Anna Kove is a well-known poet and translator from Albania. She graduated at 2001 at Goethe Institute, Germany, with the diploma “German as a foreign language in theory and practice”. She continued her master studies at the European University of Viadrina in Germany (2002–2004) in “Media and Intercultural Communication”. She also graduated in “Albanian Language and Literature” at the University of Tirana (1986-1990).
Anna Kove is author of many books, such as “Shën Valentin ku ishe”, “Djegë Ujërash”, “Nimfa e pemës së humbur”, “Kambanat e së dielës” and has been awarded with many prizes, in different competitions in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. She is one of the most distinguished contemporary authors in Albania, having the attention of the critics, researchers and journalists, who have been continuously writing about her works.
She has participated in different seminars and translation workshops like LCB “Berlin” “In Käte tanzen” (September 2006); “Artistic Translation of Children Literature: Kein Kinderspiel” (2013), organized by Robert Bosch Stiftung– Hamburg,the International translators meeting LCB march 2019.
She is winner of the translation stock of “Schritte Stipendien”, from S. Fischer Stiftung in Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. (June- July 2015); (January-February 2020) and Residency grants for literary translators at Europäisches Übersetzer-Kollegium Straelen (July-August 2019).
Her contribute in translations is even wider, we underline the translation of “Mohn und Gedächtnis” by P. Celan (Toena Editions, supported by Traduki) and the Anthology “German short stories” (Ombra GVG Editions). Many of her translations, such as “Herztier” (Albas Editions supported by Traduki), “Hast du ein Taschentuch?”,“Dorfschronik” and stories from “Niederungen” by H. Mueller, “Die Nacht, die Lichter” by Clemens Meyer (Albas Editions), ‘Tyll” by Daniel Kehlmann (Toena Editions), “Die groessere Hoffnung” by Ilse Aichinger (Albas Editions) “Ich spiele noch” by Rose Ausländer (Poeteka Editions) and different poetry works by S. Kirsch, M. L. Kaschnitz, B. Brecht, I. Bachman, N. Sachs have been published in different Albanian literary magazines.
The car stopped in front of my feet.
I climbed in impatiently and brushedhis upper lip slightly, more smelling him than kissing him.
I had thought that I should alter my appearance somehow, to give him a surprise. No! I could never have done as much as he did, he seemed to have lost at least 10 years.
He no longer looked like a middle-aged man waiting patiently and calmly for old age, but instead, he had the appearance of a young man who refuses to be separated from his boyhood shadow.Clean, freshly shaven and smelling ofaftershave.
The air of the car was full of love. In that moment, I felt as if Iwere in a magical world. An invisible mystical thread had slowlybrought us together in a journey. So he drives, while I gaze absentmindedly at the trees, which look to me like silhouettes of people. In my fantasy he often resembles a tree to me.
Can a tree be like a man. Why not? A tree with a broad trunk and cracked bark that strongly guards the tree’s heart, with deep roots in the ground and a large crown of branches and green leaves that allow the warm sun to penetrate right down to the point at which it becomes one withthe ground.
I wanted to be a tree nymph, its dryad,as if in amyth. To be free in body, beautiful like all nymphs, dependent on the elixir produced by the symbiosis of a life in love with a tree. To live there and to breathe in its oxygen, but also to be able to go away, alone, but only so far that the tree would not suffer without my presence.
Then to be reunited again, intertwined as in the legends: the nymph and her tree. See, these areare experiences of a single moment, when a woman detaches herself from reality simply to exalt in nature, or who knows what idea in her unconscious. “Where are we going?” – I asked, when my mind returned inside the car. He looked away from the road for a moment and his eyes lit up brightly.
The feeling of being desired cannothappen without the excitement that startsinside andis expressed on the face and flows from the eyes, out of the lips. With his left hand he held the steering wheel, while with his right hand he ruffled my hair.I approached him a little, taking care not to distract him, and took his right hand in mine.
I felt the skin there communicating the pleasure of being touched to other sensory parts.I might have been braver, if I had not been constantly worried about distracting him from steering. Anyway, as if to stop me from making an error of judgement, he found a layby and he parked the car.
