret that scrawl in neat pen! Or read between the email lines!), but most rejections followed the standard No, thank you.

Musings on the ms: There was a sharp surgical removal of a huge section. My perspective shifted, and it became a different ms than I had originally intended, although its intention back then, was unknown to me, which I think was why it took me this long to complete it. It was sent out before it was done. But at the time, I had no idea the ms was incomplete. Perspective shifts.

Now I see it was originally begun to make sense of the feelings and events that arose as a result of my life in a small rural village outside of Hong Kong. Poetry gives words to our inexplicable emotional selves and the sensations that this inner life suggests and reflects. My years during the writing of this first draft of the manuscript were complicated. I experienced the birth and collapse of my ideas of family, life, and the self. It was the upending of home and the questioning of how we construct place and belonging. I reassessed nation and community, pondered tribalism and patriarchy. I was obliged to confront how we live with memory, future, and imagination, forced to reassess how culture determines and refracts our being, and probe how we seek and lose.

It was a period of time both joyful and brutal. I realize now that I kept thinking that if I would write it in X way, then X would transpire in my real, not written life. I wrote to knit my life, and in doing so, I saved my life. This is the myth the writer must always face: we write our story, but once we write, the story often runs away and goes on without us. The words exist. We must save ourselves.


Initially, from 2008-2010, the poetry ms was a way for me to retreat from an identity. I was very discouraged. My fiction book had been rejected so many times I was starting to wonder if something was deeply wrong with this entire idea of dedicating my life to writing, to words, to stories. When I first landed in this tiny village, I didn’t tell anyone I was a writer for several months.  It is quite easy to do this if you are a parent, in particular, a mother. The role of motherhood is labor intensive and if you have a young child, especially a baby, no one really asks what you do other than take care of your child.

Students made me reclaim my identity. When they wrote, I too began to write—this poetry ms.  The poems were the first that I had written since 1994. I had received a grant for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs to write a chapbook L.A. (Lovers Anonymous) a work I classify now as juvenilia. It was then that I began to claim my identity as a writer. To add, writing, often when it comes to women, does not link to chronological time in the same way, so I was by no means a juvenile (under 21) when I wrote it. Coming back to poetry, then, was a recognition of what brought me to writing to begin with. It’s a good feeling, really.


Life is and is not the first draft. It is the final draft in every action, but we must understand we have many final drafts and so it is, in that sense, a numbers game. Don’t save up to live. Write the poem. Rewrite it. Redraft it. Write many poems. Toss some out. Keep some. Forget some. Find some. There are many poems for they are snapshots, moments and thoughts. The final draft of any poem, of any artwork is really your own life, and you are faced with this life long after any single poem is complete. We will continue on until the very end, and then the poem, the song, the art magically takes over and our body disappears. It’s a partner dance.  When you live your life in a way that prioritizes the creation of new ideas and forms of words, when you embrace what will be and question what is, you set yourself up for a life of complexity, of art, of seeking. When we write we create worlds, we speak to futures, we make ourselves into being.


Arthur Miller stated a version of this: Writers function as seers. Or in a less daunting proposition: the role of seer is one we writers should aspire to. But I extend that to those who do not consider themselves writers in the formal sense, but those who dare to author their vulnerable selves into being. Seers are blind, threatened with death, peculiar in appearance or craft, beset by gifts and threats and all manner of problems that arise as others shun, embrace, pretend indifference or are indifferent to what they say. Seers die as everyone else, come into the world as everyone else, and should you wear the badge of seer, it is true, you really do know it.

Oscar Wilde states: “The past is of no importance. … For the past is what man should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are.” The task then, is to see and to cultivate the skill and courage to speak what needs to be said, and what we desire to say. The artist is the future; the artist embodies a new way of being. Artmaking is a compulsion, not a choice. You know you are meant to create, if for no other reason that you cannot seem to stop this will to not simply feel, but to express this feeling.  Then incomprehensibly to many, if not your own self, you summon a belief, a strange faith that this task must and will fall into place. It always does, but perhaps not in the way that you had initially conceptualized.


I have written into my future and written into my past. In the case of this manuscript, I was trying to write into a certain kind of future, to rationalize a previous present. The journey of this manuscript is so very obvious to me now. In willful obstinance, I did not understand that writing can change everything, but maybe not what we want to change. We are not always the author of the story we want to change. We can only author our own story, sing our own lyrics. Love and writing and home and dreams are forever linked. It is the mad dance of swirling through time. Linked. Found. Lost

Like many people, I write poetry when feelings don’t have a linear path that I am interested in tracing or that I am capable of tracing: I write poetry when I have no words. I write prose when I need and want to create a space or world to be in, to explain something to myself, to others, to something or someone—time is not linear necessarily when I write stories as it is often simultaneously past or present, but there does seem to be a driving need to make sense of what is at stake, if that makes sense. I arc it and give it a structure, drape the ideas or dig a hole and drive the steel into the ground in order that the building stands.

This is artmaking reflection; you will have to discover your own process.

We create the story of our lives.