The Crux of the Matter (La madre del cordero)

Tito Fernández
Testimony by:
Servando Becerra Poblete
Place & date:
Campamento de Prisioneros Chacabuco, 9 November 1973 - 10 November 1974

I recited this poem in the National Stadium. I continued to do so in the Chacabuco prison camp, earning the nickname of “Venancio” from my fellow prisoners.

Published on: 18 December 2014

As boys we grew up
together in El Mirador,
my father, an old labourer,
your father, the overseer.
Of course when you're a kid
you don’t understand the difference.
How lovely to have been the owner, right?
of such tremendous innocence.

The farm, playing, we
roamed the whole of it,
I almost always won
because I was more grown up,
She gathered flowers for me,
I pulled her braids,
and so time passed
and we almost didn’t notice.

I had to go out
to the fields, to peel the garlic.
Now I wasn’t such a young boy
I was a good worker.
Of course every afternoon
we went out for a walk,
and we looked at each other a lot
without finding something to talk about.

I’d practice all day long
what I was going to ask her for,
but when we were together
I didn’t know what to say.

I do not know what happened to me
when she was by my side,
My tongue got all tied up
I was at a complete loss.

One day she told me,
she was going to leave the ranch,
they’d sent her off to study with
the nuns, I think to learn
to knit, to sew, to read,
Don Guille had said,
books are a good thing
and you need to know what they say.

A great sadness took hold of me
when she said she was going
I found inner strength
and told her I loved her so.

She said nothing
and went all red,
and I stole a kiss
from her very lips.
Time passed, a couple of years,
and I never forgot her,
and at night I saw her
gazing at me from a star.

She also loved me,
I was sure of that,
It was told to me
by the sweet taste of her kiss.

A man, I told myself, if he’s a real man,
has to know what’s happening,
I got her address
from one of the house maids,
Francisco wrote a letter for me
and although there was no answer
I didn’t die because of it,
all that is good, is always hard to get.

Sometime after that, the farm
awoke one morning unhinged,
the old women of the house
ran from one end to another,
two heifers were upended
so many cases of wine were brought in!
They scraped the tortillas
and the pasties crackled,
tables were set,
and the place for the singers,
was adorned with copihue flowers
and bulrush leaves,
But it didn’t bring me joy,
and it all happened at once
the young lady Rosa was about to return,
once more, by my side.

Then I wanted to feel afraid,
I thought I deserved it not,
but I sent my fear away to the devil
and I took to my hooves to see her.

And there came my girl
prettier than the sky itself,
with her same red mouth,
where I had planted my kiss.

She came in a dress
that dazzled the eyes,
and took Don Guille’s arm
brimming with cheer,
We all went to eat,
the bottles were uncorked,
How the wine flowed!
it was so good to see.

Then, we all went to dance,
the guitars were tuned,
and the air was warmed
by the sound of the cuecas.

I could not talk to my girl,
she was very busy
talking to visitors
and other important people.

Days later, one afternoon,
When I was in the corral,
I thought to forget her
when I heard my name called,
Benancio, said the voice, Beno.
and I stared at her
for there was my pretty girl
in pure bliss did she cry.

We hugged each other so close.
Had you forgotten me?
Never! I said and kissed her
as I’d never kissed her before.

We continue to meet up,
She was mine to my bones,
and I also loved her
although I would die for that.

I have two hands I told her
to make your happiness,
and she became sad
when she heard me howl.
One day Don Guille arrived,
to talk, he said, man to man.
he spoke very nice things
in great detail,
He told me to leave her,
that Rosa had grown up
and that such childish things
should be forgotten.

You have to understand Benancio, he said,
she is not of this place,
She’s all a fine lady
and one day she will marry,
but not a farm labourer,
and it’s not because I don’t appreciate you,
life is sad Benancio,
but what can you do.

He tied me up well,
and then cut my knots,
Do you understand Beno what I say,
if not, you’ll have to leave here.

I started to drink hard,
work? so what, even if I lose it
I even fought with the cops
in fist and whip oh shit.
Forty days drinking,
fearlessly dancing cuecas.
That’s why I’d saved some money
and I’m not a determined fellow.

Life is sad Venancio.
but that doesn’t bother me
as long as there are good dancing girls
life is life my friend.

I fucked everything I could,
insulted everyone,
I was imprisoned for arguing
and drank even the vinegar.

And here you have me,
with my pockets empty,
no one wants to employ me
and my face is swollen.

And there’s a problem,
because I still love her
Men I once said think like men,
and I hardly recognize myself.

Rosa is mine or nobody’s
prejudice, go to hell,
and if it’s so hard for Don Guille
to have me as a son-in-law,
we’ll have to find a solution,
right now for this situation,
In these affairs I see no difference
between worker and boss.

If they turn against me
well then, I’ll drink too much wine,
and I’ve already decided
there’s only one way.

When one wants to do good
God knows it’s no rebuff
I’m a down and out and work
I bow my head to no one.
So this same night
I take my clothes,
And go and kidnap Rosa, oh shit!
That is the crux of the matter!