by Rita Dove
Before we dive into this highly political poem, check out our introduction, which will give you some background on the real-life events depicted here. Be sure to come right back, though!
The poem begins, strangely enough, with a parrot – namely, a green parrot, "imitating spring" (line 1). At this point, "Parsley" is told from the point of view of Haitian workers, who soon give us an image of the sugarcane fields as well. We're then introduced to "El General" (Spanish for "The General," as you might have guessed). El General is depicted as "searching for a word," and once he has found it – "perejil," i.e., "parsley" – there is an allusion to the resulting massacre.
The second part of the poem begins with the parsley, not the parrot. Now we're looking in on El General at home, as he thinks of his dead mother and ponders, "Who can I kill today" (line 31). This section centers on his mother, who was baking cookies on the day she died. El General remembers her as he feeds his parrot cookies, and as he thinks about killing soldiers in battle. His thoughts turn to the Haitian workers and how they cannot pronounce an "r," something even his mother and his parrot can do. Finally, someone "calls out his name in a voice / so like his mother's" (lines 64-65) that he sheds a tear. But this emotion quickly turns to rage and revenge, as he gives the orders to execute all who cannot pronounce the "r" in "parsley."