from Negative Space

Luljeta Lleshanaku

In the Town of Apples

The outline of a pregnant woman—
a row of hills
on the horizon.

For several months,
she kept her pregnancy hidden
the way the children of the exodus
hid their favorite toys
between woolen sweaters and bread
when told to bring along
only the clothes on their backs.

A gypsy with his little boy
arriving from nowhere
stops at her feet.
In his hands
the accordion
spreads its wings like an eagle over its prey
exposing its white, puffed up chest.

An apple is placed on the boy’s head
as on the head of every boy in town,
half-rotten apples
waiting for a paternity test.

And the fathers
lose their strength
long before shooting the single arrow.

Everyone grows old at the same time,
clipped by the same gardener’s hand.
The middle generation does not exist.
They migrate
and when they return
they have gray hair and build a big gray house
where they’ll breathe their last.

But winter is always a good time for apple trees.
Apples everywhere; apples have no memory
and yet
as in Genesis
they keep playing the temptation game
here where there is no paradise to lose.

Indifferent, wives open windows
and let the nights escape
as though unleashing dogs
on a street that stinks of rotting apples
or maybe cedars.

The Stairs

My father was obsessed with stairs;
all his life he’d build a set and destroy another,
sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors,
never finding the perfect way
to reach up.

I am the same.
There’s a different view from above: streets are sturdy ropes;
gardens hidden behind houses like sensual neck bites,
and a cosmic dust hides the pedestrians’ dual rotation
around a star and around themselves. Whereas that railroad track
with its yellow and black lines,
that’s not the rattle snake that makes your skin crawl . . .

Each time I chose the quick stairs, the elevator,
I got stuck between two floors, in an irrational number.
The results—not worth mentioning.

And then those escalators,
which deliver you intact like a postal package to another era,
without knowing what’s inside you. You don’t know either.

Poetry, too, was a way of moving up,
temptation through denial, via negativa,
but the room on the second floor remains damp, cold, still vacant.

Someone else chooses to identify with a nail carving
on a wooden staircase, in early youth.
She shows the hypothetical scars of tetanus on her belly
as if talking about the boys who might have fought over her.

I never understood what she looked for, hours on end on the roof,
those evenings when even dew stunk of ideology,
but I imagine the sad creaking on the stairs, her solemn descent,
the cadence, like all other cadences, without nails, without returns.

Anatomical Cut

Razor-sharp is Rexhep’s knife, a third-generation butcher.
Effortlessly, with its fine tip, he separates flesh from bone,
thigh from shoulder, heart from ribs,
a kosher day from another “it could have been worse”
through an anatomical cut.

The least favorite calf head hanging on a hook
acts as warranty between the living and the dead
until evening.

Some clients have no respect, demanding: “Take out the fat!”
in the same way you would ask someone
to wipe off their shoes carefully before entering the house.
Others simply love to chat.

From his father he learned how to cut without losses
and other small secrets of the trade,
secrets stolen but not mentioned
like how to slam meat on the scale, fast and hard.
A small deceit; just an ounce. No big deal.

His life is simple, made up of speed and knives,
knives sharpened with care each morning
so that it will be easier in Heaven later
to recompose the parts on Judgement Day.

But when he returns home with hands and his status quo washed of blood,
he calculates finances for studies his son doesn’t even care to complete,
plans to buy a house where the stench of meat won’t conjure crows in dreams,
and before sleeping, forcefully pulls his wife’s hips toward himself,
just her hips,
and the hand on his scale points to an ounce of excess.

Small secrets of self-deceit no one ever talks about,
not even a father who knows the world better than anyone else,
from inside out, entrails and all.

translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika