Category Archives: Uncategorized

Te Oda (dhe si ne shtepi)


I had the honor of performing in front of my home crowd in Tirana, Albania on Saturday, February 22. Although 4 days after major oral surgery and with a traumatized jaw (it felt like I held the pit of a peach between my jaw and my cheek for the entire night), it will remain my favorite show out of the 160+ live shows of the last 5 years. Many thanks to Ergys Meta, a fantastic musician with a keen sense of improvisation and beautiful intuition who accompanied me for 45 minutes. Many thanks to the owner and staff of Te Oda, the gorgeous venue that hosted us for the evening. Many thanks to the many beautiful and hopeful old and new friends, believers in the art we can all make, and need to make, now more than ever, in our own country. Ju dua fort te gjitheve.


Giving HARABEL Wings



by Justin Anderson | December 18, 2012

After a handful of meetings over the past few months, and after three intensive days last week of working through and crafting the programming of this piece, Gypsee Yo and I finally got HARABEL on it’s feet last night in the rehearsal hall. Most actors and directors would probably agree that the first day of staging can be one of the most daunting days of the entire process.

“Bueller?…Bueller?” Hmmm…maybe it’s just me (but I don’t think so!).

Sometimes you can indulge and (potentially) exhaust yourself and the actors by doing too much work at the table, just so you can push back the inevitable task of “the doing.” Ideas, words, conversations are safe. Action is hard and requires lots of specificity. It’s a vulnerable place to be in for both director and actor. A bit scary. Even knowing you have plenty of margin for discovery and play, you sometimes adhere to a contrived and silly notion of expecting too much too fast.

But last night, the theatre muses showed up and smiled upon our process. Beautiful things happened, unexpected discoveries surfaced, and once again, I was blown away by the power of being in and relying on the moment. Open hands, open hearts.


So now we’re out of the gate (on our feet) and making magic. We have a couple of weeks yet to go, but I have no doubt this HARABEL, this “little sparrow”, will be ready to take flight soon.

The Sea of Unforget




She answered my advertisement on Craigslist.

My name the only one who didn’t sound

Like crackle dry magnolia or menopausal peach fuzz lips

Snoring like the echo of the sewing machine’s murmur.

She found me when I was two years foreigner. A social security card

screaming in carbon letters “do not hire under the penalty of law”.

I was sewing for rich women with closets

The size of my old country, and nothing to wear.

They liked my silence. The discretion of my hands.

The thousand yards stare I wore for a face.

They paid me in leftovers, gas money, and last season shoes.

They taught me for their kind, unlike mine,

Starvation was a necessary choice.

She has the name of old steel money and golden plaques

On library and hospital lobbies all over Birmingham.

She says she wants…. just in case…. .A white noise replica

of her mother’s wedding dress…. And only if… it doesn’t fit…

She doesn’t shrink…. fast enough….. in time…. for the wedding.

When I tell her

I believe in making clothes for the body

And not the other way around

She turns her back to me, an angry ship

The mast of her spine protruding under designer sails of silk.

I am blasphemy and untruth. To say she doesn’t have to mold

bones inside the cavern of that dress. to unholy the garment.

To shun it as a cathedral of trimmed women’s voices.

What would I know,

Coming from burning bush,

what it means to come from evergreen bristle.

Southern girl been raised on that religion.

Duty to be pretty. Worthy to be seen.

Believing only in the gospel according to mirrors.

They wait for her everywhere, all clean cut and white shirt smile

Like a pack of Latter Day Saints, always ready to recruit.

Southern girl been raised only

To fit into the wedding dress

The way

The truth

The life

She shall be saved

In child bearing.

Her cross hangs in her closet

The way it did in her mother’s

And her grandmother’s before her

Vanilla bean color, surrender size.

She tries it once a week, asks me to zip it up.

My throat is a hot tub full of dumb bridesmaids

When I ask her to suck in.

When the zipper’s teeth still refuse to kiss

Her fear crawls out of her bustle

a roaring engine tearing through White County

Whistle full of frat boy spit.

She becomes closed door and running water.