He held my face between his palms, brought me closer, and a soft lips engulfed mine.He held my hand and squeezed it tightly, clasping my fingers. He asked, calling me by my name, “What is your greatest wish right now?” Beside him, weightless, my greatest desire was to look into his eyes, afire with flickering desire, to kiss his liquid lips, to seize the power of his masculinity.
In fact, I had an even greater desire, which transcended being a woman. A desire that came from happiness, but also the fear that one day this overriding passion would end and these airy experiences would become earthlyonce more. Then they would be covered by the soil of oblivion. With pain. The way in which we cover every being who has been a precious part of our lives. I wanted to everything I felt to remain airy.
He understood my inability to speakperhaps as reluctance. Reality was nourishing within me an almost impossible love. “So?”he prompted me again. What should I say? The greatest desires are also the greatest impossibilities! “To know where we are going,” I answered, in a trembling voice, not knowing how to respond to his question. “Towards the impossible, perhaps,” he replied, quite briefly and without hesitation.Now that only we shared the air between us, he was silent,not talking.
But in such conditions, with him so close to me, his silence felt like beautiful words. I was quiettoo and I did not speak for almost the whole journey. At heart, I was basically a curious person and I was never scared when I felt something unknown was waiting for me.
And in this case, through the unknown, perhaps I would be able to get to know him better myself. After we got out of the car, I said, “Love me so much that you cannot live without me!This is my greatest wish.”
But I immediately regretted that sentence, which revealedthat I was basically a naive teenager. He said, “Hmmm. But you will live without me,” and then he coveredmy mouth with his lips, so that I could not respond. Then putting his right arm around me, he usheredme toward a small park nearby, where some elderly pensioners were playing dominoes, and then he moved away from me again.
What did he mean? That I would live without him. So he thinks I do not love him enough, that I’ll be able to replace him? Is that what he meant when he said those words to me? Why would I live without him, when we love each other? I was torturing myself with these internal questions, as he was asking the pensioners about a statue destroyed by the Communists in 1947.
“A monument demolished by the Communists? But didn’t the Communists build the statues and monuments themselves after the war?”
What if he thought that because he is not very sexual, I might have needs beyond that which he can provide and… Ah, of course not, no man would ever think that, even if he does not love you very much.
“Where could the statue have been located?”
He asked the pensioners, and then the pensioners askedeach other. And me, I just wonderedwhy the hell I couldn’t stop asking myselfsuch idiotic questions, and instead,concentrate properlyon why we weretalking to all these pensioners here in the middle of the park? A bust? A monument? Statue? Tomb? Here. This is what we are talking about I think.
“The statue was in front of the Officers’Mess.”
“No,” says another. “That one was damaged later. After we split with the Chinese. It wasn’t thestatue of our priest. The bust of the Albanian priest, cast in bronze, which was destroyed by Albanians in 1947.”
The pensioners around us could not have been old enough in 1947 to remember much. And their answers were all quitecontradictory. So they called an older man, from another group, who was playing a game of chess nearby. One of those types who knows and rememberseverything. He talked and talked incessantly. I had a hard time concentrating, even though I was now all eyes and ears.
“Yes Yes. I know. How can you not know. The priest’s monument was near the old church.”
Someone suggested, “So, the Communists destroyed it when they destroyed all the churches?”
Someone nearby said, “No, I don’t think so, my friend. The churches were demolished in 1967. But our priest’s memorial was destroyed in 1947. How is it possible that it happened so early, before the church was destroyed?”
“It was destroyed by our Communists, at the instruction of the Serbian Communists. The Serbian Communists did not tell our guys to destroy the church; they never even destroyed their own churches. But in 1947, our guys were like brothers to the Serbian Communists. And the Serbian Communists, in order to kill for their God, wanted our God to speak their language too. They killed the priest in 1928 because he spoke Albanian, and nottheSlav or Greeklanguage. They event sent saboteurs at night to damage church texts in Albanian and gave our saints Slavic names. But the priest kept writing in Albanian every day. Until the day they killed him. They say they wanted to cut off his head as well. People loved him very much and they paid their respects to him both in church and in the mosque.”
Here the old man paused and looked at us all, as if to check whether we were listening to his story or not. When he saw that I, too, was attentatively following everything he was saying, he continued:
“They were looking for him even when dead. Do you know what the people did? They buried him in a Moslem grave, so they could not find his body because the saboteurs kept coming at night to try to find his head and cut it off his dead body.”
