The Memory of Elena

By Carolyn Forché b. 1950 Carolyn Forche
We spend our morning
in the flower stalls counting
the dark tongues of bells
that hang from ropes waiting   
for the silence of an hour.
We find a table, ask for paella,
cold soup and wine, where a calm   
light trembles years behind us.

In Buenos Aires only three
years ago, it was the last time his hand   
slipped into her dress, with pearls   
cooling her throat and bells like
these, chipping at the night—

As she talks, the hollow
clopping of a horse, the sound   
of bones touched together.
The paella comes, a bed of rice   
and camarones, fingers and shells,   
the lips of those whose lips
have been removed, mussels
the soft blue of a leg socket.

This is not paella, this is what
has become of those who remained   
in Buenos Aires. This is the ring   
of a rifle report on the stones,   
her hand over her mouth,
her husband falling against her.

These are the flowers we bought   
this morning, the dahlias tossed
on his grave and bells
waiting with their tongues cut out   
for this particular silence.

Carolyn Forché, “The Memory of Elena” from The Country Between Us. Copyright © 1981 by Carolyn Forché. Reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: The Country Between Us (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1982)

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Poet Carolyn Forché b. 1950

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects War & Conflict, Relationships, Love, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Activities, Heartache & Loss

 Carolyn  Forché


Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1950, poet, teacher and activist Carolyn Forché has witnessed, thought about, and put into poetry some of the most devastating events of twentieth-century world history. According to Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Book Review, Forché’s ability to wed the “political” with the “personal” places her in the company of such poets as Pablo Neruda, Philip Levine, and Denise Levertov.

An articulate . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, Relationships, Love, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Activities, Heartache & Loss

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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