XHEVDET BAJRAJ

 
 

Xhevdet Bajraj is a poet, dramatist, translator, and professor. His works of poetry, which total more than twenty volumes, have been translated into English, German, Spanish, Danish, Serbian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Turkish, and Polish. He has been the recipient of many awards and honors, among them, the prize for best book of poetry (both in 1993 and 2000), conferred by the Kosovo Writers’ Society; the Goliardos International Prize for Poetry in 2004; the 2010 Katarina Josipi award for best original drama written in Albanian; first prize at the Festival of Monodrama, Vlorë, Albania in 2013; and the award for the best book of poetry in 2015, presented at the Prishtina International Book Fair.

In May of 1999, Bajraj and his family were deported from Kosovo. Through the International Parliament of Writers and their program for persecuted writers, he was granted asylum and a fellowship at the Casa Refugio Citlaltépetl in Mexico. In the years since, he has become a full professor of creative writing and literature at the Autonomous University of Mexico City and been inducted into the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte. In a parallel artistic universe, he appeared as a co-star of Aro Tolbukhin, In the Mind of the Killer, an Ariel award-winning film and Mexico’s submission to the 2003 Oscars.

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Xhevdet Bajraj: In my poetry, there is the idea that we are all angels expelled from paradise, to which we will someday return.

Silvia Isabel Gámez: When and how did you know you would be a poet?

Xhevdet Bajraj: At the moment that life appeared to me naked and said: “I am thus, accept me or leave me."

Silvia Isabel Gámez: How do verses come to you?

Xhevdet Bajraj: One thing is clear: I do not expect the muse to come to me. Or it may be that the muse, tired of so many comings and goings, has decided to live in me, and eat, drink, and sleep with me. Sometimes we fight, others we love. I do not wait for her; I rather awaken her in myself. The important thing is whether or not I have something to say . . . I have attempted two things: delivering myself to poetry without any expectation of remuneration, and approaching the absolute truth without losing my soul. The only secret is sitting down to write. Sometimes I experience poetic creation as a birth, and sometimes as a death, but in both cases the sensation is sublime.

I started writing to defend myself from life. I thought neither of readers nor of success; I simply needed to get rid of a weight that took my breath away. My only desire was to decipher the darkness devouring my soul.

 
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WE FALL LIKE CHILDREN
translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika

The echo of footsteps that fled
whitens our hair
darkened
by the slime of a Balkan animal

On city streets
we fall like children
and get up like old people
just to mark our nameless graves

It’s not dark yet
but bats fly
after the taste of stale blood
a masked herd leaves behind

In the heart of the city
donkeys graze and copulate
under a sky laden with butterflies
multiplying along our graves
 

EXILED
translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika

Roughly a hundred and fifty meters away from a brook
near the place I was born
on a cliff
wild doves dwelt

When they flew
over the grand rock
God descended

Much later I came to understand that He walked with us
once
only to abandon us when we went on getting older

From there
in the cabin of a plane-crucifix
I took the long way around the world
searching for rocks to build a house

And I’ve gathered almost all of them
but
where will I raise the walls of the house
what views will I capture inside window frames
to find the way back to childhood.

THE SHOPPING BAG
translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore

I don’t know about you, dear friend
but life keeps biting me with its beastly teeth
and there’s nothing left to do
but bite back

I flick away my cigarette and cross the street patiently
so that some car doesn't tear off
my brand new shoes

I walk into the supermarket
lamb chops
a selection of fish
chicken wings breasts thighs … whole chickens
bull testicles cow brains beef liver
pig trotters rabbits quails
all heavy, all carefully packaged
with the price in the corner
to see if we can afford it

I carry a bag with tortillas
green chiles
six Indio beers, nice and cold
three packets of Delicados, no filter
and I return home
to eat
tortillas with chile
and a little piece of myself


THE ANGEL AND THE EX ANGELS
translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore

The angel came down from heaven to the five-star hotel
Descended to the ground floor in the elevator
Entered the WC of the nocturnal bar
Urinated hastily
Calmly snorted cocaine
(up on high, discipline is iron-clad)
When he returned to the bar
With injected eyes he discovered the secret
That all of us are angels
Expelled from paradise