Joie Lê


There is a loop. Like drops of rain that fall against a foggy pane, leaving needles of possibility behind it. The loop continues like the sound of the rain, soft tapping on clear glass—the same sound as my finger striking the “J” on a keyboard.  


There is a clip in the loop, someone’s bad splicing, missing the zero-crossing point by just enough so sine waves no longer connect, and there is just the click where the loss is felt. I listen to the loop constantly, a steady reminder that my brain is not wired correctly and always trying to replace the missing byte with other distractions. Education. Career. Children. Saws. 

RPMs on mitres are only disrupted when I let go—not the other way around.


Sometimes the clip wakes me, and I can tell my brain is scanning through to-dos until I realize that the task will never be finished. Occasionally, I’m crushed by this knowledge, so I find something else to do—adding another item to the list of things never resolved.


I don’t think I’ve done enough.

The cat box needs changing.

I never trained the dogs, properly. Someone once asked me how I could be a teacher if I wasn’t commanding enough to train my puppy. Young adults are not puppies, I wanted to say. He was a good dog despite my ineptitude. Maybe he empathized.


Weed fabric only works if you install it properly. Otherwise, it ends up being another layer of nuisance that needs to be controlled by the proper depth of dirt, sand, or mulch. I have tried all these methods to keep the gray edges of the fabric from peeping out of the faux landscape when some persistent yerba sneaks out with the assistance of an ant colony that compromises the soil underneath. I should know better. I am the yerba. And the colony.


If I am patient, the rain stops long enough for me to exhale. The inhale is filled with the buzzing of motor-scooters around me as I walk straight into the rush, laughter from jumping off adobe walls with large trash bags—the distance too insignificant to arrest my fall, the step over a heap of mango peels littering the ground to speak a language that might have belonged to me, the sound of someone else mowing another’s suburban lawn. Clips. Clippings. Clipped.



Two Truths and a lie

Two truths and a lie.

I am an orphan of war.
I am Vietnamese.
I am grateful for being adopted.

My friend, Jesse, asks me if I am addicted to education. I can’t say yes or no because both might be right. I am not addicted to education. Education is a lie—a wolf wearing sheep’s clothing. I am addicted to finding the truth. Education is not a lie. It is not the sheep but the lamb. Its truth is ever-changing, and if it makes it past winter, it has a chance to bear the wool that gives life. The wool I’ve been harvesting is a tangled mass of fibers. The silken strands are matted down and teasing out the clumps is an exercise in patience. I’ve run out of patience. I’ve run out of time. I’ve only got the wool that continually needs to be shed, and I wonder if I’m the wolf or the sheep underneath.

Two truths and a lie.

I am a refugee.
I am Cambodian.
I am grateful for being adopted.

My mother tells me that the universe sent me to her. The universe has a strange sense of humor. Sometimes, it gives, and sometimes, it takes. Most of the time, it does both. Dinosaurs once roamed the earth. We only know this because their massive skulls became wedged in between layers of sediment, fossilized and waiting for someone to come along and kick up the dust that hid their well-worn teeth from public view. The humans smart enough to analyze those teeth could tell us if those dinosaurs were carnivores or herbivores based upon the wear of enamel and the shape of the teeth. Like ancient cows, some sauropods would pluck the grass from the tender earth only to be swallowed up along with just the right stone—a gastrolith—to help with digestion. The carnivores would do the opposite, gnashing their terrible teeth like Sendak’s wild things—a reimagining of hunger and greed without a mother to call them back home. The universe created humans in place of dinosaurs, giving them some 65 million years apart to adjust for time and circumstance. Now, we are all carnivores, giving too little and taking too much. And still, my mother drinks tea in the morning and wine in the evening, contemplating her evolution as well as mine.

Two truths and a lie.

I am 48.
I am Chinese.
I am grateful for being adopted.

My friends ask me to tell them my story. The only thing I can share is verisimilitude. There is a war. There is a baby. There is an orphanage. There is survival. There are soldiers. There is rescue. There is salvation. There is saviorism. There is assimilation. There is dissimilation. There is fiction. There is fantasy. There is gratitude. There is loss. There is spectacle. There is the sense they want to know more.
So, do I.

Two truths and a lie.

I grew up in poverty.
I grew up in wealth.
I grew up in cultures that are not mine.

