“Negative Space” by Luljeta Lleshanaku as translated by Ani Gjika
I was born on a Tuesday in April.
I didn’t cry. Not because I was stunned. I wasn’t even mad
Tuesday’s child is full of grace but a Tuesday child is also a worrier. At least I am—have always been. Since childhood, I have had my worry dolls all lined up in a row. When I knock one down, another one pops up. I feel that it must be a condition cosmologically acquired as in reality I had little reason to be unsettled as a child. So why did I wake up mornings feeling bile in my throat, panic in my breath?
1968. At the dock, ships arriving from the East
dumped punctured rice bags, mice
and the delirium of the Cultural Revolution.
Luljeta Lleshanaku, who was born in Albania in 1968, had a reason to be anxious. A young girl coming of age during the Stalinist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha lived a different reality than mine.
In LLeshanaku’s poem, “Negative Space,” we have the opportunity to enter ever so slightly a window into the Albania of the 70’s and 80’s. We can visualize the “men in uniform” clearing out the church; the “portrait of the dictator, puffing smoke from its temples;” Halil’s “eight children” who entertained “themselves carrying famine on their shoulders;” and the man in prison who writes “I am well . . .” and “if you can, please, send me a pair of woolen socks”.
Yet, within these confines, there is the push by the poet against her fate and a search for the spirit of the goddess Athena “wearing a pair of flip flops and an owl on top of a shoulder.”
This is a richly-layered poem. You can listen to a few more Lleshanaku’s poems here: