I am going to state right now this poem is about listening. But, first you have to get through the horrors of reality that this piece brings to the forefront. It is also about timing -the beat of the words, the rhythm of the reporting and the selection of images are masterful. And I can’t imagine a better ending to a poem.
“We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
The Colonel 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 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 f— 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.
“The Colonel”relates Forche’s experience in El Salvador in 1978 and exposes the military brutality of Latin American dictatorship. El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war waged between the country’s US-backed military-led government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).