A Prose/Poem/Essay by Richard D. Hartwell
I write poetry, some of it good, but when I started to compose verse about the impact of Dow, Monsanto and my government on Vietnam, I cried. I just couldn’t put into poetic from the residual ills of Agent Orange on that gorgeous country and its beautiful people. I ache for it and for them and for me.I have no venom for the damage done to my flesh. For my minute part in the American War; yes, the American War, not the Vietnam War; I insist on that when I sit alone in the VA hospital–for my small part, I carry several scars, some outside, some inside, some from metal, some from chemicals. And I carry burdens of remorse that no labeled syndrome can encompass. Of this or these, my wife learned only recently, nearly forty-five years after the fact. That is my personal problem, dealt with after divorce and booze and drugs and tears and nightmares: personal.
Dow, Monsanto, Washington
– Are you all still with me? There is a public part to this as well:My first wife, Esther, gave birth to our son John in 1968. He committed suicide in 2004, after living with the rapid ravages of multiple sclerosis.
One of John’s two sons was diagnosed as developmentally delayed.
Esther had a spontaneous delivery of another son, Nathaniel, in 1971; he died within twenty-four hours, defective, premature.
My second and current wife, Sally, gave birth to our daughter Jaime in 1976. She has a genetic birth defect and is both physically and mentally challenged. She still lives with us.
Sally delivered our son, Joshua, in 1979. He struggled in school and was in special education classes throughout middle and high school. He and his ex-wife and two children live with us.
One of Joshua’s two children, while very young still, appears to be delayed in speech skills.
Our third child, Justin, has emphatically decided not to have any children.
None of this is poetic. All of this is prosaic. However, the odds of these afflictions affecting the progeny of a single sire are astronomic, unless, of course, he scouted the dead orange jungle as well as the healthy green one.
No, I have no venom for the damage done to my flesh. As for the damage I’ve done to my soul, I continue to seek absolution that has not been forthcoming. But for the damage done to my family, to my children, and to their children–yes, I do have venom. I have a personal poison that bubbles to the surface whenever I see the struggles made by them. And then I see the pictures of a reunited Vietnam
struggling with the residual poisons left to flow and fester through generations, and I realize how lucky I am.My government refused to accept responsibility for my children’s problems, but I had a job and we’ve gotten along. The same cannot be said for those suffering still in the aftermath of the chemical warfare created and produced by Dow and Monsanto and knowingly used by that same government that denies responsibility for John, Nathaniel, Jaime, Joshua, and perhaps my grandchildren too.
It’s hard to generalize when it’s so personal. It’s hard to be poetic when it’s so public.