The Confident Avant-Garde

Romeo Çollaku
Romeo Çollaku

9 poems

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck

Romeo Çollaku was born in the southern port town of Saranda, across from the island of Corfu in neighbouring Greece. He studied Albanian language and literature at the University of Gjirokastra and now lives in Athens, Greece.

Çollaku is an author of Albanian verse of high linguistic finesse, which has appeared in three collections: Zemër virgjine (Virgin Heart), Tirana 1993; Gjithë diell e natë (All Sun and Night), Tirana 2003; and Kumbaraja e kohes (The Piggy Bank of Time), Tirana 2004. He has also published the novel Varrezat e vendlindjes (Hometown Cemetery), Tirana 2002, and Albanian translations of the poets Yannis Ritsos, Jorgos Seferis, Paul Verlaine and Stephane Mallarmé.

The Piggy Bank of Time

As twilight descends, casting black ink upon the village, and the dog's eyes in the courtyard are like two spent oil lamps, you at the windowsill show not your elbows, nor do you bestow a glance on the plum trees or on the fences in the lane.

"On the Night of St. Demetrius, there is time enough for sleep and thought," chides one of those voices which hardly whispers, and you sit there dazed for hours on end.

And, when you finally get up, you accidentally shatter a porcelain vase (a custom of old, and there is nothing you can do).

Light the lamp and study the grey coins of your childhood scattered upon the floor.

[Kumbaraja e kohës, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.7]

Lost in Thought

Mist and naked plum trees and a madrigal of rain from the rooftop.

There, where the old women tell children tales and croon ballads with magic numbers, stretching to their mouths spoonfuls of bogeymen and sweets: Come on, or the Iron-Toothed One will get you! The jackals once loped through the snow and surrounded the village! An angry ogre had seized the spring.

Three mountains, seven heads, nine cradles...

And the obedient children ate, slowly munching and staring, obsessed, at the glimmer beyond the window.

[Mendueshëm, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.8]

Song of the Horned Lark

Its song was indeed an opaque mutter; feather-light body, freed of life's heavy burden.

For wherever it went, untold weariness, sorrow and despair.

Now a black spot on the fields grows ever smaller,

Just as, 'midst snowdrifts at night, the parson's silhouette hastens to church from the house of some wavering soul.

[Kënga e çerdhuklës, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.9]

Old Faded Photographs

Brittle, as if no tears were left to moisten them... and over their heads, the old roof. In one of them the ivy can scarcely be seen, in another, a wide walkway, worn by pigeons.

No evil omen anywhere in sight and, once more,

Out of all that longing, the lassitude, the aims and disappointments and sins, the lack and surfeit of things, the pleasures and pains,

Tender vines and foliage sprouted one day, thistles, sage, and chrysanthemums in autumn. And probably even some Rose of Sharon.

[Fotografi të vjetra, të zverdhura, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.12]

Facing One Another

Two little hills facing one another and a serpentine path between them.

Two little hills in opposition; on one side scarlet beehives a-buzzing,

On the other, hulls faded and silent.

[Përkundruall, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.15]

Still Life, Very Still

Shrivelled fruit in the wicker basket and crumpled napkins in the corners of the table, hymns they weave for want of a hand: the wind no longer opens the book to the pleated pages.

The souls of the furniture hide in wooden kernels, even in immured apparitions, and the silence remains unconsumed.

The cold, three-legged stand.

[Natyrë e qetë, shumë e qetë, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.17]

Another Folk Painting

Raki, oregano and garlic smell strong in the pale light, that light which perforates the shutters, and the branches of the mulberry tree in the garden.

Yet it is not light. It is but the memory of brightness and thus, comes cold; winter descends, piercing hearts.

And the mulberry tree is shaken to the quick for, season after season, has it been losing its one-time rustle.

[Tjetër pikturë popullore, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.18]

On the Roof and Fences

A whiff of alfalfa rose with the dampness from the fields, yet the icy hoarfrost idly coated the windowpanes.

All life was in the gloom, on the roof and fences, as if some struggling soul, black smoke, were grasping for the heavens.

Dusk then spread over the plains and hills, but on the papers the candle wax hardened in vain.

This was, and yet was not, the landscape I longed for; something in its depths was missing, but how could I retrieve it?

Very soon, all of a sudden, the window darkened, and a dream approached, luring me to sleep.

[Mbi çati e gjerdhe, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.20]


Memory will weave that black head scarf of yours, grandmother, as the cold north wind crochets endless skeins of yarn over the freezing village.

You wake early with a coffee pot in your hand while, in the ashes, coals still glowing plead in the hearth for evening,

With those little steps which childhood left incised in my eyes, with wrinkles which each night deepened.

Oh, autumn has fled down the hurtling torrent, and your rheumatism is always the herald of winter.

[Elegji, from the volume Kumbaraja e kohës, Tirana: Ombra GVG 2004, p.25]


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