DrWorm (drworm) wrote,

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Ahh... my poetry explication...

I went ahead and wrote the bit about the eyeballs all by myself.

Howard Nemerov


They say the war is over. But water still
Comes bloody from the taps and my pet cat
In his disorder vomits worms which crawl
Swiftly away. Maybe they leave the house.
These worms are white, and flecked with the cat's blood. 5

The war may be over. I know a man
Who keeps a pleasant souvenir, he keeps
A soldier's dead blue eyeballs that he found
Somewhere- hard as chalk, and blue as slate.
He clicks them in his pocket while he talks. 10

And now there are cockroaches in the house,
They get slightly drunk on DDT,
Are fast, hard, shifty- can be drowned but not
Without you hold them under quite some time.
People say the Mexican kind can fly. 15

The end of the war. I took it quietly
Enough. I tried to wash the dirt out of
My hair and from under my fingernails,
I dressed in clean white clothes and went to bed.
I heard the dust falling between the walls. 20

The term "redeployment" refers to the relocation or redistribution of something or someone. In the case of Nemerov's poem, it is referring to the move a soldier faces when a war ends and he must leave the battlefield to return to civilization.
"Redeployment" begins with the statement "they say the war is over." They can refer to a great number of people, from close friends and loved ones to the masses of a nation. In this case, it probably refers to both. The important thing is, the speaker does not include himself. He does not believe the war has ended. He goes on to describe horrific and gory sights; blood pours from his faucet, his cat vomits white and bloody worms, which crawl away. Both instances are allusions to things seen in war. Water coming through the tap with blood in it can refer to the amount of blood shed by civilians, or it can be taken more literally as a reference to corpses of war rotting and infecting the drinking water supplies of innocent villages. The cat is most likely vomiting up a variety of tapeworms, which are parasites. This could be a reference to the destruction battling soldiers inflict upon cities and towns as they march through, destroying without making any replacements just as a parasite does. The worms can also be thought of as a battalion of tiny soldiers, crawling away in defeat.
In line six, the former soldier states "the war may be over". Notice that his tone is slowly changing. The opinions of others are starting to sway him and he is beginning to think that the war has ended. At least, he is considering it. He says he knows a man, possibly an old fellow soldier, who keeps "a pleasant souvenir" from his time in the war. This is, of course, use of irony on Nemerov's part, because we find that his "pleasant souvenir" is "a soldier's dead blue eyeballs". Allegedly, he found these "eyeballs" somewhere; they are also hard enough for him to click together and produce a solid noise. While these "eyeballs" could be taken as merely marbles or glass eyes (because living eyes decompose shortly after their owner passes on), it is more likely that they are a metaphor for hardiness, for bravery. They are meant to bring the metaphor of having a "hardened gaze" or a "look of steel" to a 3-D reality. Probably, this is a reference to being tough in battle, for keeping that "hardened gaze" on the enemy. Therefore, it is also ironic that this man chose to steal this dead man's eyes right out from under him.
Line ten begins as a lament about cockroaches, another reference to insects ("worms" being the first) and possibly another connection their soldier-like mentality (or, rather, a soldier's insect-like mentality). He states that they get "slightly drunk on DDT", which in addition to being a metaphor of its own, is an indication of the time period Nemerov is speaking of. DDT usage increased worldwide after World War II to the point of becoming commonplace. DDT itself was an effective insecticide that had widespread use, until it was found that many insects were building a tolerance to it. There were also many indications of its toxicity to both fish and birds, although it has yet to be proved conclusively whether DDT has had any long-term, negative effects on our environment. DDT was banned in America in 1973, but is still in use in other parts of the world.
How does this relate to the poem? Nemerov refers to the cockroaches as being "fast, hard, shifty"; they "can be drowned but not without you hold them under quite sometime." This may be an allusion to insects' tolerance of DDT; instead of being killed by it, they are only getting drunk on it. They are also all the more difficult to kill. He may also be drawing a parallel to soldiers and poison gas, reasoning that human beings are similar. To tolerate poison gas in war, we have built the gas mask, and are able to continue being difficult to kill in the trenches. "People say the Mexican kind can fly" can be a slightly racist remark, or a more hallucinatory take on the cockroaches.
By line sixteen, our speaker has finally admitted that the war has ended. He states that he "took it quietly/Enough". The spacing of that sentence furthers the suggestion that "quietly" was not very quietly at all. This poem is, after all, about a soldier's readjustment to civilian life and the entire poem seems to point toward the fact that it was an extremely difficult adjustment to make, that it was difficult, not to leave the battlefield, but to return to security and comfort after seeing what he's seen. His later actions of dressing in clean clothes and trying to clean himself seem to show that he is trying hard to bring his outer self back to normalcy, however his mind is posing the great conflict. Possibly, he still sees the war wherever he goes, and that is why it is so hard to let go.
The final line: "I heard the dust falling between the walls" is an impossibility, but to a soldier's heightened senses, perhaps it is not such. It brings a sense of completion to the poem. It also brings to mind the settling of dust after the explosion of a bomb, or of a grenade on a wide and expansive battlefield.

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