Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Colonel by Carolyn Forche

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

Wow. This is quite a substantial poem, not only in length but in subject matter. What I really find interesting about this poem of how shocking it is without really being shocking at all. The writer does not really use much dramatic language, and doesn't even bother to structure this poem in stanzas or line breaks in any way. She simply tells her story. The first half of the poem has so much normal imagery, I think it fools the reader into getting comfortable with what is happening before she mentions how the Colonel drops a whole bunch of ears on the dinner table. There becomes this huge contrast to the simple family life going on inside with the daughter doing her nails and the pets with all the terribleness that is happening outside where there is a war going on and people are being brutally tortured. I feel like if the imagery with the ears to describe the brutality going on outside was dramatized in any way, the poem would lose its powerful effect. The image of human ears spilling onto the dinner table is so intense and terrible as is, that there needs to be nothing else to explain it. I feel like the line "There is no other way to say this" rings true throughout the poem. It's interesting how she even mentions the Colonel saying "something for your poetry, no?" as if he is expecting her to make this a big deal and is expecting her to dramatize this story, but the poem is simple in telling the story, almost as if to outsmart the Colonel in the way she tells it.


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