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The Colonel by Carolyn Forché

“What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.

“Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid.

“The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table.

“My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this.

“He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. ‘I am tired of fooling around,’ he said. ‘As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves.’

“He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. ‘Something for your poetry, no?’  he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.”

Carolyn Forché : The Poetry Foundation

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper June 30, 2021, 6:50 AM

    I remember this one.
    “scoopin’ them kneecaps”

  • gwbnyc June 30, 2021, 8:05 AM


    ears look like shrunken prunes …I’m told.

  • Anonymous June 30, 2021, 9:07 AM

    She met the colonel? That begs the question: why is she still alive?

  • Anne June 30, 2021, 12:35 PM

    Please forgive my ignorance. I must ask–who is this colonel?

    There have been so many like him.

  • Mike-SMO June 30, 2021, 7:23 PM

    “So many like him”. On the Acela to Washington. As an instructor for the new ruling class, some say.

  • Aggie July 1, 2021, 6:26 AM

    El Jefe Trujillo.