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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors



Ridvan DIBRA

Ridvan DIBRA


Ridvan DIBRA


The plagues of Moses

Everyone forgot Sephorah, the Prophet's wife.

The heavens are unfolding like pages of a book,
My Lord.

Pages worn from time
Yet I say they are more worn from their daily reading,
Some are creased and some are shredded
From bolts of lightning and our impatience.

Just as blind as we were in the beginning,
My Lord.

Not a single page did we know how to decipher,
Not a single line, not a single letter,
Simply because we searched upward and afar
When the alphabet was taught around us and everywhere.

Just as deaf as we were in the beginning,
My Lord.

We did not know how to hear your voice
Distracted by a thousand and one false voices,
When everything was so simple and light
It sufficed that we bow our heads and listen to our breathing.

Just as hungry as we were in the beginning,
My Lord.

Simply because we desired our neighbour's vine
And never blessed our wild weeds
Neither the globe that we should not have bitten
In a rush like the unripe apple.

Just as alone as we were in the beginning,
My Lord.

Scattered about like grains of sand
From the wind that we blew with our cheeks,
Or rather like repentant orphans
Because they raised their hands and slew their parents.
Just as much in the dust as we were in the beginning,
My Lord.

On our lips, in our lungs there is dust
And when we think we are flying higher and higher
The dust pursues us simply because we are idle or forget
To cleanse ourselves before every departure.

Just as homeless as we were in the beginning,
My Lord.

Our huts collapse before being completed,
No thousand years could they suffer your anger,
Until, one after the other, we blame
The walls and the roof, and then the foundations.

Just as thirsty as we were in the beginning,
My Lord.

With our dried and withering lips blistered as in August
We desiccated the sources of life one by one,
Sought and then created
Endless springs of blood.

Just as ignorant as we were in the beginning,
My Lord.

Simply because we took the second step before the third
And said the first word after the second,
Thus, even our knowledge is nothing
But a correction of errors once made.

You are still everywhere
And we are nowhere,
My Lord.

We disregarded all the reasons for blood,
We forgot even the screams of grieving folk,
We forgot that the wounds of our foes
Would one day hurt even more in our breasts.

And they hurt in my breast,
My Lord.

The First Plague: Blood

You shake more from the blood than from the shadows, Sephorah.
From the blood that has no name, that rises out of the fresh wound,
Blood that shines the same in all wounds,
Blood that never knew how to become water.

But the water becomes blood,
             My Sephorah.

I only need to strike it with my snake-shaped staff,
That is, with my untamed will,

See how the rivers and all other waters have been bloodied,
The snow is melting and it drips blood
The sharp-pointed icicles are dripping blood,

Understand now the value of water
And let my purpose go
You blistered lips and you arid lands,
You thirsty breasts and you hungry fish,
You forgot that they fished me from the water with my name:

It was life at the beginning
Death followed in its footsteps.

The Second Plague: the Frogs

You shudder more from the swamp than from the blood, Sephorah,
The swamp called oblivion and lack of attention,
The sallow swamp that chokes the green,
As the moment strangles eternity.

The swamp that spawns monsters,
             My Sephorah.

All sorts of reptiles, repulsive, slowly creeping,
All types of lilies, brightly coloured, but poisonous,
All kinds of breaths, all of them muddied,
And in the end, the emblematic frogs:

Lured by my snake-shaped staff,
That is, by my untamed will.

They approach and enter your home, Sephorah,
In the room where you sleep,
They creep into your bed.

They stain its white sheets
Disturb your tranquil sleep
With their salivating cries,
Croak, croak,

When the Gods fight with one another
Man must make peace with himself.
             My Sephorah.

The Third Plague: the Mosquitoes

You recoil more from the cause than from the consequences, Sephorah,
The cause that is me or somebody else within me,
It happens rarely, very rarely to human beings,
And perhaps never to the daughters of Eve.

The swirls of dust have now become clouds of mosquitoes,
             My Sephorah.

Over your face and over your tall body,
Over your lips and over your small breasts,
Over your sleep and over your virgin dreams,
Over your silence and over your divine patience,
Over your tears and over your rare smile,
Over your motherhood and over your rare fruit,
Over your roots and over your green stem
Have remained the gray scars of bites,
             My Sephorah.

The Fourth Plague: the Flies

They are tiny and everywhere and drive you crazy, Sephorah,
Like grains of the pale sand falling through the fingers,
Or like words and daily routines
That we could do without.

This cloud of flies is the shroud,
             My Sephorah.

Neither wound, nor bite, nor poison
On your marble-white body
Or all three at once, somewhere under your skin
Where feelings sting like an uncommitted sin
And where the start is projected as an expected end.

Because death comes rarely
Without being invited in advance by us,
             My Sephorah.

The Fifth Plague: the Beasts

Once I spoke of you as I did of the beasts, Sephorah.
Finding in them everything that is yours
Or finding in you everything that is theirs, it's the same thing.

I am talking about those times when you were called nature
Or when nature was a woman, it's the same thing.

