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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors



Luljeta LLESHANAKU (Photo: Roland Tasho).

(Photo: Roland Tasho).

Webdesign J. Groß



With you

I will sit in an alcove of your mouth
As on a stone near a waterfall
Certain that the maelstrom of words will not spirit me away.

I will crouch in the corner of your eye
Like a lily sprouting in the shallows near the shore
With petals tiny so as not to distract.

For after all, what am I?
A frozen wave in space
Wrested from the sea of your chest,
You stretch your hands towards me in vain.

[Me ty, from the volume Preludë poetike, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1990, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



Sealed within this anguish
As in a tent of soldiers with no return
Where all of your attempts to escape
Inevitably rub against the chest of someone else
Lying next to you.

There is nowhere for you to go,
The stars like the fingernails of a sorceress
Fashion your fate in the smoke.

And you understand there is no other way out
Than to return to your nook in life
And count the holes in the old blanket
Which the hot embers of others left on it before you.

Here in the heavy air
We suck on bits of the unconsciousness of each one,
Of the unconsciousness of the others
Who like icebergs
Know no borders.

And all the time, in our souls,
The leucocytes on the rise.

[Vetëmbrojtje, from the volume Këmbanat e së dielës, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1994, p. 45, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in filling Station, Calgary, 22 (2001), p. 57]


Annual Snowfall

In this town
The annual snowfall
Hanging on the rare and solitary trees
Brings nothing new.
It is merely
A veteran out on his daily stroll
Leaning on his wooden cane.

The same tales of war
Told a hundred times,
The same brand of cigarettes offered in friendship
And the same eyes accompany him
Dark and lazy,
And the dry rhythmic tap of his cane
Until his silhouette disappears
Into the long shadows of rooftops
In terrible slowness...

[Dëbora e përvitshme, from the volume Antipastorale, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1999, p. 13, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



There is no prophecy, only memory
What happens tomorrow
Happened a thousand years ago
The same way, to the same end
And my ancient memory
Says that your false memory
Is the history of a light-hearted bird
Transformed into a crow on a marble mountain.
The same woman will be there
The short path to reincarnation
A cage of black hair
Her generous and bitter heart
Like an amphora stuffed with serpents.

There is no prophecy, things will occur
As they have in the past
Death will find you in the same bed
Without worries, without shade
Like the trees damp from the night.

There is no destiny, only the laws of biology:
Trout splash in the water
And pine trees breathe in the mountains.

[Kujtesë, from the volume Antipastorale, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1999, p. 18-19, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The Woman and the Giraffes

The woman recalls
That she was once a member
Of a family of giraffes.
Their warm hides
Baked the air like bricks.
The strength of the giraffe lies in its neck,
That long and muscular column.
Its suffering also lies in its neck,
Bent over low, tropical trees.

One day the landscape was blotted out,
Gone were the heads, the slender knees, the spotted backs.
All that remained were the necks, the oblique necks of the giraffes
Confounded amidst blank paper
Like the boarding stairs at airports
Dragged off over the wet runway
When the planes have left.

[Gruaja dhe xhirafat, from the volume Antipastorale, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1999, p. 35, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Mutual Understanding

For my two-year-old daughter Lea

I cannot escape your sunflower gaze,
Do not judge me for what I lack,
A maternal instinct
Which like a water bottle grown cold
Ends up at the foot of the bed.

Understand me, I am like you,
Ever curious about what goes on between two people,
Just like you
I suspect it is something without a history,
Like an apple you bite into only once
And then cast away with no remorse.

[Mirëkuptim, from the volume Antipastorale, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1999, p. 45, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Chamomile Breath

We never spoke a word about death, mother,
Just as married couples never talk about sex,
Just as doctors never use the word "blood,"
Just as the mailman never needs to say "news,"
And frogmen never need to mention "air."

Yet fear adorns everything you touch,
The same way the gait of black harvesters
Causes the cotton fields to quiver.

In the morning
Your chamomile breath
Escapes like a lamb
From the sheep pen.
On the wrinkled pillow
Are unfamiliar white hairs,
And metallic black hairclips.

Do not expect it to arrive loudly
In motley dress
With bells attached to its elbows and knees
Like Carnival Clowns
Or Morris Dancers at the end of May.

You will never see the Carnival Clowns!

You will see a child with spindly legs and a thick crop of hair
Who had no time to grow up.
Did you never hear them say
That death is as close to birth
As two nostrils to one another
Letting out a deep groan?

[Frymë kamomili, from the volume Antipastorale, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1999, p. 58-59, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Always a Premonition

A premonition?... Or is the stench of alcohol
On the mailman's breath as he brings me a tardy
A foreshadowing
Always appears before me
Like a long-thighed ostrich
In blithe departure.

Wherever it goes
It marks my tardy will,
There will always be a sign, some thick and greasy
Of its white prepotency.

By accident you wipe my kisses off your face
With the rest of the shaving cream clinging to your ears.
An intuition... another warning and
I ought to be careful... The termites are restless
When they fear to go out in the damp soil... Always a premonition...
I return exhausted to my daily routine
Like a vacuum cleaner sucking up yesterday's dust
And all sorts of other unpredictabilities
With a black cord wound around my feet.

[Gjithmonë një parandjenjë, from the volume Antipastorale, Tirana: Eurorilindja 1999, p. 75, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]


The Old People's Home

A rusty-coloured gate, no name,
The passage to the old people's home.

Amidst the stones in the yard
The grass has withered
Under the weight of many canes.

Behind the curtains, on the windowsills
Dentures float
In water glasses here and there,
Like messages in bottles bobbing on the high sea
Never to be read.

The gate to the old people's home,
Bearing two sad numbers
Is always opened in silence
And hesitation
Like the Bible's much-thumbed pages.

[Azili, from the volume Palca e verdhë, Prishtina: Gjon Buzuku 2000, p. 68. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Quite by Accident

And yet
I recognized
That beloved face
Lacerated by the green grille.
I felt it
And, taking a deep breath in the desert wind,
I smelled
That face,
With someone else's hand on my back.
The wheels of time broke loose
And my breast whined like a well
Like the metallic splash of an empty bucket
Plunging swiftly to the bottom.

But now I know we are strangers
And are here beside each other quite by accident
Like the photos of two accident victims
(from the crash of a large airplane)
On the front page of the daily news.

[Krejt rastësisht, from the volume Palca e verdhë, Prishtina: Gjon Buzuku 2000, p. 100. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



Your kisses have long been singeing me like a wound
And your pristine body
Frightens me
Like the sheets in the surgery ward,
And your breath fades in a corner of my lungs
like a forgotten lily on a wintry park bench.

They have long been ashamed of my freedom
which every day yanks a stake off your fence
In the fire of which
I warm my shanks, blue with cold from flight.

My freedom... your freedom... our common freedom,
Defined once and forever, sealed within a jar.
An atmosphere of electrolysis. A muffled sound,
My soul being nickelled and yours waxing thinner every day,
Deserted by the ions.

[Elektroliza, from the volume Palca e verdhë, Prishtina: Gjon Buzuku 2000, p. 106. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


For As Long As

For as long as we mirror one another
Like this, even distorted
In silver spoons, on glasses and on bubbly bottles
On the board of a dinner party about to begin
Things cannot be going that badly.
Soon the soulless steam of hot food will hiss in,
And then...
The flood of death will be at hand.

[Për sa kohë, from the volume Palca e verdhë, Prishtina: Gjon Buzuku 2000, p. 109. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The Truth

The truth is someone else's privilege, when a soul
Approaches, lock your door, let it pass
As the Jews did, forewarned in Egypt,
When it accosts your lips, show no mercy,
Chew it up like a piece of liver
And force it back to its warm embitterment.
If you spit it out
I will be the first to haunt you,
My prayers will isolate you more and more everyday,
They will expose your broad shoulders
Undefended like cathedrals.

So recently banished, we are always too late
To stop and ask why we are here,
Why we were born wearing but a single leaf,
The sallow swipe of a purulent potter.

We search for a clean body to lean on,
All this would be a tale of thorns
Saturated in the sunlight.
Let me touch, there is only one truth,
The one which hands gently stroke,
The others are white clouds lurking
As ever in a Turkish steam bath.

The truth is someone else's privilege. Did you not notice?
We would never have withstood
The solitude of the water
Like two ancient stone angels
On the rim of a fountain.

[E vërteta, from the volume Palca e verdhë, Prishtina: Gjon Buzuku 2000, p. 130. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]