“They All Died in Vietnam,” “Echoes from My Mother’s Closet” and “No”

In Issue 24 by Virginia Watts


Vietnam War Defoliation Mission a UH- 1D helicopter from the 336th Aviation Company sprays a agent orange on a dense jungle area in the Mekong delta. By Everett Historical at Shutterstock.

They All Died in Vietnam

Three forest cousins, all boys, my summer secrets

We hiked under hawk shadows, spun pancake flat shale

stones touch tipping Loyalsock Creek, arrowheads,

rattlesnake skins longer than my arms, salamander wranglers

The oldest Vernon lingered longest with my grandmother’s stories

He never liked to hunt except for stars and no one cared, not even the army

Only you can prevent a forest

Always tired, always hot, always wet, always in pain

Vietnamese bugs bit his eyes closed, his mouth stuck, oh the leeches

Carry a machine gun, Vernon, it’s worth the pack weight

This isn’t how war’s supposed to be, ambushes and booby traps

Sneak up, shoot Gook devils around supper campfires

Dark mummies topple face forward, warm food sparks up hot stars

Escape the jungle poncho, climb for coconuts quick, I dare you

No orientation, palms swaying, just staying alive

Only you can prevent a forest

Not just orange; pink, green, purple, blue, mix and stir

Dust sailing from a copter’s ass, some white angel dioxin

divining jungle into desert, bare feet feel for tripwires under dew

Vernon kept a snake alive underneath his shirt one night all night,

even snakes drown in monsoons, even the kings of that land, Cobra

Flight crews took off their shirts, washed their planes, swallowing in the dark

Only you can prevent a forest

Vernon home to Sullivan County and Pennsylvanian deciduous bark

Forgets he is

Vernon’s missing again, walking near Camp Brule, I’ll go get him

Cancer, cancer, cancer he got what the VA classifies as an Official Disease

No Agent Orange victims on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, which is okay

if they could just remind my cousin that stars don’t always fall from the ground

Only you can prevent a forest

Echoes from my Mother’s Closet

Gimbel’s Department Store

hat box, no hat

I tiptoe past, trailing

liddle kiddle dolls

her hand flutters

repurposed hanky

wiping lid, her ears

wait along hallways

for me, floral bedspread

a stiff, white nurse’s cap

my palm accepting

heavy drop of

cold gold pin

Geisinger Medical Center R.N.


pretty girl

white bikini

Roof of Nurses’ Residence

white cap, dress, and shoes

Graduation Day, May 1946

smiling broad, teethy

no thin line that curls up

like something

becoming dehydrated

under midday sun


beds required sharp angles

burn victim whose skin

fell off in sheets she

collected from the floor

polio children weeping

inside iron lungs

homesick, no parents

for the darkest hours

encapsulated, staring

ceiling shapes, she

tiptoed the ward

stilling her shoes

maybe some

children dozed

Will I

ever sleep

toss and turn

log roll

back and forth

be sure I can

be sure again

hum something


how about

Hey! Hey!

We’re the Monkeys!

People say we monkey around!

Try to forget

I have a mother


The Cocoa Plex

Two Screens

Burgundy velvet seats

fit for puckered buttocks

Kings, their young Princes

seated all along back row

That’s where I started

sinking to my knees


Saturday Night Fever

The Goodbye Girl


I missed a lot

making out,

middle Row YY

Like when that shark

yanked that girl Chrissie

out of an orangey sunset

ate her up

foot, limb and torso

while some boy

slept soundly

on briny beach

Movies flicker,

so the pawing

didn’t seem that bad

Without steady light,

life’s a half-truth

but later, my lips

were swollen

Nipples throbbed

underneath bed sheets


David Cassidy

thinks he loves me

Smiling, smiling

on the wall above me

My dresser top

Love’s Baby Soft Perfume

Bonnie Bell’s Kissing Potions

Revolutionary lip-glosses with a roller ball

Fruit flip

Strawberry Swirl

Cherry Smash

In college, a few

smashed my head

into their dicks

and yes,

it’s a job for sure,

too bad you can’t blow

the opposite direction.

While I picked pubic hair

out of my teeth,

I was congratulated royally

Wow, I never came like that before

You got your protein for the day

It wasn’t their fault,

those spoiled Princes

I was lost

I wanted a boyfriend

a date

a kiss

It took so long

to not



Don’t tell me



got down

on your


I bet someone

remembers you there

Especially when you

licked your lips

like you really,

really enjoyed it

About the Author

Virginia Watts


Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found in Illuminations, The Florida Review, CRAFT, Sunspot Literary Journal, Sky Island Journal,Permafrost Magazine, Bacopa Literary Review, Streetlight Magazine among others. Winner of the 2019 Florida Review Meek Award in nonfiction and nominee for Best of the Net Nonfiction 2019 and 2020, her poetry chapbooks, "The Werewolves of Elk Creek" and "Shot Full of Holes," are upcoming for publication by The Moonstone Press. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize three times.

Read more work by Virginia Watts .

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