by Carolyn Forché
Nothing like a trip to a foreign country on a humanitarian mission to put you on alert to languages. There's a lot going on in this poem that makes you pay attention to who's speaking and how, who's hearing, or understanding, and how. In a poem about communication between cultures, it's interesting to see just how many mentions of words, speaking, and hearing there are. These references are literal, but they're also symbolic.
- Sentences 7-8: Sure, much of what's included in this poem is on the level of a witness's report (see "Witness Imagery")—just the facts—but there's another level as well. Why specify that what's on TV is a cop show if not to suggest a theme of opposition (bad guys and good guys)? Why specify that it's in English unless that's important? It seems that, in some way, Forché is commenting on the role of North Americans in the conflict she's witnessing.
- Sentence 14: There's nothing too surprising about a Spanish commercial in a Spanish-speaking country. Then why does Forché mention it if not to contrast it to the earlier mention of the show in English? Not to read too much into it (would a Shmooper ever do that?) but you might think about the categories or ranks of each language, based upon the importance of the television programming that features them.
- Sentence 17: For some reason, this ticks the colonel off in the extreme. Why? The parrot hasn't said hola, after all. Why might that cheese him so much? It may be that the bird's language is something beyond his immediate control, which seems to bother him.