What is the poem "Parsley" about?
"Parsley" is about the 1937 massacre of Haitian sugarcane workers by troops under the command of Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic. According to the poem, Trujillo had the workers massacred because they, French speakers, could not correctly pronounce the Spanish word for parsley, perejil. The first part of the poem describes the massacre itself from the point of view of one of the workers:
El General searches for a word; he is all the world there is. Like a parrot imitating spring, we lie down screaming as rain punches through and we come up green...El General has found his word: parejil.
In the second part of the poem, it becomes clear that Trujillo is driven to his acts of ethnic cleansing by the memory of his dead mother, who "could roll an R like a queen." Another character in the poem is the general's parrot, which he feeds sweets even as he decides to have the workers executed. The parrot seems to be a device for illustrating the inhumanity of the general, who pampers the bird while behaving so savagely toward his fellow man.