The Wanderings of Freedom: Poems by Luljeta Lleshanaku

Luljeta Lleshanaku

Luljeta Lleshanaku
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR



These poems also appear in Child of Nature, (New Directions, 2010).

Translator’s Note

Luljeta Lleshanaku’s poems poems are set in a kind of no man’s land, a land abandoned by both communism and capitalism, a place forsaken by democracy and dictatorship, in which the speaker — the “I” or the “she” — floats freely among what seem like relics and ghosts. In the poem, “In a Nameless Place,” the speaker describes a place “run by ghosts,” where there is “nothing to steal.” There are no advertisements, and neighbors say nothing when greeted. In “Narration in the Third Person,” the subject of the poem “is a shadow in search of an object.” “The Smell of Milk” is clearly about a real person (the Kupi mentioned in the dedication), but he lives a desolate existence with pictures of dead women on the mantle, speaking an English learned in prison. What makes this setting tangible is the smell of burning milk that signals not only the end of the lesson but the end of the memory of the lesson. The objects in the setting — the tree, the chimney, the photographs — fade away. Only the smell of burnt milk remains.

This take on “place” does not seem surprising for a poet who was born at the height of an oppressive dictatorship. She came into her own as both an adult and a writer just when dictatorship as well as the entire political system collapsed practically overnight, leaving behind a nonexistent economy (excluding that of the black market) and no real leader — no Vaclav Havel, or Nelson Mandela — to usher in democracy. The cultural and intellectual minority which had been either suppressed, oppressed, or kept on a very short leash under the Stalinists was now free. Ironically, with freedom came moral disorientation and artistic poverty. Lleshanaku, however, is a rarity in Albanian poetry. True freedom, she recognizes in “The Wanderings of Freedom,” is the freedom from the “illusion of freedom.” Her writing is able to capture the zeitgeist of post-cold war Albania because of this enlightenment. Her poems read like the diary of the last surviving sane person in a world gone mad.

But Lleshanaku’s poems, as I mentioned, rarely tie themselves down to any particular place any more than de Chirico’s paintings. Her desolate landscapes are canvases on which are painted small but keen observations. This is why we can read her poetry and relate from half a world away. They tell the story of our own wanderings and meanderings, both personal and political, through the early 21st Century, which still reeks terribly of the mistakes we made in the preceding century. Lleshanaku’s poetry is, in short, a poetry of place, of no place, and therefore, of everywhere.

— Henry Israeli

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