Claribel Alegría


Claribel Alegría, a powerful voice in Central American literature, was a novelist, children’s writer, essayist and journalist as well as a distinguished poet. She was born in Nicaragua, but her father’s opposition to the US military presence there sent the family to El Salvador. In 1943 Alegría moved to the US; she graduated from George Washington University and married Darwin Flakoll, who translated four of her many books of poetry and collaborated with her on several other books. Living in the US, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay and Majorca, Alegría opposed the US-backed Salvadoran military government and supported the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua. In 1985, she and Flakoll moved to Managua, Nicaragua.

Known for her testimonio. testament of the Sandinista revolution, Alegría became known in the US through a bilingual book of poetry translated by the poet Carolyn Forché, Flores del volcán/Flowers from the Volcano (1982). Forché also translated Saudade, Sorrow (1999), written after Flakoll’s death. In 2006 Alegría won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Forché wrote of her: “She carries within her the ancient blood of the Pipiles and laces her language with mestizo richness.” The Nicaraguan poet Daisy Zamora called her “a voice for the voiceless and the dispossessed.”


Because I Want Peace

Because I want peace
and not war
because I don’t want to see
hungry children
or emaciated women
or men with silenced tongues
I must keep on fighting.
Because there are
Death Squads
and White Hand
that torture
that maim
that murder
I want to keep on fighting.
Because on the mountain range
of Guazapa
from their hideouts
my brothers lie in wait for
three battalions
trained in Carolina and Georgia
I must keep on fighting.
Because from armed Huey
expert pilots
wipe out villages
with napalm
poison the water
and burn the crops
that feed the people
I want to keep on fighting.
Because there are territories
now liberated
where those who don’t know how to
are learning to read
and the sick are treated
and the produce of the land
belongs to everybody
I must keep on fighting.
Because I want peace and not war.

Translated from the Spanish by Keith Ellis

Mortally Wounded

When I woke up
this morning
I knew you were
mortally wounded
that I was too
that our days were numbered
our nights
that someone had counted them
without letting us know
that more than ever
I had to love you
you had to love me.
I inhaled your fragrance
I watched you sleeping
I ran the tips of my fingers
over your skin
remembered the friends
whose quota was filled
and are on the other side:
the one who died
a natural death
the one who fell in combat
the one they tortured
in jail
who kicked aside his death.
I brushed your warmth
with my lips:
mortally wounded
my love
perhaps tomorrow
and I loved you more than ever
and you loved me as well.

My City

“The city must always
be following you.”
—C. P. Cavafy

I dreamt that my city
was following me
I heard the internal music
of its insects
its foliage
its rock-strewn river
its odor obsessed me
its vaporous aromas
and sour sweatiness
and I wanted to flee from my city
from its muted groans
and rancid odors
and it followed me
with its row of faces
and streets
and its veiled laughter
and I wanted to reprimand it
and it turned invisible
with no lights
or shadows
and its absence pained me
and nostalgia flowered in my dreams:
I retraced childhood paths
dreamt of friends I lost
of the trees
and the leaves I lost
of the town-hall band
of the chiltota nests
of my little white dress
and the bell calling me to mass.
In a corner of the park
I awoke.

Translated from the Spanish by Darwin J. Flakoll.

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