Vanessa and Vietnam

by Greta Bolger
The Waters
Third Place, August 2014
Judged by Suzanne Lummis

They became intimate in the body of a man
named Rusty, gypsy brown in the fierce
sun of Richmond, foil to her Michigan white.

He served his country and it served him back,
back then with a love for a needle in the jungle,
much later with the end game of Hep C, cirrhosis.

In between, they made a life of libraries
and sheetrock, shared meals from a garden overflowing
with baby squash and beans, long-blooming flowers

and baby beetles. His going was no accident,
neither quick nor painless. The longest living hospice
patient in Virginia VA history. She lay down

beside him, spoke to him right until the end
and he talked back. Just shut the hell up
he said, please just quit talking. So she did

and he did and what’s left now is the tar
and feathers of grief that slow her down
to death speed, staring motionless

at his sky-high collection of technology
obsolete as he is. Beta, VHS, 8-track:
stories and songs trapped like flies in amber.

On the face of it this is a deftly rendered portrait of a life, with glimpses of the sorrow left in its wake, but above and beyond that it is a story of a generation, or a part of it, for it takes place against the backdrop of history. Further, the poet reminds us of the wistful unsubstantiality of our lives. Who reading this poem could foresee that it would all narrow down in the end to some remnants of defunct media technologies. --Suzanne Lummis