If you ever go to Tirana,
find this park downtown.
You can’t miss it–it’s the only one.
A green but sore thumb.
It’s just left of center, across the street
from a swollen hive of blind, gnawing termites
feasting on the country’s young:
The Bureaucracy of Perpetual Wrong.
This place–once a park, then not
a park, then a park again–is a curious riddle,
neglected history the books don’t bother with.
I buried something there.
The landmarks are gone,
but you will see what I mean
when you see it.
There was the skeleton of a boat
marooned in grey mud
It never sailed anywhere
but we all understood:
It was meant to be a metaphor.
We began as knife-tongued children
with time-worn eyes. Our hearts
groped for the blue trumpet of God’s voice
with hands made for the devil’s music.
Through the Cold War we were forged
into steel, molded with black brick uniforms
and books in sheep’s clothing: the last batch
forced through the assembly line of propaganda
before the machine’s teeth turned upon itself.
In the aftermath, our lives were handed back
as fragmented instruments with no instruction
manual for repair, easily manipulated
in the hands of men wearing new faces
but the same old jaws, eager to seize history.
They spoke theft in daylight
pushing the country to the breaking
bridge of another long winter.
The truth was a splinter
hidden in the country’s crippled flesh.
Everyone felt its sting,
but none could pull it out.
We were birds trapped in urban famine,
dirty jeans and weathered leather,
clinging to the edges of shoestring dreams.
Molested by concrete, lead, and lessons
in bitterness, we could not find rest anywhere.
When borders swelled like exit wounds,
we were left behind, and perched on the screaming
strings of malnourished guitars and anemic notebooks.
We claimed this park for our own,
this slab of grey grass and stone,
as it was swallowed by a district
of outlaw buildings. We turned it
into a makeshift crashing station,
a gathering storm port, a cacophony
of eloquent cafes and bars sprouting
after the acid rain of prostituted elections.
We flooded defiant edifices, tipsy kiosks
that leaned on each other shoulder to shoulder,
waiting for the high to come like gospel.
Through threats of raids and bulldozers,
they stood there, shameless lovers
with intertwined alley limbs, making out
in broad daylight–
right in front of god and government.
We apologized to no one.
Not to our teachers’ machine gun faces,
or our parents, with questions too heavy
for their hands, or even to strangers
whose eyes twisted like wrenches
at the sight of our jubilant squalor.
We were something else.
They could not understand What.
If you ask, even to this day,
rag-water voices will spill a dirty alibi:
the sometime poisons coursing
through veins, teeth pulling leather
tight around muscle, hope constricting
like Western European borders.
But they won’t say where
the anger came from,
how they cooked it into us
through electric shock speeches
during decades of silence.
The banned books, strangled songs,
films mutilated in the name of morality,
each an eye sewn shut, an unforgiving scar.
How we were bred to live
well numbered and disciplined:
sleep in rigid homes, work
in frigid factories, answer
to names that sound like the horns
of bread trucks that never come.
They don’t want to speak
of the violent freedom,
wind thrust upon wingless
children. How everything
became available, yet nothing
was within reach.
It is easier to believe we were nothing
than to accept there was nothing they
could teach us that didn’t get buried
under the rubble of the Berlin Wall.
We tried to swim where their history would have us sink.
That boat, that stubborn heart, inching away in the mud
–our spines, its mast and sails, daring antennas beckoning
to the new world’s hum, reaching out with intuition
and finding the blessed song, crafting it out of thin air.
Holy holy holy the plugged-in noise
The amplified chest, the revival
of the baseline, the protest of drums,
the heavy drone of truth pulled out
like needle from the flesh
Holy holy holy the redeeming release,
the reckless abandon, the fearless
flight of poems that still resonate. Amen.
We were here
And we were real.
They want to tell you our youth
was an architectural disaster,
a failed economic model,
Today, the city takes pride in the hipster apathy
of engineered grass where expensive dogs shit
metropolitan boredom, and cast iron benches knit the park
a power suit of political strategies and soap opera splendor.
Don’t you listen to them.
We buried something there.
You will see what I mean
when you see it.
There was a boat. It never swam,
But it did not sink either.
It is a working metaphor.
Let’s build on it.