The Colonel Poem by Carolyn Forché

The Colonel

Rating: 3.3

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.

May 1978

The Colonel
Jan Hauck 13 April 2012

I agree with the powerful message, however, the form is puzzling to me. It is almost prose, almost like a short story or the start of one. I often think that certain boundaries can be beneficial for a poem.

6 4 Reply
Andrew Fincham 25 October 2006

This holds so much power within in, which refuses to be contained. I admire this very much.

7 1 Reply
Carlos R. 14 April 2012

Simply stunning! I could never have possibly imagined this sort of behavior from Col. Harland David Sanders, but there we have it.

6 2 Reply
Padma Devkota 14 April 2012

I find this poem quite similar to Dead Soldiers by James Fenton. Not as powerful, not quite historically located, but with a quiet and unassuming beginning that ends with a grabbing loudness of tone. Decadence attracts like crime and violence on news.

5 2 Reply
Carlos R. 14 April 2012

Stunning... I could never possibly have imagined such behavior from Col. Sanders.

5 2 Reply
S E Ingraham 15 January 2020

I have read this many times and each time it's as if it's the first. Such stark horror told in an everyday way - they're having supper, the Colonel is very matter-of-fact in his complaints and the way he has dinner served before the ears arrive. He is trying to make a point and he does - what a tour de force Forche has managed with this poem. Brilliant in my view. It stays in my mind for days and my heart forever.

0 0 Reply
Susan Williams 02 September 2016

Not my cup of tea... thankfully not my glass of water either

5 0 Reply
Bharati Nayak 02 September 2016

The story may be true, but on the Poem of the Day Page it fills the heart with horror and gloom.

1 0 Reply
Edward Kofi Louis 02 September 2016

He spilled many human ears on the table! This is serious! ! Thanks for sharing this poem with us.

1 0 Reply
* Sunprincess * 04 June 2014

.............a very good start for a short we just need to find out why the main characters are there having dinner with a bad guy.....and why hasn't the police locked this man up.... and thrown away the key....

4 2 Reply
Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché

Detroit, Michigan
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