My seatmate in first grade sent me his grandmother’s recipe for biscochitos ten years ago. You could tell it was hastily typed because it’s written in one paragraph. His grandmother may have mumbled the directions to someone who transcribed it as she mixed the masa for tamales. There is no formal outline. There are no return carriages for ingredients and process. The instructions are simple: mix these ingredients together and bake. Don’t forget to use lard. Biscochitos remind me of Christmas. They melt on the tongue, and the taste of anise, cinnamon, and brandy lingers long after the cookie is gone. I used to make batches of biscochitos for my students at the end of the semester. Most had never tried one and were cautious in their selection from the bin. That one has too much sugar and cinnamon on top. That one, not enough. Most were polite enough to pick just one, but a few asked for two or came back at the end of the day to see if there were leftovers. The students in the back of the classroom, those who knew the origins of the biscochito, renewed their respect for my work as a teacher. They had an ally, and they knew it.

Two truths and lie.

I am brown-skinned.
I am white-skinned.
I am thick-skinned.

My father took a lot of photos. They were thrown into an old ski boot box before my mother moved out of our home in the North Valley and was transplanted to the West Side. Her new house was also stuccoed but not made of adobe like the house we lived in before. In the process of starting over after their divorce, there was no careful consideration of these memories and after finding them stashed on a shelf nearly ten years later, I put them into photo boxes and discarded the crushed, Nordic box folding in on our family’s timeline. I recently found a photo of myself wearing a long, kimono-like robe. It was made of Chinese brocade, light gold with frog clasps going up to the neck. The robe used to belong to my grandmother when orientalism was a fashion statement and not appropriation. When I used to wear the robe, it was way too long for me and pooled around my feet like a mermaid’s tail. Still, it was the closest thing I could find that made me feel Asian, and so I shuffled around the house wearing it until common sense got the better of me.

Two truths and a lie.

My name is Joie.
My name is Lê.
My name identifies me.

My life in Vietnam before my life in America does not tell a singular story. The family members I found live a legacy of culture and tradition of which I am not a part. I was the only one transported to a distant land to carve out my own identity. The rest of the biological family, with their generations of dynasty names handed down by others, prepare handraised emaciated chickens for dinner and eat elaborate meals sitting on the floor. I once asked my niece why they did not use the tables often seen in the background of their photos. She said it was easier that way, and I did not have the cultural context to disagree. 

Two truths and a lie.

I have two brothers.
I have eighteen siblings.
I have eleven sisters.

My brother and I once emptied a can of minced meat onto a rock to see what would happen to it over time. Every day we would go to check on it to see if it would lose shape or be consumed, the dark puck an offering to the environment. I do not know if we asked my mother permission to use the meat for scientific study, but I suspect she did not even know it was in the pantry, a massive, eight-foot-high cupboard with 2-inch-thick wooden doors and black, wrought iron handles. A single can of minced meat could surely get lost within its depths. We could use the pantry as a hide-and-seek spot if we wanted to, but no one really wanted to tuck themselves into a bottom shelf with the mealy bugs that sometimes found their way into our oatmeal. Near the minced meat rock, a Mojave yucca grew. Every season it sprouted white flowers that looked like octopus tentacles and was as tall as me in the third grade. Its spiky leaves jutted out like urchin spines and were thick and pointed at the tips. When I returned to the house one winter in my mid-thirties, the yucca was still there, grown over ten feet tall and still standing next to the rock whose surface once held a can of potted meat that did nothing notable even over six months’ time.

Two truths and a lie.

I feel guilt.
I feel anger.
I feel lucky.

My silence came after I realized that being abandoned in a maternity hospital would afford me no comfort. The cries of a newborn searching for lost connections was a futile attempt at vocalizing need. Conserving energy for the long haul seemed to be a better way to go, and so I kept my thoughts to a minimum until I was old enough to write them down. Sometimes, the silence creeps in again as I search for my origin story. It still feels futile, and my tongue is often immobilized by my feelings on the matter. Even though I have permission to speak, I sometimes feel like an unreliable narrator whose facts are obscured by fiction.

Two truths and a lie.

I am a blend of culture.
I am a mix of experience.
I am not grateful for being adopted.


Joie Lê is an MFA candidate at Regis University, working on a memoir of her experiences as an adoptee from the Vietnam War. Her work can be found at Dear, Adoption, The Adoption Exchange and on her website: She is an educator at the Watershed School in Boulder and teaches courses in technology, writing, and humanities. She loves to ruminate about ontology, epistemology, existentialism, post-structuralism, and is an avid builder and visual artist conceptualizing an exhibition about transracial and intercountry adoption.