Autumn in my heart: An essay by Kao Kalia Yang

Autumn in my heart: An essay by Kao Kalia Yang

I remember my first autumn in Minnesota. I was six and a half. We lived in the McDonough housing project in St. Paul. Between our houses, there were stretches of green grass. There were not many trees, but across the street from our townhouse, there was a forest, a stretch of wetland, tall trees with their branches touching. I saw autumn first in those trees. After a particularly cool night of hiding under the covers with my sister, on our way to the bus stop on Timberlake Road, we noticed that the leaves of the trees down the road had turned yellow. We believed they were on the brink of death. All day in class, I thought about the dying trees. I had never seen autumn before. I had been born in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, Thailand. We knew the world took turns being wet and then dry. A December baby, I had been born in the coolest month of the year. Temperatures during the day averaged 79 degrees.

The trees in the camp were green year-round. Occasionally leaves fell from the high branches. When the heavy winds blew, pebbly fruit rained down on us. These, though, were reminders of a tree’s life, not its death. All around me the students went through the routines of the day, the teachers, too, and I could not fathom how the death of all the trees in Minnesota did not worry anyone, caused no grief.

When I was a child in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp it was underneath the canopy of the trees overhead that Hmong people, the hungry dogs and chickens, too, could find relief from the unrelenting heat of a burning sun. In the shade, we children sat on our bottoms in the dirt, playing with rocks, rubber bands, spinning tops. Sometimes, we drew hopscotch patterns in the dirt and took turns testing our skills and our luck. I could not imagine a world without trees.

In fact, it was on the high branches of the tall trees that I first saw the world. My father used to carry my older sister and me up to the tops of the trees, always in our best clothing. We couldn’t leave the camp but he wanted us to see the big world. From up high among the leaves, he perched us on branches like songbirds, and he would point to the far mountains in the distance. He would tell us about the world beyond the men with the guns, the place where I had been born. On my branch or in his arms, up high from the ground, I felt the lightness of the air, the lightness of my heart. I loved trees.

Now, the trees in Minnesota were sick and dying. They could not weather the coming cold. Everyone had warned me in Thailand about the cold in Minnesota. My thin cousins who were going to California with their families had wrapped their skinny arms around their chests, shivered for my benefit. In Minnesota, all the teachers had talked of snow and winter, of mittens and hats, gloves and boots — things I did not have. I looked at my bulky sweater and my short legs and I could feel pieces of me dying just like the trees.

The days went on one by one. The temperatures dropped. The sun grew further and further away. The leaves on the trees turned from yellow to orange, to pink, to red, to brown. Their beauty was not lost on me, their majesty in facing their end.

I made a promise to myself that first autumn. Without language, without words, I promised myself that I would never forgive or forget autumn, I would carry it in my heart always: the turning of the leaves, their flight in the wind, their inevitable fall to the ground, a return to the trees that had once upon a time made me believe in a world without end.

Original post of this article can be found here

100 Books Across America: The Latehomecomer



The Latecomer representing Minnesota for non-fiction.

Read more here.

When Relatives Die They Become Ancestors: NEW essay by Kao Kalia

When Relatives Die They Become Ancestors

One of my aunties is dying in a hospital bed in the medical metropolis of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The hospital is only two hours from the Twin Cities, where she lives, but it is likely that she will never come home again, certainly not as she left it, sick and scared.

It is hard on the family. We love her dearly.

For much of my life, I’ve known her as my uncle’s third wife. She was a quiet woman with a ready smile and, according to my uncle, a steadfast heart. She’s the mother of my cousins, a good one, if their gentle care, endless tears, and their regrets are any indication. Her sickness — cancer that began in her gall bladder and was not diagnosed until it had metastasized into her liver — turned her soft skin into a dull shade of turmeric, and caused itching all over her body. This is our family’s second deadly encounter with cancer; my oldest auntie died from it four years ago.

Read more here.

My Father Is Not a Powerful Man: Lessons from My Refugee Father


My father is unemployed. His paperwork says that he is 61 years old. His only source of income is social security. He has a few chickens, some healthy, others not so much. He lives on a stretch of land in cold Minnesota, feet to the ground, eyes to the sky. He takes the weather in the ache of his bones, the burn in his back. My father spends a lot of time looking out the windows when he is not outside, walking along the tree line. There are many men like my father the world over. They give birth to daughters like me. My father is not a powerful man.

When I was young, I believed that my father was powerful.

Continue reading here.

If you want to book Kalia for readings, lectures, and other appearances, please contact:
Kevin Mills
The Tuesday Agency
132 1/2 East Washington
Iowa City, Iowa 52240
[email protected]
For questions regarding Kalia’s literary work, please contact:
The Clegg Agency
156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1210
New York, NY 10010

For general inquiries, please use our Online Contact form:

General Contact Form

9 + 6 =

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This