The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

Mood Setting Monday – Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel”

Each Monday I will post a poem for you in order to set the tone for the week. It will truly be based on how I’m feeling at the moment, and what I’m wanting to use to express those feelings. Enjoy!

This Mood Setting Monday is an odd one. I’m actually not in a bad mood, nor do I feel evil, or as if I need to be fearing something; however, I do feel powerful. I feel as if I am the journalist in Carolyn Forche’s poem, “The Colonel.” While Forche never really tells how she feels, she knows that she – and yes, this is a journalistic piece about her time interviewing this Colonel – has the power to write the story that could change lives – or at least expose a villain. This poem has one of my favorite lines in it, and if you’re a regular here, you’ll have no problem picking it out. I hope you enjoy both her reading of the poem, and the words to the poem. Let us know what you think.


Carolyn Forché

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 then of how difficult I 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

[from THE COUNTRY BETWEEN US, Harper & Row, 1981]

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

One comment on “Mood Setting Monday – Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel”

  1. VHathaway
    August 13, 2013

    One of my favorite poems and one I share with students (teach) every year. A great example of how the compounded images and details work together to show the reader just how dangerous this event is. My guess is your favorite line is “Something for your poetry, no?” I love the syntax of this line, and the cockiness of the colonel holding his wine glass up in a toast. A very close second is the two lines about the dried peach half ears. On a side note, my former colleague once received a dried peach half on a necklace as a year-end gift from her students – given with love.

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