by Carolyn Forché
The Colonel Summary
Get ready for some plain horror. This ain't your Aunt Sally's parlor poetry. This reads more like a dispatch from the frontline. Forché assures readers that what they've heard is true. But what have we heard? Have we heard about dinner at the colonel's house, the tray of coffee and sugar, to the daughter filing her nails? It's all pretty normal, if a little cold, told in a kind of monotone, and you might be lulled into thinking that nothing bizarre is going to happen until you see the pistol on the cushion (4) and the broken bottles embedded in the walls, meant to cut a man's "hands to lace" (10). They're dead giveaways that this isn't exactly going to be a pleasant visit.
Midway through the poem, Forché signals a major buzz kill with "some talk of how difficult it has become to govern." I guess the colonel didn't get the memo not to talk about religion or politics with guests. He snaps at his parrot to shut up, pushes away from the table, and storms out of the room. Her friend gives Forché "the look."
When the colonel returns, he's got a grocery sack with him, but it's not full of groceries. It's an entire sack of severed human ears, horrific trophies of lost lives, that he pours out onto the table, that he shakes in their faces, that he drops in a water glass: human ears. The colonel is spitting mad at the U.S. and those who seek to expose human rights violations.
While you're gasping for air in the suddenly suffocating atmosphere of this poem, it ends with the ears coming back to life, somehow able to bear witness this man's crimes. "Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground" (32-33), as if listening for the approach of a better time.