Two poems by Gioconda Belli

These two poems by Belli are, I believe, exemplary of the relationship between poetry and Nicaragua. In these works, Belli is clearly affected by her country and is able to communicate the impact of Nicaragua into stanzas of poetry. Following each poem, I have provided a brief analysis to explain the relationships between country and poet.

Translations by Steven F. White

Kisses don’t wither
like the flowers of the malinche tree,
hard shells of seeds don’t grow over my arms;
I’m always flowering
with this internal rain,
like the green patios in May
and I laugh because I love the wind and the clouds
and the singing birds that pass overhead,
even though I’m entangled with memories,
covered with ivy like old walls,
I go on believing in the secret whisperings,
the strength of wild horses,
the winged message of gulls.

I believe in the countless roots of my song.

In “May”, Belli brings up images of the malinche tree and the greenery of Nicaragua to craft an infinite blossoming of her being – growth that occurs with internal watering, her own doing. However, Belli’s environment is still very much present in her poem. As she references the wind and the birds, she acknowledges that there is more that made her who she is, the “memories” and “secret whisperings”. Her final line, “I believe in the countless roots of my song”, reveals these “memories” to be of Nicaragua. Her “roots” are in Nicaragua and include all the challenges she faced that she is “entangled” by. But nonetheless, she believes in those roots because they began her “song”, her poetic voice, which only continues to blossom.


What are you—
a little triangle of earth
lost in the middle of the world?

What are you—
a flight of birds

What are you
a roar of rivers
bearing polished, shiny stones
leaving footprints of water in the mountains?

What are you—
A women’s breasts made of earth
Smooth, pointed and threatening?

What are you—
Singing of leaves in gigantic trees
Green, tangled and filled with doves?

What are you—
Pain and dust and screams in the afternoon
“screams like those of women giving birth”?

What are you—
Clenched fist and loaded gun?

What are you, Nicaragua
To cause me such pain?

In “What Are You, Nicaragua?”, Belli presents two Nicaraguas. The first, an ethereal, physical place of natural beauty, one that is known to Nicaraguans. But Belli questions all of this, the validity of such an appearance, and slowly shifts into the display of a second Nicaragua, one that Nicaraguans and foreigners alike may deny. The line, “A women’s breasts made of earth/Smooth, pointed and threatening?” asserts the countries natural beauty, but also an uncertain danger. This is continued in “screams in the afternoon” which are compared to “women giving birth” to suggest a sort of inevitability to the pain associated with life in Nicaragua. In case the reader’s perception of Nicaragua has not yet changed, Belli writes “Clenched fist and loaded gun” to directly reference struggle and violent revolution. In her final lines, “What are you, Nicaragua/To cause me such pain?” Belli uses Nicaragua by name for the first time in the body of the poem to underscore the shift from the physical beauty to the harsh reality of her country.

It’s a common mistake for readers to assume the poet is talking to them, but Belli is addressing her country. She is challenging Nicaragua’s pain that is as synonymous as its landscape. Here Belli makes a political statement, addressing the violence that plagues her country and using her voice as a poet to be heard. Why should the Nicaraguan’s home, a beautiful country, cause pain? Belli challenges the people to question the true reality in order to better their nation.