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The Colonel

The Colonel

by Carolyn Forché

Witness

Symbol Analysis

This prose poem does not use a lot of symbolism, imagery, or wordplay. In fact, it's almost purposely devoid of adjectives and figurative language. It's more like a statement given by a witness. What's the difference between simply seeing something and being a witness? It could be that it has to do with what's being seen (usually something pretty bad, like a crime or accident). Maybe it has to do with the questioning or the later record. In the case of "The Colonel," Forché included this poem in a collection of poems about her time in El Salvador, many of which were poems that bore witness of the atrocities she'd seen first-hand.

  • Sentence 6: Where are you going to find a bare light bulb? We mean, apart from in a cheap roach motel. If you've seen any spy movies lately, you know about the room with the one chair and the light shined into the eyes of a suspect during an interrogation. And that's just for starters. Even the moon is complicit with what's going to be revealed in this poem; this image is one of the first indications that all is not well at this little soirée. We know the truths that are going to be beaten out of this night are on the level of torture. 
  • Sentence 19: All those who oppose this, say "eye." Here the eyes can and should say more than the mouth, if you know what's good for you. Just as they act as a vehicle for the speaker's witnessing of events (and reporting them to us), they also reminder her here of the possible danger that lurks with that witnessing.
  • Sentences 30-31: It's the ears of the victims who are the final witnesses in this haunting poem. They catch the "scrap," the weakened, tattered bit of the colonel's speech. They are pressed to the ground, listening for the future to arrive. The victims are empowered. They're the sentries against future offenses.

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