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Book Title

Yellow Rain

Author 1
Mai Der Vang
Poem Excerpt
            We don’t have the means     to give up the absolute.
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.
                                                     Here lie                                              
                                                     the ashes
                                                     of our
—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.

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A reinvestigation of chemical biological weapons dropped on the Hmong people in the fallout of the US war in Vietnam

About the Author

Mai Der  Vang
Credit: Ze Moua
Mai Der Vangis the author of Yellow Rain, a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and Afterland, winner of the First Book Award of the Academy of American Poets. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, her poetry has appeared in Tin House, the American Poetry Review, and Poetry, among other journals and anthologies. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State.
More by author


  • “Vang’s lyrical interventions strike powerful notes of lamentation and rage.”The New Yorker, Briefly Noted
  • “With Yellow Rain, Vang scores onto the record the previously silenced experiences of Hmong, rupturing the erasures within Western accounts of history, all while holding the US government, media, and scientists accountable. It is revolutionary.”Poetry
  • “Vang memorably reckons with a complex and tragic cultural history.”Publishers Weekly
  • “[Mai Der Vang] transform[s] the impersonal and politically and ethically deceitful into a vivid reclamation of the brutal truth.”Booklist, starred review
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