Randy Koch

The Garrote

—Diego de Almagro; 8 July 1538; Cuzco, Peru; in the presence of Hernando Pizarro, soldiers, a priest, and the executioner


Yes, Hernando, I’m through 

begging. I only regret that trusting you 

and Gonzalo—out of respect for Francisco—

saved you from this. You should live so 

long and come to so sure an end.  


The cordillera, too, was long, fatal. 

I saw men die, and even in death they were not still—

collapsing in the cold, drawing into themselves, stiffening, or

swelling in the heat, stomachs, hands, and legs blistering and 

bursting like putrid flowers. How can we rest if 

our bodies cannot keep still?  


Take mine to Our Lady of Mercy. Bury me 

whole. Show me that bit of kindness, a last 

sign of respect for one so old as me. Don’t leave 

my head in the sun. I’ll have some peace then. 


I thought you were a brother as your 

brother was to me. But I suppose it’s better 

to die in the presence of enemies, of friends

become enemies, than to die alone, where 

words would be the thin babbling 

of the mad, for what good are words 

if they fall on no ears? Better 

they should fall on deaf ears. 

At least then they have a place 


to settle until years later they can speak 

for themselves and are finally, 

faintly heard, like a whisper in 

the desert or the wind playing 

the holes of a skull 

like a flute. 


I might go on, but no, I’ll be 

still. Now bring the rope.

Diego de Almagro (1475-1538) came to the New World in 1514 and settled in Panama in 1519. He formed a partnership with Francisco Pizarro to explore and conquer the country south of Panama along the Pacific Ocean. During the first two expeditions, they learned of the great wealth of the Inca Empire, and in 1529 Charles V gave Pizarro permission to conquer Peru. By 1533 Almagro and Pizarro completed the conquest of the country, and in 1535 Almagro was named governor of New Toledo, the land south of Pizarro’s grant. 

During 1535-36 he conquered the northern part of what is present-day Chile and then claimed the Incan capital of Cuzco as part of his grant. Pizarro, however, also claimed Cuzco, and when Almagro invaded the city, civil war broke out between the followers of Almagro and those of Francisco Pizarro and his brothers Hernando, Gonzalo, and Juan. In 1538, Almagro’s forces were defeated at the battle of Las Salinas; he was then captured, tried, and sentenced to death. He begged for his life, but when Hernando Pizarro refused to appeal the sentence, Almagro was garroted in prison and publicly beheaded in Cuzco’s square.


We Have Said This to You

—Fray Vicente de Valverde; 1541; the island of Puná, off the coast of Ecuador; to the local Indians


I am come to account for your ignorance

and to impress on you our sacred doctrine

by the authority of which we go here now 


and abroad. We are descended of Adam,

and by the power granted by Christ our 

Lord to Saint Peter, to the Popes, and to 


our majesties, you shall vow allegiance 

to them and to the One True Faith. If you 

fail to submit to that which is required, you


shall be wholly converted with righteousness 

and sword and fury, the likes of which you

know not but which shall be rained down on


you three-fold, unto the end of your days.

Christians, for that which you are about 

to do, I release you! Sant Iago, and on them!

Fray Vicente de Valverde (ca. 1490-1541) was part of the Pizarro expedition that marched into the Andes to the Inca city of Catamarca. He was present when 168 Spaniards took the Emperor Atahualpa captive on 16 November 1532, and eight months later when they executed him (MacQuarrie 133-34). In 1535 the crown appointed Fray Vicente bishop of Peru though it was not made official by Pope Paul III until 1537, and he was considered an enemy of the Almagrists during the civil war. In 1541 he fled Lima and on his way to the Guayaquil estuary was killed by the Indians of the island of Puná (Prescott 1100-01). 


Upon the Charge

—Doña Inés de Suárez; ca. 1578; Santiago, Chile; in the presence of her husband Rodrigo de Quiroga


You who know all time, who light today with yesterday, 

pity me, and pardon me and those led astray by my iniquities.  


Be merciful to the spirit of Don Pedro de Valdivia, who tried

to do that with which he was charged but fell into infidelity

and marauding, to which I was complicit. Consecrate the soul 

of my husband Don Rodrigo de Quiroga, who will follow me

to the grave but will alone be washed in the light of Your Glory. 


You who forge all tongues and call us to steel resolve, 

impart Your love on all those bearing arms—both Spaniard and

Indian—who departed during the conquest of this land, all 

for the splendor of Your name and to spread the radiance 

of Your Word across the dark expanses of this primitive place. 


Have mercy on me, and forgive my desires—the call

of flesh, the sigh of the sword, the horse’s shudder and

stamp running through me before the charge, the volley of

curses and the heady barrage raining down on the 

standing dead. You know my true feelings, and I can 


no more hide them from You than from myself behind 

Sant Iago and Father Marmolejo and from you, Don Rodrigo. 

How can you love me or tend me when you know 

I am lost, heaven barricaded and hurling my past down

on me from the battlements? Though I know what awaits,


I can do nothing now, for where it ends it also began—

with the cross and a prayer and charge upon charge.

Inés de Suárez (1507-ca. 1578), the first European woman in Chile, arrived in Peru when she was in her twenties, became the mistress of the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, and joined him on the expedition to Chile in 1540. In September 1541, natives attacked the settlement at Santiago while Valdivia was absent. When the small Spanish force seemed in imminent danger of being overrun by the attackers, Inés de Suárez proposed and assisted with killing the seven caciques the Spaniards held hostage, flinging their heads at the natives, and making one last charge with their horses, which drove the natives off. 

In 1549 Valdivia faced a variety of charges in a trial in Peru, and while he was cleared of the majority of them and named Governor and Captain General of Chile, he was also ordered to end his relationship with Inés de Suárez and send for his wife from Spain (Nauman 92). In late 1549, Doña Inés married Valdivia’s good friend Rodrigo de Quiroga, who was named Governor General of Chile by Philip II in 1573; Inés, consequently, had the title gobernadora and lived in Santiago until her death.


Randy Koch grew up in Minnesota; lived on the border in Laredo, Texas, for ten years; and earned an MFA at the University of Wyoming. His poems, essays, and book reviews have appeared in Passages NorthTexas Observer, LareDos, The Raven ChroniclesRevista InteramericanaJ JournalThe Caribbean Writer, and many others. His chapbook, This Splintered Horse, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011, and his collection of sonnets, Composing Ourselves, was published by Fithian Press in 2002. He currently lives and works in northeast Pennsylvania.

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