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'Agent Orange': a Poem About the Terrible Legacy the U.S. Left in Vietnam

Garrett Stotko

As the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon approaches, Paul Lobo Portugés’ moving poem serves as a reminder of the pernicious and long-lasting effects American interventionism has had in Vietnam.

Paul Lobo Portugés reads a version of “Agent Orange”

Agent Orange

Paul Lobo Portugés

Before the war,
the jungle was our treasure,
what we loved the most:
birds of all colors, funny monkeys.
We swam in the cool waters,
drank from the pure springs.
Our forests held back the rains as we listened.
Children sang in the trees.

After the poison, after the war,
the forest is dead.
It gives us nothing
but mournful silence
and nights of emptiness

In my soul I do not feel happy.
When I spent my days digging ditches
to feed my family, I didn’t…
didn’t know the earth was death.
And then my second daughter died.
She was barely seven.

Now my only son has no bone marrow.
His head is misshapen, his eyes too large.
On New Years day, we took his picture
for the family altar, to remember him
when he too will be gone.

Not very long now, the American doctor says.

Paul Lobo Portugés, a Texas native, studied at UCLA, the American Film Institute and UC Berkeley. He teaches creative writing at UC Santa Barbara and has taught at UC Berkeley, the University of Southern California, Santa Barbara City College and the University of Provence. His books include “The Visionary Poetics of Allen Ginsberg,” “Saving Grace,” “Hands Across the Earth,” “The Flower Vendor,” “Paper Song,” “Aztec Birth,” “The Body Electric Journal,” “The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson,” “Ginsberg: On Tibetan Buddhism, Mantras, and Drugs” (Word Palace Press, 2013), “Breaking Bread” (Finishing Line Press) and “Mao — 1,000 Poems for Revolution” (forthcoming). Portugés has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright Commission and the Rockefeller/Bellagio Foundation.

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