Kumin has written a narrative poem that tells the story of killing the woodchucks in her garden, using an extended metaphor to compare this killing to warfare—and, at the end, to genocide. The poem shows how easy it can be to justify killing as righteous (the woodchucks deserve it) and how enjoyable it can be to eradicate the enemy when you have the preponderance of power.
The tone of the poem is light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek, which provides an antithesis to the seriousness of the subject matter. The banal is juxtaposed against the somber reality of woodchuck death: a "knock out bomb" comes from the local "Feed and Grain Exchange," showing a weapon of death placed casually alongside a store with a name that suggests nurturing (feeding), and in the next stanza, "cyanide" is juxtaposed to "cigarettes," another casually incongruous pairing of the lethal and the benign.
Kumin frequently uses assonance, which is when words beginning with the same vowel are placed in close proximity, and alliteration, which is when words beginning with the same consonant are placed near each other, in this poem. These literary devices add a sense of rhythm otherwise missing in this casually conversational, unrhymed verse and allow Kumin to place emphasis on certain words. Note the alliterative "s" sounds in:
shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement ...
state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch
and the assonance in the "a" sounds in
the case we had against them was airtight
Killing weaves in casually with the daily life of shoehorns, stones, and basements, and the woodchucks have brought it on themselves for:
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.
Although the speaker clearly lives amid the abundance of American society, with many stores in which to shop, she uses the few nibbles on garden vegetables as justification for declaring war, implying that human survival is at stake: The woodchucks take:
The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .22
The light-heartedness woven into to the narrative ends abruptly, however, in the last couplet, when the speaker compares killing woodchucks to the Nazi genocide against the Jews, suggesting that the one leads to the other:
If only they'd all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.
While Kumin's point is that the turn to evil is easy, I do find the implication that the Jews "consented" to "die unseen" disturbing, as it seems to blame the victims. Victims of genocide don't "consent" to die but are forced to against their wills. However, at this point the speaker has taken on the mindset of a Nazi.