The Colonel (1981)

Carolyn Forché

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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 em-
bedded 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 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.

May 1978