Yellow Rain: Poems
Mai Der Vang
Graywolf Press, 2021
"[Mai Der Vang] transform[s] the impersonal and politically and ethically deceitful into a vivid reclamation of the brutal truth."--Booklist, starred review"Mai Der Vang's Yellow Rain spoke to a piece of my heart that has yearned for such a work as this to come forth in response to the layered tragedies of our shared history, to establish a record in which our voices cannot be erased, our bodies forgotten, and our names forsaken. . . . An indictment of the highest and most poetic order." --Kao Kalia Yang"
Mai Der Vang intensifies and innovates documentary poetics in Yellow Rain. It confronts empire's crimes against humanity and the interlocking power of science and military-industrial complex. Yellow Rain is a magnificent textual revolt against historical amnesia." --Don Mee Choi
"Writing defiantly against the erasure and dismissal of Hmong experience, Mai Der Vang offers an intense condensation of Hmong knowledge and truth in Yellow Rain. This is an impressive accomplishment that blends poetry, archive, history, and polemic in a bravura effort to assert the being and voice of Hmong people." --Viet Thanh Nguyen
Too much drains at stake to ratify our own absurdity.
Announce our verdict of confusion we cannot
plan the uninvited but to blend
dichotomies of truth brain-drowsed junked out
crude to concede.
We an impressive debacle.
—from "We Can’t Confirm Yellow Rain Happened, We Can’t Confirm It Didn’t"
In this staggering work of documentary, poetry, and collage, Mai Der Vang reopens a wrongdoing that deserves a new reckoning. As the United States abandoned them at the end of its war in Vietnam, many Hmong refugees recounted stories of a mysterious substance that fell from planes during their escape from Laos starting in the mid-1970s. This substance, known as “yellow rain,” caused severe illnesses and thousands of deaths. These reports prompted an investigation into allegations that a chemical biological weapon had been used against the Hmong in breach of international treaties. A Cold War scandal erupted, wrapped in partisan debate around chemical arms development versus control. And then, to the world’s astonishment, American scientists argued that yellow rain was the feces of honeybees defecating en masse—still held as the widely accepted explanation. The truth of what happened to the Hmong, to those who experienced and suffered yellow rain, has been ignored and discredited.
Integrating archival research and declassified documents, Yellow Rain calls out the erasure of a history, the silencing of a people who at the time lacked the capacity and resources to defend and represent themselves. In poems that sing and lament, that contend and question, Vang restores a vital narrative in danger of being lost, and brilliantly explores what it means to have access to the truth and how marginalized groups are often forbidden that access.
Mai Der Vang is the author of Yellow Rain (Graywolf Press, 2021), and Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, she served as a Visiting Writer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry, Tin House, the American Poetry Review, among other journals and anthologies. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, espnW, and elsewhere. Mai Der also co-edited How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology with the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. A Kundiman fellow, Mai Der has completed residencies at Civitella Ranieri and Hedgebrook. Born and raised in Fresno, California, she earned degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State.