Fred Alvis


Spraying Agent Orange over the Mekong Delta
Spraying Agent Orange over the Mekong Delta
South Vietnam, July 1969

IWVPA Double Tap Award for War Poetry: December 19, 2005
Awarded: December 19, 2005
The trees were screaming while dying. They never feared the woodsman’s axe. Sure, one or two of them would be killed, but their brothers, millions strong, lived and grew. Their cousins, the bushes and vines, the grasses and the flowers, were always spared. Their friends, the birds and ground animals, would still sing the lullabies, or croon to lovers. Something had changed.

In the thousand years before, it had always been the ax, sometimes, fire. This was different. Nothing was being spared, not even those pitiful, two legged animals wearing green or black.

The trees had seen helicopters before, even losing a few brothers to the sticks of death they fired, but this was different. This was like the gentle rain so many had felt for hundreds of years, on these long-lived creatures of the forest. But this rain was wrong; it burned when it touched.

Their leaves, their fingers in the wind, shriveled and died. The flowers hung their heads and died. Bushes dropped their berries, and anything eating nature’s readymade meal, sickened and died. Great swaths of their brothers were dying, brother trees that had seemed to know Father Time himself were gone – dead, brown, lifeless skeletons with hands stretched towards heaven, as if in a final, unanswered prayer.

The helicopters caused the wind and the rain, a rain of death. Nothing was left on the mountains; they were now just red scars of mud and dirt, jutting up into the sky. Even the bugs were dead, no more songbirds, no more leaves playing in the wind while sunbeams danced with the shadows; nothing, just a red smear of death. They called the rain “Agent Orange”.