“Really? A priest buried in a Muslim grave?” I asked doubtfully, and in surprise.
“Yes, yes,”he said. “The people here loved him very much when he was living. So they raised amonument to him when he was dead.”Then the old man took us to the place where the priest’s monument had been, a place the pensioners called “the monument”, which the communists had destroyed in 1947.
“Ah,”he said painfully, “What would it cost these leaders, who promise heaven on earth for a few votes, to raise that monument once more.”
The priest was not only a martyr of the church, but he was a martyr of the Albanian language and the homeland. He taught Albanian to children everywhere, to all of them, without distinction. They say he was a student of Negovani himself. Negovani was burned alive by the Greeks, and our priest was killed by the Slavs, right inside his small church in Najazma, next to the lake.
“That’s why we musn’t forget things, my friend,”he continued, “and we should put up that monument again, just as it was erected by the people of these parts, Christians and Muslims together. We must do things together for Albanian society.”
“Alright, the communists, they forgot and they destroyed things, but the new lot, who come and go from power are not doing any good at all.”Here his voice faltered as he realized that now the conversation could become more risky if hecarried on, so he preferred to take a break from the story-telling, asking:
“But, you, why are you so interested, son?”Hmm, I thought to myself. Why was he so interested?
Instead of enjoying our shared moments alone, here we were, sitting and listening to stories of priests and communists. He said, “The priest of Najazma was my grandfather. I’m afraid my father did not remember him at all. And he died worrying that he had never found his grave. If you’d asked at that time about a priest’s monument, they’d have put you in a living grave. Or they’d have left you as they did my father. To live neither above nor in the grave. Neither dead nor alive.”
After he said this, I looked him in the eye. He was crying. He instinctively took my hand. The strong man suddenly became a sensitive child, who needed to hold onto something. In addition to the tragic loss of his grandfather, he also had the grief of his father’s unlived life. He trembled. My hand inside his palm also trembled.
What did he say? He was his grandfather? Those who did not like and killed both my grandfather and father, now don’t like me either, and they will kill me too. Really! Is that what he said? No. No. He did not say that. I don’t know how I feel. Why don’t I ask him how he feels?
But before I ask, he speaks first, aftersaying goodbye to all the pensioners there in the park, where the monument to his grandfather, the Priest of Najazma, had once stood, and which had been destroyed by the communists, according to the pensioners. And,as he said himself, the father of a man with a lot of political power and criminal connections today, he said to me in a voice full of anxiety and fear:
“You don’t have to come with me.”
“I’m afraid that I don’t fully understand.”
“I know. There are things no one understands, even if I tell them.”
“Well, you should try, maybe you’ll feel better.”
“But don’timagine that you will feel better if I speak.”
“That doesn’t matter, you mustexplain.”
“I am under surveillance. My life may even beat risk.”
“Under surveillance?” I asked, as if I did not understand. But actually I understood well. And now I understood all those times when he was constantly anxious. Even the incompleteness of his approach to me. I instantly felt great fear. For him? Maybe, but instead of saying anything that might help him, or encourage him to continue his story, I asked entirely selfishly:
“Is my life in danger if I come with you?”
“I don’t know. It could be.”
“It could be?”
The earth shifted under my feet. My legs trembled and I was no longer in command of myself. I could neither go with him orturn away.
“The journey towards identity is very difficult,” he told me at the beginning. But why was I so afraid? He continued, “The journey alone is not sufficient. And notwhen you are afraid,” he added, recognising my hesitation.
“Let’s get out of here. We can get protection and live safely somewhere else, far away from this danger,” I said.
“No. I will not run. That’s what they want, for us to leave. To abandon the country. To let them do what they want with our past, our sacred places, our names, our present and our future. They stole our identity once with denial, then with bullets and destruction, and now they want to drive us out.
I begged himdesperatelyto flee. I had a bad premonition.
I said, “If we go, we could write and tell stories about ourhistory without fear and in freedom. So that nothing is forgotten.”
“You write about it,”he said to me. “Everything. Write down the names we call out in ecstasy to God when we pray in Albanian. That way, at least they will not destroy our love. Or our prayers …
I felt that he was still hiding something from me, but I did not speak anymore and I went with him quietly.
Translated by Alexandra Channer