Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel.”

I’m posting a series of poems and excerpts from poems and essay that I love. Today’s is Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel.” This is one of the first poems I read when I first wanted to really be a poet. The last sentence immediately became one of my “ars poeticas” (or in everyday language, how and what I want to write).

The Colonel

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 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.
May 1978
Carolyn Forche                                  


from Adrienne Rich’s “Secrets, Lies, and Silence”

I’m posting a series of poems and excerpts from poems and essay that I love. Today’s is from Adrienne Rich’s essay “Secrets, Lies, and Silence.” These words have inspired me to tell my truth in poems, especially over the last two years.


from Adrienne Rich’s “Secrets, Lies, and Silence”


Lying is done with words, and also with silence.

To lie habitually, as a way of life, is to lose contact with the unconscious. It is like taking sleeping pills, which confer sleep but blot out dreaming. The unconscious wants truth. It ceases to speak to those who want something else more than truth.


When a woman

tells the truth

she is creating

the possibility for

more truth around her.

                                                                                          Adrienne Rich


Poem for Ruby on the Day of Her Funeral

Your real name was Grandma Georgina

You were a New Mexican barn cat

You loved tuna

I locked you in the bathroom at 3 AM daily so you wouldn’t wake us up

You just curled up in the purple washcloth basket and waited to be let out

We could never use washcloths because they were too cat-hairy

You never meowed for food

except for tuna

when you heard a can opening you came running

You even took cat medicine embedded in tuna!


You loved Amelia

You let yourself be carried and cuddled

You never scratched or bit

Her bed was full of cat hair

You messed up Dean’s sleep by snuggling against his legs and because he is so kind to cats he never moved you

Suki chased you every time she saw you

You were always cat-germing up the kitchen counters


You loved being outside

You murdered grasshoppers and butterflies and once a small bird

You climbed fences and got on roofs

From the top of the roof you would meow at us and lie down and purr

We had to call you inside every night from the alley

and you would come running

lie down on the ground and meow

and let us pick you up and take you inside

Once we could not find you and spent an hour outside in the dark and snow calling you

finally we heard a faint meow from Amelia’s room

you were locked in Amelia’s closet!


You were soft and gray and white with white paws and a pink tongue and pink toe pads

You followed Dean through the alley to the community garden

You waited for him at Bannock and meowed till he came back


The day you died we tried to stop you from crossing the street

but you happily pranced across and we let you go

We are so sorry Ruby

We love you so much and we miss you

You were the best of all cats

you were sweet and gentle and brave and loving


Thank you for being our pet

Ruby and Amelia

for Ruby Brown O’Connor Sanderford

3-17-15 / 9-12-17



How To Write a Poem About Butterflies

Go ahead and put butterflies in the title so it’s clear where this is going. Write it on your daughter’s eighth birthday so you can establish right away you’re a mother—easier to admit sentiment than fight it. Start with maybe the day she was born, how you almost died from high blood pressure, or her first day of second grade, when you watched the eclipse with her class: either would suggest a sense of urgency, of the ephemeral. Plus you could use the word moon. Then lean scientific, throw in some facts about the painted lady migration passing through the city, that because the butterflies are drawn to the drought-resistant flowers your husband planted, your front yard is full of them. You could mention how your daughter’s cat Ruby died last week in that front yard, after crossing the street in front of a moving car, after her body—you watched—sort of flipped up in the air, so you thought she was being stung by bees—but then you’d be using the word died twice, and there’s no good synonym for died, like you can’t say the cat perished, or expired, or kicked the bucket. In any case, put in that the sidewalk is stained with splatters of her blood, because it’s a cold hard fact, right? It grounds things. And cars still fly by at double the speed limit, ignoring the sign you made, Slow Down, Kids and Pets Live Here. So it’s not all peachy, even though there are maybe 200 butterflies in the front yard right now, covering every flower, fluttering, they’re, they’re, animating the plants. When you walk out, you startle them so they—what do they do? They rise up, they take off, they fly up off the flowers for a second to see what you will do. You don’t do anything, you stand there watching, thinking it’s now, knowing what you want is impossible, but it’s true that the air is all wings and movement, it’s an ascension, and you are here.

Fourteen Beginnings in Praise of June

Because ambitious but poorly advised workers
removed the ivy that covered the fence,
we can now see as well as hear
the people who scream in the alley


A neighbor presses down grass clippings she’s using as mulch
like a caress


The presence of three dragonflies
signified the absence of all the other dragonflies


Things I have mourned like
not giving my daughter a middle name like Wren


What I saw—


in the grass
was not a rabbit but a squirrel


The poetry teacher said no writing about spring flowers or autumn leaves,
the only subjects I wanted to claim


Seven pines shade
their own needles and dropped cones


that they are there or
so much depends upon


If you turn the sky into a grid, some squares are blue and white like sky is supposed to
be, but in some the clouds have black flat bottoms


No one treasures
ten straight hours of sleep like
the former mother of a newborn


When I took out the trash
the man holding the suitcase
smiled at me


The yoga teacher said put your sacred gemstones under the full moon
but I forgot, and I had no sacred gemstones


All the places I’m not right now, like pre-op for heart surgery


Today the people who sleep in Dailey Park
wake up to the songs of a finite number of birds

The Fortune Telling Book of Dreams

A dream containing dogwood blossoms means
you are questioning your religion. A dream

in which you drive a Volkswagen Jetta
up a river, as though the river were a road,

indicates dissatisfaction with daily routines,
but if it’s raining and the drops don’t splash

 in the water, you could simply desire a gift
from your lover. Marigolds growing

 backwards, from blossom to seed,
is a common dream that mirrors an inner need

for a lost childhood pleasure, such as eating
banana popsicles or reading in magnolia branches,

but dreaming of either of these is a warning
that a time of loneliness is approaching.

