Monday, November 07, 2005

The Wars by Howard Moss

The Wars
by Howard Moss

How can I tell you of the terrible cries
Never sounded, of the nerves that fail,
Not in jungle warfare or a southern jail,
But in some botched affair where two people sit
Quite calmly under a blood-red lamp
In a Chinese restaurant, a ludicrous swamp
Of affection, fear drowning in the amber,
Tea when no word comes to mind
To stand for the blood already spilled,
For rejection, denial, for all those years
Of damage done in the polite wars?

And what do I know of the terrible cries
That are really sounded on the real hill
Where the soldiers sweat in the Asian night
And the Asians sweat where the soldiers flail
The murderous grass, and the peasants reel
Back in a rain of gasoline,
And the shells come home and the bombs come down
Quite calmly under a blood-red moon
Not far from China, and the young are killed,
Mere numerals in the casualties
Of this year's war, and the war of years?

He stands with a knife in the Daily News.
They are snaking their way into the hills.
She is walking up Broadway to hurt again.
They are fleeing under a hail of shells.
He is taking her neck into his hands.
A human seed squats in the dark.
She is scalding the baby in the bath.
He feels the bullet enter his skin.
She spits in the face of the riot squad.
They are sitting down, they are opening wounds.

And thus is the horrific dualism of the Vietnam war. I thought that this poem was pretty interesting in how it contrasts urban life with that of life on the warfront in the "Asian" jungle. It is interesting how the poem is formatted as well. The first two stanzas are each composed of an extremely long sentence. However, the third stanza is composed of a series of short sentences. This serves to increase the tension at the end of the poem and point out a difference. This poem has some pretty vivid imagery in which the reader can see the battlefront, yet at the same time, presents ambiguities which relate to "civilized" urban life. It almost sounds to me like the two wars, the actual war, and the quarrel of lovers. I find this interesting because it reminds me of a poem that I wrote for class towards the beginninng of the quarter. The last line is somewhat curious, "They sare sitting down, they are opening wounds." Are they opening wounds so that they can get treated for their injuries? Is this a reference to the race riots, or one to the protest against the Vietnam war. Perhaps the poem is called "The Wars" for a reason.

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