Poetry at the Post: Born on a Tuesday in Albania

“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

The Palace of Culture of Tirana whose first stone was symbolically laid by Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. Photo by Jeroen CC by SA 3.0
The Palace of Culture of Tirana whose first stone was symbolically laid by Nikita Khrushchev in 1959.
Photo by Jeroen CC by SA 3.0

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:

Poetry at the Post: Out of the Darkness—Albania

“Perhaps the Last Encounter With the Moon” by Visar Zhiti, as translated by Robert Elsie

I fooled the guards tonight
When they were doling out supper, that sordid soup,
Because I saw the moon….

Statue of Asclepius Museum of Epidaurus Theatre. Photo by Michael F. Mehnert.
Statue of Asclepius
Museum of Epidaurus Theatre.
Photo by Michael F. Mehnert.

If Asclepius—the god of medicine— is willing, my wrist will soon be released from its splint prison. Yes, prison.

Low and grounded—hellish for a nomad—I’ve been thinking a lot these past couple months about constraints of freedom—external as well as internal yet, of course, my seven weeks of being inconvenienced by a broken wrist is microscopic compared to the seven years of harsh imprisonment experienced by the Albanian poet, Visar Zhiti—a poet I discovered yesterday at Malvern Books in Austin.

visar zhiti

Born in 1952, Zhiti was arrested on November 9, 1979, for his poetry which was seen as anticommunist and “interpreted as having blackened socialist reality.” After five months in solitary confinement, he was tried and sentenced to up to thirteen years imprisonment and sent to concentration camps in the northern mountain region of Albania.

During his time in solitary, Zhiti managed to write in his mind and commit to memory 100 poems and then he wrote more—even in the harshest conditions, such as in the “living hell of the copper mines at Spaç.”

Zhiti chose to come out the darkness through things small
—a glimpse of a moon,
a leaf, a bird,
a rainbow..

If we look, there is light.

Today there will be one more minute of daylight than yesterday.

The deep darkness of the winter solstice has ended.

Legendary darkness and light, magic luminosity
Like a little cosmos,
ephemeral.
of hope.

Photo by John Jennings
Photo by John Jennings

Zhiti Visar. The Condemned Apple: Selected Poetry. Trans. Robert Elsie. Green Integer, 2005.