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In the Stadium with Victor
by Henry Howard
There were six of us together
On a hard wooden bench.
But I was nearest to you, Victor,
And I saw it all‐saw your end
And our new beginning.
Five thousand of us were jammed
In this small space called the Chile Stadium.
You and I sat above Center Court, Victor,
Looking down on painted lines
Where soccer players danced between each other's legs
And bounced goals from heads hard enough
To absorb the blows.
But it is one thing to score a goal
With a head of hair,
Another to feel the butt of a rifle
Crack against the tender skull.
I looked at you,
And saw your gentle face working
In the silent creation of a Nueva Cancion,
A new song to lift our hopes
After the despair of a coup that took only a day.
There we all were,
Exposed to hunger, thirst, pain, insanity.
One of our companions killed himself
By jumping many tiers to the painted floor.
The guards were angered by the mess,
And beat our friend, Alberto, beside us at random,
Until he no longer resembled a human being.
But the Pinochet butchers
Could not destroy your humanity.
You raised your voice in song, as only Victor Jara can,
And five thousand of us who still had our own voices
Began to take up the melody,
And then the potent words.
In your mortal anguish,
You cried out to God:
"What happened to the paradise you created
In just seven days?
These four walls are no Garden of Eden!
This stadium is but a garden for the Serpent
To roam unchecked, and fill our veins with poison."
The Bible tells us how Eve seduced Adam
With a red, shiny apple.
I have not had an apple in months!
All of us in this haunted stadium
Can only smell the flowers of evil
And taste the bitter fruit of defeat.
Some guards recognized you
From your people's concerts.
They stormed the bleachers,
And dragged you down the concrete steps
By your curly hair.
Out of spite for your music
That all the working class take up as their call,
The guards pulled out your nails,
Smashed your fingers and hands,
Then laughing, handed you a guitar, and said,
"Play, bastard, play!"
But a voice of the Voiceless can never be silenced.
"“"Victor has left us a new song!" I shouted
To the tattered men and women in every direction.
I held the guitar for you
In your crippled hands.
So we took up the song,
And line by line, stanza by stanza,
We learned it by heart and took it to heart.
With a strength
That only the music of struggle can bring,
You plucked the strings that yielded to you,
And called forth the tune.
And your magnificent poem,
Which a whole people have heard or read by now,
Was saved by the same five thousand
You wrote it for.
Yes, I was in the stadium with you, Victor.
At all times I was with you,
And I saw your poem "Estadio Chile"
With my own eyes.
We copied it word for word
On scraps of paper
And hid it in our shoes.
With my own stubby feet,
I curled it between my toes.
When your body was found several days later,
There were 40 bullet holes throughout.
The guards left you at the entrance to the stadium,
So all the prisoners would see and be terrified.
But it did not frighten us.
You had already opened our eyes.
Songs of the suffering masses
Are not written with pencils
On scraps of paper,
They are composed deep in the soul.
I was in the stadium beside you, Victor,
And your soul still lives.
So do your words,
And the people of Chile will sing them daily,
Until the stadium is no longer a concentration camp,
But only a place for sporting events
Where everyone is a winner!
As you sang to us untiringly,
Venceremos‐we SHALL win!
VICTOR JARA was one of the most beloved folk musicians in Latin America.
From the heart of the slum barrios of Chile, he took up the form of NUEVA
CANCION, combining traditional peasant and Indian melodies with powerful
images of poverty, oppression, and resistance. On September 11, 1973, with
military equipment and backing of the United States, Augusto Pinochet over-
threw the popular Socialist Democracy of Salvador Allende. Victor was one
of the first to be arrested, at the Technical College where he taught, and
on September 12th was one of 5,000 people imprisoned in the Chile Stadium‐
not be confused with the National Stadium, one of the largest detention
sites in the country. Victor was tortured and murdered in the manner des-
cribed in this poem, but his spirit lives on among the indigenos and the
working class throughout the Americas. Along with legendary singer-songwriter
Violetta Para, Victor Jara never lost his voice or his vision for the people.
A bullet can silence a person, but never his or her voice. Venceremos!