Photo: James Nachtwey

Rummaging through some folders I came across a poem written in the trenches, so to speak, during an intense period of organizing around the Agent Orange issue, circa 1978.


Yesterday I opened 65 letters


Yesterday I opened 65 letters

Today a winter Saturday

There will be fewer

Some 30

My correspondents write of their dead babies

Endless litanies of disease in their bodies

Widows describe the last days of their young husbands

Dead of cancer and unknown causes

Some are notes

Prosaic and crisp

Some are scrawled in anguish and near illiteracy


Long uninhibited portraits of years of pain

The feeling so uncontrived that I am melted by them

My crust falls away

Till habit and reflex prop me up again

Still I try to read all these appeals

Before they embark on their bureaucratic course

I do this for myself

To push away the walls of isolation

So little self-pity and despair

“How can I help the others,” many write

These falling trees, cut down by war

And greed soaked chemicals

These men who have known many tears

These women with such strength in struggle

With their men

These families so persevering

(Havens in a heartless world)

Michael Uhl