Trains in a dream mean someone is angry.
Ships or any voyage on the sea

suggest you will make a large purchase,
but if you dream specifically of the Pacific,

you are still mourning a loss you believed
you had gotten over. If you dream you are

shelling beans with your great-grandmother
while everyone else, including your mother,

is skinning a deer, you long to visit a place
you never thought you’d want to go. If, near the end

of this dream, just after you sit down to eat,
your family leans forward, toward you,

as though they share the same body,
and draws in a breath as though to speak,

you should write down what they say,
if you can hear it—words spoken

in a dream mean you are trying to remember
something someone told you years ago.


Note: This poem first appeared in Appalachian Journal.

The Beaming Reiki Masters

for C

Seven women and one man
stand in a straight line
with hands held
palm outward at chest height
as if they were saying stop

and stare right into
the camera—

but it’s not like stop at all—
the angle and curve of their thumbs

creates a gentleness
and the caption tells us
what they are doing

is sending healing energy
to whoever views this picture.

The ones wearing white could be ghosts
though the one in wide stripes grounds
the lot of them Toledo, Ohio, 1980.
The trees in the background seem like peers.

I looked and felt a tingle.
Do you believe in what you can’t see?
Find the photo and tell me.



My friend who is learning to be clairvoyant says the soul’s greatest hope is to enter a body. When a soul enters a body, it’s thrilled. It’s like the best thing that ever happened to a soul. The body loves the soul too. The body hears the voice of the soul as the voice of God.

My other friend who is an accountant doubts all this. She says it’d be better for a soul to be separate. Why would the soul want to deal with a body? A soul can’t drink wine, I point out. We are at a wine bar. The soul can’t run and jump, see colorful leaves—it is fall. She’s not buying it. But I believe. My friend’s friend who owns the wine bar brings us more wine, for free. Pear, she is saying, and honey.

The world we cannot heal, that is our bride are words from a poem by Alicia Ostriker that I have written on a Post-It above my desk, which is another way of saying everything is everything. The soul returns to the one, my friend says. I tell the story of visiting my friend’s clairvoyance class to our other friend. It’s a real class, one I would like to join. They did a reading, not of my future, more like my present. My auras. Were they right? she asks. Well, they said I had a lavender rose, with one leaf. Leaves correspond to number of children so that’s right.

They also said I had an outdated belief that women can’t be powerful. Is that true? my other friend asks. It probably is. Around the same time I had a chance encounter with an Indian fortune-teller. Like from India? Yes. And she said in the fall I was going to get a new job, but I had to think big. Don’t think about being in a fishbowl, the fortune-teller said, think about being in an ocean. That was first, before I visited the class. And at the class they said I was swimming in scuba gear. And I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting anywhere. Because what I couldn’t see was that I was in a fishbowl. This is a good story, and true, but she looks skeptical.

I tell my other friend her hair is beautiful, and she gasps and covers her head with her hands. It’s—she pauses—well, thank you, but we’re going away next week, and after that there’s my presentation, and I need to make an appointment. In the light of the wine bar, her hair looks like gold. This was before my friend told us about how the body hears the voice of the soul as the voice of God. Maybe if it had been after it would have been different.

It’s difficult, to love the body. It’s difficult to live in the world. Already today I could tell you a hundred sad things. This year one of my students has a bruised face. I hope his soul is still happy to be with his body. I hope his life gets better so he can look back from the end and be happy. Like looking out the window of an airplane. The world growing smaller and bigger at the same time.


Note: This poem first appeared at Passages North.


Dear running, we both know I hate you, so I’m not sure how I ended up awake before 5:00 eating a banana, layering long underwear, tying my shoes and catching a ride to the football stadium where my leg of our relay begins,

where when I arrive I find Whitman’s masses wearing tutus and cancer ribbons, carrying balloons and signs that say Finish What You Started and Go Dad and This Is For You Maria RIP and If You Don’t Want Your Beer I’ll Take Your Ticket,

but when it’s my turn to run I run as much as I can, I’m not a runner so I’m out of breath quick and as I walk the masses pass me, laughing, talking, panting, or in silence, some listening to music, one person with, inexplicably, a book on tape,

and people on the sidelines cheer us on, bang on cowbells, one man with a keyboard is playing Tiny Dancer, making us laugh, and as I run again I pass the same people who just passed me and when I walk again they pass me back,

and at the turn to the lake the water sparkles, someone stops to tie his shoe, cups are scattered at the hydration station like the aftermath of a giant party and we crush them as we pass, and now the geese and ducks are watching us

wondering what in the world are we doing and I think as I run the only answer is we are being human, celebrating the body, the feet, the legs, for the man being pushed in his wheelchair simply the flesh, the eyes, the breath, we are running

because it’s a Sunday in May in Denver and we are here, there is sunshine and Gatorade, I am holding a baton someone gave to me to hold for a very short time and that I will pass on very soon so I keep running while I have it, running with everyone else