6 bittersweet Albanian poems on love and freedom

6 bittersweet Albanian poems on love and freedom
Llogara Pass in Albania. Image: Elion Jashari via Unsplash

17 July 2020
Selection and intro: Manjola Nasi

​Albanian literature stretches back to the Middle Ages, and across Albania, Kosovo, as well as in other neighbouring countries. Like in other post-communist countries, the 1990s brought a fresh air and a lot more directness in Albanian poetry. Read below a selection of poems by prominent writers of the past three decades, as well as new voices, taking over the underground literary world.


Old News

Written by Luljeta Lleshanaku and translated by Henri Israel


In the village nestled between two mountains
the news always arrives one month late,
cleansed in transit, glorified, mentioning only the dead who made it to paradise,
and a coup d’état referred to as ‘God’s will’.

Spring kills solitude with solitude, imagination
the sap that shields you from your body. Chestnut trees
awaken, drunken men
lean their cold shoulders against a wall.

The girls here always marry outsiders and move away
leaving untouched statues of their fifteen-year-old
selves behind.

But the boys bring in wives
from distant villages,
wives who go into labor on heaps of grass and straw in a barn
and bear prophets.
Forgive me, I’d meant to say ‘only one will be a prophet’.
The others will spend their lives throwing stones
(that is part of the prophecy, too).

At noon on an autumn day like today
they will bolt out of school like a murder of crows stirred by the
smell of blood
and chase the postman’s skeleton of a car
as it disappears around a corner, leaving only dust.

Then they will steal wild pears from the ‘bitch’s yard’
and nobody will stop them. After all, she deserves it. She’s sleeping
with two men.
Between the pears in one boy’s schoolbag
lies a copy of Anna Karenina.
It will be skimmed over, impatiently, starting on the last page
cleansed and glorified, like old news.


Luljeta Lleshanaku is one of Albania’s most prominent poets, and an author of seven collections of poetry.


Bim

Written by Ali Luca and translated by Manjola Nasi


For God’s sake, do you remember
that dark red car I used to have?
No.
The SUV that when it got close to the end
I traded for two hounds?
Yeah, it’s been quite a while since.
It brought me great luck with the ladies.
How many of them did I give rides in it!
You shouldn’t have sold it that way, then.
I’m a prick, as everyone knows.
The way I dropped off a factory worker
at her gate
while her neighbors’ looks
almost gave me blisters.
A small dog came from behind a begonia shrub
and raised the alarm.
And that poet? I shagged her, I swear.
She lived in a shack in Kombinat,
disowned by her family.
When I took them to Laçi Church once,
they prayed for marriage,
I prayed to get laid
and that was all at the same time.
Do you want me to bring you her book?
I have enough of my own books, Bim.
I am there, in those verses.
Lovers of poets have that advantage:
they’re immortal.
Take it and have a look at it.
I know Bim, you’re in it as a married man,
but not the same as you are now.

Bim sat staring at the glass with weary eyes,

wearing his faded sweater,

and looking like an orphaned lamp post

bearing traces of distant posters.


Ali Luca is a young poet who has not yet published a poetry collection but has already made a name for himself in the Albanian underground literary scene.


To Be

Written by Mariklena Niço and translated by Alexandra Channer and Blerti Murataj



To die at the slightest touch
of unspoken guilt
to get out of self, of silence,
abandon
the memory
that is not you
forgetfulness that is not you
the presence that is not
you
the emptiness that is not you
yet touches, brings, spins
the wasteland between outstretched fingers and beyond shadows
that cast a pall on you.
Is it a web of thoughts that envelop the world?
They fall whispering
that you saw the light
close to
a noisy, interrupted, ungraceful end.
Oh this slight flow through frequent death
like grains of sand without spirit
when it would be better to rise,
to take color, form, grace
to be clear, indomitable
to go while being
to go since you were.


Mariklena Niço is a Pristina-based poet and academic.

True Freedom

Written by Agron Tufa and translated by Elvana Zaimi and Craig Czury



True freedom is a dark vial,
full of intertwined genies, pent up
from a cruel Piston
into a gaseous uprising liquid,
then sealed with a waxed cork
up to the last groove.
Freedom is a small bottle without a message
cast into the waters of our deepest cellar.
Your life is not enough
to become a rope to lower down
and lift it out from the bottom of the well,
to eat away the waxed cork,
to explode in a heavenly escape
over your nothingness…


Author of over a dozen of books of poems, prose, essays and literary studies, Agron Tufa is a prominent voice in the Albanian literary and cultural scene. He is also a translator from Russian.


Alone

Written by Arian Leka and translated by Robert Elsie


Profound is solitude in two glasses of wine.

A ruddy horse and a white horse.

Nothing is as it seems to be,

When you have it all and no one to share it with.

Soon it will rain and the doors will be shut.

Those inside are in, no others will make it.

Two glasses of wine, a black horse in the jug.

I now have it all, but no one to share it with.


Arian Leka is a poet, prose writer, essayist and author of children’s books. He is also a lecturer at the University of Tirana, the founder of Poeteka Literary Festival, and the publisher of Poeteka Review, one of the oldest and most prestigious Albanian literary journals.

View on Preze Castle Shkafane Area Near Durres, Albania. Image: Fli Hi via Unsplash

​Marks

Written and translated by Manjola Nasi



She lived for quite a while

and consequently

she experienced what one experiences in life.

Of course, what happens to us

does not do so at the same time

or in the same way.

For instance, some of us lose

our selfishness early on.

Some die late, not having had a chance to, yet.

Some of us sell our insides, membrane included,

some hold on tightly to some shreds for a bad day.

Her case was not particularly special.

It was more or less like many others.

The truth is we all have our walls and boundaries.

At some point, the thread of resolution breaks.

The truth is that there are only degrees.

‘No’ is the tortoise in Zeno’s paradox.

We may travel towards it, but we will never catch it.

Let’s put it this way:

she lived for a long time

and on her

life had many chances to leave marks.



Manjola Nasi is a poet, English language and creative writing lecturer, and translator from English.

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