Carolyn The Great

Old school commenter Breuklyn asked about a citation I made from the "The Colonel," an incredible poem by one of my literary heroes, Carolyn Forche.

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 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 them-
selves. 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.

The first time, I read this poem, it was like the first time I heard, say, the beat for Jeru's "Come Clean." I actually didn't like it--even as part of me knew that there was something great about it. That is the best feeling when it comes to art--that sort of revulsion that comes from your own ignorance, your own limitations, and then that part of you that says, "Wait, you could be missing something. I think you don't understand what's going on." I read this poem over and over until I got that it was beautiful and why. As a writer, it proves what I have found to be an immovable law--fuck all the metaphors and similies and personification. Great writing is about exquisite detaile, "a tray of coffee and sugar" the "green mangoes," the "commerical in Spanish," telling a parakeet to shut up. Because of all of that, the lone sureal image "The moon swung bare on its black cord" is simply arresting. Can you tell I love the poem?

The Colonel comes from Forche's book The Country Between Us. Forche always has some great lines, I think my favorite is something like, "There are more geese in this town than men, and the geese know it." Anyway, I read The Country Between Us when I was at Howard, during a period when I still had dreams of becoming a poet and getting an MFA. It was one of those books that just altered the way I wrote, and made it clear to me that I seriously underestimated what words could do in the hands of a bad-ass. The tone-shift, the ending, the brevity and almost violent rhythm of the poem just shook me. There are many, many great poems in that book. Check it out if you're a fan. Check it out even if you aren't one. It will make you a believer.