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Small-Town Stations

by Luljeta Lleshanaku

translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika

Trains approach them like ghosts,
the way a husband returning after midnight slips under the covers,
keeping his cold feet at a distance. 

A post office. A ticket booth. The slow clock hung on a nail.
Some of the passengers have been sitting on the same chairs for a while now.
They know you’re the one who must wait for the moment.
The moment will not wait for you.

Only a few get on; even fewer the ones who get off.
The man sitting on a bench at the platform
kills time over a local newspaper opened at the center.

Train stops are a routine,
except for the boy hiding behind the pole,
the collar of his school uniform askew.
He is not the firstborn, but the prodigal son,
the chosen one for adventure and the parable of return.

Fried dough, candy, minty sodas . . . !
The boy sells through the window,
taking money with one hand, delivering goods with the other.
It’s his dark pigment that saves him from his shyness.
His pockets are empty though deep.
Against his saccharine fingers
dust clings easily—a strand of hair
and in the evening, sometimes, an entire city.

You don’t forget small stations easily,
the short stops with enormous pockets.
Paying attention to each detail,
they will become our alibi for not arriving on time
or for never arriving at all
where we had set out to go.


Luljeta Lleshanaku, winner of the Albanian National Silver Pen Prize in 2000 and the International Kristal Vilenica Prize in 2009, has published six books of poetry in Albanian. She is also the author of six collections published in other languages, including Antipastoral, 2006 (Italy), Kinder der natur, 2010 (Austria), and Dzieci natury, 2011 (Poland). Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), a finalist for the 2013 Popescu Prize (formerly the European Poetry Translation Prize) given by The Poetry Society, UK, is her first British publication and includes work from two editions published in the U.S. by New Directions: Fresco: Selected Poems (2002), which drew on collections published in Albania from 1992 to 1999, and Child of Nature (2010), a book of translations of later poems that was a finalist for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award. Lleshanaku was also nominated for the European poetry prize “The European Poet of Freedom, 2012,” in Poland. (6/2014)

Born and raised in Albania, Ani Gjika moved to the United States at eighteeen. She is a 2010 Robert Pinsky Global Fellow and winner of a 2010 Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize. Her first book, Bread on Running Waters (Fenway Press, 2013), was a finalist for the 2011 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, the 2011 May Sarton New Hampshire Book Prize, and the 2011 Crab Orchard Series Award. Her poems and translations have appeared in Salamander, Seneca Review, 3:AM Magazine, From the Fishouse, and elsewhere. (6/2014)

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