from Martin Fierro

We present this work in honor of Argentina’s National Flag Day.

José Hernández
1834 – 1886


He lashed the air with two bola shots,
Round his head like rings they spun;
One grazed my arm with a glancing hit,
A hair’s breadth would have splintered it:
Those balls of stone whizz through the air
Like bullets from a gun.

Aijuna! I’ll say he was quick and sly—
He missed me by simple luck;
The blood worked up to his ugly head,
Till like a colt he was seeing red:
He would feint at me with the right-hand ball
Before with the left he struck.

But a bitter turn Fate served me there
As we circled round and round,
I saw my chance and went rushing in,
While he backed away to save his skin.
My foot tripped up in my chiripá
And headlong I hit the ground.

Not a moment’s grace to commend my soul
To the hands of Almighty God
Did the savage give; as he saw me fall
He sprang like a ravening animal.
As I twisted my head, beside my ear
I heard the bolas thud.

And onto my back with tooth and nail
He leapt like a clawing brute
He was reckless then that I’d still my knife,
He was blind with his rage to have my life,
Not a ghost of a chance he let me have,
To strengthen and get my foot.

No trick or dodge could the brute on unlodge
Though I tried the every one;
Flat under him I lay full length,
I couldn’t turn over with all my strength.
As strong as a bull that Indian was
And he seemed to weigh a ton.

The captive that lay in her tears and blood
Half killed by the murderous whip,
When she saw my plight forgot her pang,
Like an arrow there to my help she sprang,
She gave the Indian a sudden tug
That made him loose his grip.

As soon as again to my feet I got
At each other again we tore,
Not a pause for a breather could I get
I was soaking wet with my dripping sweat,
In all my fights I’ve never been in
Such a touch-and-go before.

As madder and madder the savage grew
I calmed down more and more—
Until the Indian has made his kill
There’s nothing his ravening rage can still—
Till one of his whirling cords I cut
And began to press him sore.

As he staggered back, I leapt and closed
With lightning thrust and slash.
Though he kept his feet and escaped my grip
He lost the fight by that fatal slip;
I got home once with a scalping chop
And once with a belly-gash.

I got him again with a ripping lunge,
He began to hmpf and puke;
He was failing fast with each breath he took,
He knew he was done, but even then,
With never a flinch he rushed again,
With such a yell that it seemed to me
That the earth and the heavens shook.

And there, thank God, I finished him;
Well home I rammed my knife.
I was weary and sore, but desperate;
I lifted him up as one lifts a weight;
And gutted there, from the raking steel
I threw him off when I knew by the feel,
That he hadn’t a spark of life.

When I saw him dead I crossed myself,
The help of heaven to thank;
The kneeling woman beside me there,
At the Indian’s body could only stare,
And the to the skies she raised her eyes,
And in tears on the ground she sank.

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