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Kao Kalia Yang


I feel like I live in a bubble flying through the landscape of springtime. My favorite flowering trees around the neighborhood are in bloom. The dying magnolia alongside the tan stucco house, all its lower branches bare, but on the tips of the tallest limbs, big white blooms spreading out like a fantasy. In front of the robin’s egg blue house from the 1950s, there’s a crab apple tree, so soft and pink, so full of flowers the green of leave barely show. At the back of my yard, up the unsteady steps of rock, the line of lilac is full of purple possibilities waiting to unfurl. Spring is new to me this year, more vibrant and beautiful, lush and green, than I remember it having ever been before. I feel my bubble can burst any time.

Thirty-year-old memories of me holding my elderly grandmother’s hand down the hill of our block, across a wide street full of cars going by fast, down a stretch of sidewalk, alongside little two bedroom houses with single bathrooms each sitting in a square of green. Grandma’s got coins jingling in her money bag and I can hear it with each step. I’m a child still so I have to look up to see the face I love, proud, wrinkled top lids falling over eyes, short curly gray hair pulled back and tied with a rubber band. I can taste the sugar and the cold with waiting at the end of our walk. I do the math again and again, $0.59 per cone, two so we each can have one, $1.18, plus tax. The summer sun is hot. The back of my hair heats up. I’m dizzy with delight on our walks to Conny’s Creamy Cone.

A Hmong man, an elderly man, going on a walk, on that same street, trying to control his diabetes, is beaten down by some punks. They think he’s the source of the Coronavirus. In the photo that his daughter posted on social media, I see his shirt torn, his left temple purple and blue, a bump round and perfect like a golf ball rising. He was beaten up on the stretch of avenue to Conny’s Creamy Cone.

Thirty years and the memories flicker and flow and fight to stay dreamy; I’m holding it tight—afraid it will dissipate and disappear like the hand of the old woman who loved me more than her fear of crossing streets, her fear of speeding cars, her fear of strangers with fisted hands, blows, blows, blows.

My children clamor around me and we look at a phone my husband is holding in our backyard, before the stairway to the line of lilac bushes in the back. A teacher has made a request for me to send a short video to congratulate her seniors, to inspire them and celebrate them. Maybe it is in my head, maybe it is in my heart but I swear I can smell the lilac blooms already, and I look at the phone and I breathe out the words, “Congratulations to the class of 2020! Life’s too short not to celebrate every single achievement, every marker of success, every memory that will make you believe in your life story.”

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020