July 1, 2024

When I began studying the Albanian language several years ago,

it was Ismail Kadare''s poem, "Mall (Longing)",

that my instructor Luli Thomai introduced to me.

And when you reference the poem in conversation with Albanians,

they know the poem by heart and will recite it along with you.

This is the power of Kadare's writing.

I always hoped I would run into him at the Grand Park here in Tirana

where I was told he would spend his time.

I wanted to tell him that his poem lived

in a scribbled language journal.

That it lived on a wall in a home

that was now a stranger to me,

in a country I no longer recognized.

That it was tired and worn

from my eyes pouring over it,

squeezing every last drop of blood that it could give.

That it was exhausted

from comforting me,

from looking into my eyes

as I grieved over the death of my father.

And as my blood ran into a fever pitch,

as I wanted to claw and beat my flesh,

I grabbed this journal off the table

ripping it apart yelling, crying until

my eyes caught the page titled "Mall".

I stopped.

And in that moment,

I stood there,

clutching it.

Wrinkled, frayed, it invited me

in its quiet sadness to sit together

and recite its words.

It rocked me back and forth.

It even offered me a beer.

It was this poem that brought me

across an ocean to a land unfamiliar,

to a tongue that danced at the periphery of my consciousness.

To a second chance.

And it brought me to this moment.

That this poem must be an incantation

and he a sorcerer to work such magic.

"Thank you, Ismail Kadare, for turning my world upside down,

for saving me, for bringing me to this new world."

This is what I wanted to tell him.

*For English and Spanish translations of the poem "Mall" click here.

What I wanted to tell him