"The Colonel"

by Carolyn Forché

(First published in 1981)

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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 daugher 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 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.



From Carolyn Forché, The Country Between Us (New York: HarperCollins). Copyright © 1981 by Carolyn Forché.

Last modified February 17, 2001

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