But the beasts all perished,
             My Sephorah.

They perished in you, grievously, one by one
Died the grace of mares in the fields at sunset,
Died the sacrifice of camels in the fallow desert,
Died the naivety of the donkeys chewing on thorny bushes,
Died the kindness of the sheep and the fertility of the cow.

They were cut, one by one ,
And perhaps it was I who cut them, one by one,
The threads that tied you to nature,
             My Sephorah.

The Sixth Plague: the Dust

The dust is like prejudice, Sephorah,
With your lungs you breathe it in,
It envelops you entirely
In a mantle that changes according to season.
It's the sky that sifts furnace ashes,
             My Sephorah.

On you and on every other breathing being around
Falls the gray sorrow that thereafter conceives
Autumn, eternally ailing,
From its inability to be another season,
More similar to human beings and their fate,
For fates under the dust all become the same,
Or so it may seem to the untrained eye
To the stare that only strokes the surface
Like the dust strokes your senses,
             My Sephorah.

The Seventh Plague: the Hail

Intermediate things have always caused you to shake, Sephorah,
Hail, for example - neither a raindrop nor a snowflake,
Not even a raindrop and a snowflake together.

You are alone between fire and ice,
             My Sephorah.

They are not pearly garlands that hang in the heavens
But ropes with hailstone spines,
Enticed by my wooden staff
With the fiery snakes of lightning,
Scorching like blind passion.

The barley in the sheaves is scorched and withered
As is the flax which just bloomed,

But not the wheat that endures and is late to ripen
Nor your invincible core,
             My Sephorah.

The Eighth Plague: the Locusts

The healed wound brings forth another, Sephorah,
As desire brings forth desire and pain brings forth pain,
Until the moment when the soul becomes a soulless object
And the body a soul and a breath together

The dancers of death are approaching,
             My Sephorah.

A wind from the east has borne them in throngs,
An army of hungry moments, never satiated,
A plague that gobbles up everything that remains
Especially young sprigs, as yet to grow shoots
And everything else that is green and that nourishes the hope
Sown in your soul
And in your warm body,
             My Sephorah.

The Ninth Plague: the Darkness

You dread more the darkness than the fire, Sephorah,
When shapes disappear and everything becomes the same,
The highest and the lowest, and the black and white

You dread the darkness that is touched by hands,
             My Sephorah.

Then you have no other salvation but to turn towards yourself
As to a friend lost and found after many many years,
Because darkness is darkness, and dissipates not like the mist,
Because it hides the unknown and reveals the known.
Man does not see man, and touches him only
When avoidance becomes impossible.

The belated reward pains you
As it does me and my rediscovered self,
             My Sephorah.

The Tenth Plague: Death

You're disturbed more by death than by life, Sephorah,
That is, life near to me and my isolated people
With their eternal and false aspirations for salvation
In their arduous attempts to be understood.,

While the death itself flees from you,
             My Sephorah!

On your wise brow as on the crossbeam of a heated house
I have left the telling sign of blood:
May death remember and seek another shelter,
For man can recognize only what he has created himself,
Whereas the beginning and the end are the creations of others,
Even though the elephants return to die in their birthplace.

"Who is not with me is against me"
Said even death to itself one day.
             My Sephorah.

The Eleventh Plague: Sephorah

Stronger and safer than on my wooden will,
I rely on your silent sacrifice, Sephorah,
You, the most unhealed of all my wounds
That pains me most when the others are silent.

Long has been the road, Sephorah, far too long,
Full of turns and ambushes that delayed my purpose,
Even though I knew that only children expect instant victory
And that all the prophets of old were marching through me.

But long roads never end, Sephorah,
My staff and my faith were too small: only to the Lord does its own self suffice.
I needed more love than understanding,
And then you came, with your body enwrapped in spirit.

I loved only the purpose and thus the people did not love me, Sephorah,
Filled with poison, the cup in your fair hands
And yet, despair is a virtue and joy is a sin,
Whereas events live less than people.

When you teach someone, they pay you, Sephorah,
When you teach all, you must pay yourself.

It is both beautiful and hard to be the wife of a prophet,
             My Sephorah.

(March, 2000)

[Translated from the Albanian by Shinasi Rama, Janice Mathie-Heck and Robert Elsie]



    One day (not far away), there will come an autumn in which the oases there in the middle of the desert will feel superfluous and unneeded.

[Oazët, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 11. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The moral of the lamp

    My fate is not unlike the moon's: I live at night (like the bats) and shine with a pale reflection. In view of this gift, people trust me with their most intimate secrets, forgetting, poor fools, that I am already disgusted by their trust and can hardly wait for a chance to reveal everything I know.
     And, believe me, I know a lot.

[Moral abazhuri, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 13. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The snake skin

    A snake sloughed its skin, draped it on an apple tree branch and slithered on its carefree way.
     A fox passed by first, sniffed and realized that the snake skin held no value.
     A wolf heard of the parched snake skin hanging about, but shunned it as it had no blood.
     Man took the snake skin and sewed a fine pair of gloves for his lily-white and innocent hands.

