The My Tho Laundry

Yes these are mine
I carry them from shower to dreams
and sniff them in dark dawns
I find them in my food
they cling like cigarette smoke in hair
and clog pores like dead skin,
these gray stenches of all my dead,
stinking like sweat-soaked fatigues.
Frail-bodied old women in black,
the My Tho Laundry mama sans fold
them quietly, still stiff and unclean,
And leave them on my cot unsmiling.


Stephen Sossaman

Author: Stephen Sossaman

Stephen Sossaman is Professor Emeritus of English at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. He now lives in California. He was an artillery fire direction computer in Viet Nam, serving in the Mekong Delta (1/84th artillery, 9th Infantry Division).

1 thought on “The My Tho Laundry”

  1. [Author’s note] In Vietnam in 1968, at the 9th Infantry Division base at Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta, our military hired many civilian workers (barbers, porters, hooch maids, etc). We had our laundry done by women in the nearby city of My Tho. They must have washed our fatigues in the muddy Mekong, given their poor condition when we got them back. On day I returned to the base after several days in the field to discover that the laundry women had returned my fatigues. Seeing the rumpled fatigues on my bunk, roughly suggestive of the shape of a man, was one of the shocking moments of my time in that war, and I instantly knew why. This poem was published in Paris Review #57 (Spring 1974) and reprinted in a chapbook, The My Tho Laundry and Other Poems from the Second Indochina War, by Leonard Seastone’s Tideline Press.

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