Poetry Collection – Vietnam / Agent Orange (By Donal Mahoney)

The following is a collection of poems about Vietnam veterans and how their lives were forever changed by the horrific effects of the herbicidal warfare compound known as Agent Orange.


A Life Without Guard Rails

You think you got problems?
You probably do but would 
you trade with Phillip,
a Vietnam vet who still thinks 
Agent Orange lurks in 
every puddle he steps 
around after a heavy rain,
who shovels snow, 
cuts lawns and rakes leaves
to make his disability  
check go further?
He has a snow shovel
but someone stole his mower
and the grass is growing
and customers are waiting.
He saved three months
to buy a used car to replace
the van that died and that car 
died yesterday in the street but 
the payments are still due.
Some people think Phillip  
causes his own problems 
but no one has the answer 
as to how he can change 
a life that hasn’t changed 
much since Vietnam.
It took ten years 
to qualify for disability.
He’s been doing odd jobs
and he’ll keep doing them 
until he can no longer walk.
He says a Veterans Home
has promised to take him in.
Donal Mahoney

Vacillating Benny and Monsanto Max

Vacillating Benny, an ancient chemist
now retired from Monsanto, must decide 
if a poem his friend Ron has sent him 
is good enough for his hobby journal. 
Benny finally decides to let the poem 
marinate for another month  
without sending Ron a reply.
Maybe it will sound better later on.
A month later, Benny asks his dog, 
Monsanto Max, for an editorial opinion.
Bolstered by his dog’s advice,
Benny sends Ron a note:
“I’m considering your poem
and will get back to you later 
with a quasi-final decision.”
How might you respond if you were Ron,
a retired professor who wrote his poem 
while teaching English in Vietnam.
Ron decided to send old Benny 
three cases of Dom Perignon,
each bottle filled with Agent Orange. 
Ron hopes Benny will have   
the time he needs to decide if
his poem’s worthy of publication.
Ron remembers decades ago
when they were young and in their prime
and his old friend Benny was 
First Vice President at Monsanto. 
Ever decisive, Benny quickly approved  
new applications for Agent Orange.
Donal Mahoney

Allowances Can Be Made

Oliver Jones, now gray and grizzled, has  
cut the Miller’s lawn for years. A Vietnam vet, 
a victim of Agent Orange, Oliver’s getting old, 
almost as old as the Millers, his friends for years.
Recently he’s left ridges and tufts 
in the lawn Mr. Miller’s eyes can’t see 
but his wife has mentioned the problem.
After Oliver’s been paid with a good tip,
Mrs. Miller often rolls her wheelchair  
over to the window and tells her husband 
they should find someone else to cut the lawn,
someone who won’t leave ridges and tufts. 
But the thing of it is, Oliver’s been leaving
ridges and tufts for at least five years, 
long before Mr. Miller lost his sight and
Mrs. Miller was confined to a wheelchair.
Donal Mahoney

Earthquake in the Yard

He’s a vet from Vietnam
who won’t say much about
what happened over there
except to say his problem
began with Agent Orange,
the breathing problem he has
cutting grass, raking leaves 
and shoveling snow, 
the only work anyone 
will hire him to do.
The money helps him live 
on what the government 
gives him but that’s not much 
because it’s obvious
the man’s not living well.
Watching him mow grass
from an upstairs window 
on a sultry day and have
him stop and cough so
many times, you want to 
pay him not to mow but 
know that won’t work.
The man can’t breathe
but he still has pride.
So you pay him well,
force him to take a tip
and wonder if some day
he’ll fall on his mower 
or maybe on the grass
and won’t get up at all,
the earthquake coughing
being what it is, 
ripping him apart.
Donal Mahoney

Fireworks after Vietnam

Joe went to the mall yesterday
and found a big tent pitched
at the head of the drive. 
Someone selling fireworks.
The sign said discounts 
for all veterans.  
Joe thought of his brother Bob
after his return from Vietnam,
a victim of Agent Orange.
He would shake if he heard 
sudden or violent noises.  
He got rid of his guns and 
never went hunting again.  
Bob didn’t want rifles 
shot over his body after he died, 
an honor some veterans prefer.  
His wife wanted the ceremony. 
Joe cried when the volleys were fired.  
He could feel his brother 
shake inside the urn.  
Donal Mahoney

Vowel Movement

When a writer lacks 
verbs and nouns 
he’s the victim of 
writer’s block. 
His mind may house 
too many consonants, 
too few vowels. 
Without vowels, 
his consonants congeal
and become a mass. 
The result is
verbal constipation.
The only cure,
some doctors say,
is a very big 
vowel movement, 
larger than a loaf 
of pumpernickel 
or a Seinfeld 
marble rye.
Some writers, 
desperate for  
a very big
vowel movement, 
try dynamite. 
Not good.
Other writers tout 
Agent Orange,
Monsanto’s legacy
in Vietnam 
dropped off
half a century ago.
But Agent Orange
is not the answer 
for writer’s block.
It melts a writer 
slowly and melts
as well
generations of 
his descendants
as it has for years  
In Vietnam where
the great-grandchildren 
of innocent farmers
whose crops 
were sprayed
with Agent Orange 
are born deformed.
They are the new lepers 
from Monsanto,
not from Molokai.
On the streets 
the children startle tourists
from Boston and New York
who are munching on 
delightful spring rolls
dipped in lovely sauces
at outdoor cafe tables
under big umbrellas
that ward off 
the burning 
noonday sun. 
Donal Mahoney

Author Bio:

donal-mahoney Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has had fiction and poetry published in various publications in the U.S. and elsewhere. Among them are The Galway Review (Ireland), The Recusant (England), The Missing Slate (Pakistan), Guwahatian Magazine (india), Bluepepper (Australia), The Osprey Journal (Wales), Public Republic (Bulgaria), and The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey). Some of his earliest work can be found at and some of his newer work at