[Lëkura e gjarprit, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 14. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The lumps

    After a wonderful session of sex with your wife, during which everything has evolved in complete harmony and understanding and you demonstrated admirable self-confidence, a confidence you always have when you are carrying out the acts which conform to law and to the moral norms of the society in which you live; after an ideal reciprocal orgasm (i.e. both you and your partner coming at the same time) which you have not had for quite a while; and after several minutes of magic silence and a cigarette, which you always long for after sex; after all these things, you quite naturally feel you are in full harmony with yourself and the rest of the world and are ready to go to sleep, totally convinced that you have merited your rest.
     Suddenly, a lump in the mattress irritates a part of your spine. You turn to one side. Another lump. You turn to the other side. Yet another lump. You roll around for minutes and hours on your half of the conjugal bed in a such an unfair battle with the lumps and are envious of your wife who is sleeping placidly on her side.
     Later, much later, just before dawn, when you are finally being overcome by sleep, you realize, as if in a dream, that the lumps are nothing other than your past.

[Gungat, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 15. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The peaks

    There had to be a heavy snowfall and the subjugation of everything else under its smooth uniformity for people to notice the mountain peaks.

[Majat, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 19. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



    As opposed to beasts that react passively to sunsets, reactions which have taken on a wide variety of forms and manners, for example an increase in the intensity of love-making or inclinations towards the domestication of their savage nature, that is, as opposed to beasts that experience such magical moments as sunsets passively, mankind is becoming increasingly indifferent to them without being really convinced whether this indifference is dictated or feigned, even though he is certain that the sunsets will continue at regular intervals despite human indifference.

[Perëndimet, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 23. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



    The gravel grinds sadly at my feet: white, smooth, looking just like the ideas in the brain of some mediocre being and, all the while, the cliff stands isolated beside it, spattered by the water from the river.
     I feel sorry for the cliff.
     The cliff feels sorry for the gravel.
     What about you?

[Zajet, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 24. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


A matter of essence

    You have heard for a long time about the eternal glacial ice which, wedged in the folds of mountain peaks, defies the sun and seasons. You have heard tell of its purity and mystery, though you have never had occasion to see it for yourself. Finally, after much waiting and dreaming, an opportunity arises. Bathed in sweat on a jagged and exhausting slope, with your hands shivering impatiently, you scratch with your nails at the thick, frozen snow, endeavouring to reach its essence, its spirit. You pay no attention to the blood dripping from your lacerated fingers which is turning the snow scarlet, but dig with devoted and admirable will, inspired by the mystery of discovering the essence of things eternal, a discovery of which you have dreamed for ages and ages. Finally, your fingers come up against something soft, like a spirit, like the essence (you recently began to believe in the essence of things - in particular things eternal - it is soft, thus contradicting all the postulations made before you). You are so near to making the Great Discovery. A little further... a little further... and suddenly you freeze, as if struck by lightning. In front of you wriggle some fat, greyish and disgusting worms in the eternal glacial ice, right in the middle, where its spirit, its mysterious essence ought to have been. Could it be...
     But today, you do not feel in a position to carry through with your reasoning.
     Worn out, you make your way down from the heights you had climbed with such effort, doubting the very existence of the essence.
     The next day, you establish completely new relations with the things around you, and care no longer for their possible essence. You just observe them and, on very rare occasions, stroke them. Nothing more.

[Çështje thelbi, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 25. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The Titanic

    It would have been completely forgotten like all the other things of this world had it not sunk after its by no means accidental encounter with a sly and cruel iceberg (which paradoxically still has no name).
     Unmerited is the praise heaped on the travellers who survived quite by accident.

[Titaniku, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 26. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The moon and the dog

    My friend Stephen, whom I admire for his intelligence, culture, resolve, propriety, strength of mind and all the other characteristics for which people are admired nowadays, swears to me that he saw, with his own eyes, the summer moon barking at a mongrel. I at once recalled that a similar thing had happened to me a while ago (except that it was a pedigree dog and an autumn moon), but I was afraid to admit it for the simple reason that they would call me crazy, in view of the fact that people nowadays are convinced that it is always the dog who barks at the moon and not the other way around.

[Hëna dhe qeni, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 29. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


On the love of scorpions

    As opposed to human beings and snakes and other beasts that carry their poison in their mouths, the scorpions keep it in their tails, which means that one cannot consider them entirely responsible for the repercussions the poison might have, just as one cannot, for example, consider drivers completely responsible for accidents caused by their back wheels.
     Is this not a good reason to respect the scorpion in comparison with human beings and snakes and other beasts that carry their poison in their mouths?

[Nga dashuria për akrepët, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 30. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The old man and the ocean

    An old man said farewell to the high mountain pastures and went down to have a look at the ocean which he had never seen. As he stood before that great watery expanse, he raised his head towards the heavens and, assuring himself that he was in the right country, said:
     "What a mistake, oh Lord! Look how much corn could have been sowed here."

[Plaku dhe deti, from the volume Vetmia e diellit, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1995, p. 35. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]