La Catalana: Port St Julian, Patagonia
In Port St Julian a house once stood,
well known to men in the neighbourhood,
the kind they call a house of ill fame,
and yet it bears a noble name.
Consuelo lived at La Catalana
with Maud, Amalia, Maria, Angela,
and every night they worked, in their way,
like the men who tilled the fields all day.
But back in 1922
the bosses were driving wages low,
men got no good from all their work,
so they downed spades and went on strike.
In came the Army to save the state
from folk demanding enough to eat,
and General Varela’s troops, quite soon,
had fifteen hundred neatly mown down.
Killing peasants can be a chore;
the soldiers fancied some R & R,
so the conquering troops of General Varela
marched off to unwind at La Catalana.
Consuelo went to fetch a broom
and swept the rubbish out of her room.
Angela prodded them down the stair,
Amalia pushed them out at the door.
Maria said, as she slammed it shut,
“We knew the men you bastards shot.
Some were our fathers; we caused them shame,
but we sent them money all the same.
Some came for comfort, their muscles aching;
this is one strike you won’t be breaking.”
And English Maud from the window shouts
“Murderers, get out and stay out!
Go back and tell General Varela
how you couldn’t storm La Catalana!”
Well, the police were called, and ran them in,
so, when they all got out again,
their names were on record: Maud, Amalia,
Angela, Consuelo, Maria,
who will be honoured as brave and good
as long as language is understood,
which goes to show, as any can see,
that words are tyranny’s enemy,
as is comradeship, the sense to know
who your friends are, when to say no,
and there are times nothing hits home
like an angry woman with a good broom.
Sheenagh Pugh spent most of her life in Wales but now lives in Shetland. Her current collection is Short Days, Long Shadows (Seren 2014).