I stand in the middle of her lime porcelain bedroom, trapped.

I do not understand her. I am unfair. I tell her to come out.

I threaten to shred the dress with the fangs of my shears.

I want to tell her, shut up. Like she already hasn’t.

I want to tell her. Rape Camps. Mothers and daughters in the same room.

Same men breaking into them. with hammers. Wrenches. Fingers of thick trees.

molding their bones into shame they will wear

Seven generations of shattered blood.

I want to tell her, two years means nothing in the sea of unforget.

I am two years of unwords, unpoems, undone. I want to tell her

I do not want to ever finish her dress.

I have seen how wearing shrapnel changes a woman’s landscape.

I sew for her at night, when the radio plays static to kill the unbearable silence

Of a city which used to fight people with bursting water and unmuzzled dogs.

A city ran by her grandparents. Their steel furnaces. Their luncheons with the governor.

I rip her dress in the morning, when the humidity starts creeping

through the screen doors like the memory of the violence neither one of us can escape.

The sound of the seams splitting apart makes me weep.

I am a lost narrative thread.

I put it together again. I am stalling, hoping to buy her time

to find herself. I wish I knew what to say.

My sewing machine cannot stitch like a typewriter.

It cannot master the dialect of my longing.

Its jaws are tight with tension. They were not built for words.

Its foot stomps relentlessly through yards lost in translation.

The needle is an unreliable tongue,

piercing through my solitude.

the day I handed over the dress, my silhouette

slipped a murderous quiet through the back kitchen door,

once used by her family’s black maid.

The last time I ever handed a woman

a weapon against herself.

Parku Rinia


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,
a pseudo-culture.

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.

Southern Ghazal


At first, I wept with angry longing for the severe mountains of the old country,
driving by dark fields of crowded corn, no bump in the horizon of Southern country.

No lovers, no midnight walkers, a town of evicted sidewalks, with bloodshot eyes
of red-lights hanging upside-down, like wild turkeys hunted in the open country.

My yo-yo heart hovered in humid air, spiraling away from the cut down string,
barely pulled by the soft, timid gravity of white cotton fields in red clay country.

The blind horse of broken sleep trenched my haunted bed, beckoning the ache of old
concrete, the beastly gun noise, something to drown the honest silence in this country.

I took for lover the widows’ tremor at the passing train, at the mouth of static radio,
and the howling of Patsy and Hank, at the murderous moon in the music of country.

The trees at the edges of fields are born to face the slap of the tornado. They stand,
knowing, the quiet calm is the true alarm of the promised storm, sure to hit the country.

I am a tree, praying for the lightning to strike, to remind me, I am still alive. I hover
over myself, a ghost of myself, eating the red dirt by fistfuls, longing to call it My Country.

The Grandfathers’ Clock


The myth of grandfathers
is a wayward clock embedded
in the chests of my tribe.

To this clock we pray,
beg it to tell us everything else
but the passing of time.

Long before our country was even born,
we wove an intricate untruth of heavy shadow
men carved into daguerreotypes hanging
over the fireplaces, next to the weapons:
a convenient religion, as reliable as a loose tooth.

The men measure their grit against it,
always finding themselves wanting.

The men of my tribe are weak.
They have been given the birthright
but not the right to dream. Their hands
fumble in daylight, hungering for purpose.

The women of my tribe are built like avalanches.
They fear the noise and the fall that comes with it,
so they marry first, love later, and make children
with the lifespan of winter fires. Their names
sound like slammed doors and rattling shutters.

I am a holy unbeliever in the religion
of my tribe. The day I crawled out from it,
my name became an amputated arm.

I sold my birthright for the right to dream.
I have made children whose names are silver rivers,
whose religion is the Restless Spirit.

At bedtime, I show them my chest
as a cautionary tale:

See this clock ticking in the blood.
It is the compass I use to point away from myself.

The short arm is the trail of lost prodigals
bursting through the barbwire shadows
of rugged and unforgiving mystical men.

The long arm is the ghost of my longing,
a tide in my blood beckons like a dying
siren’s throat. An enchanted lie.
A name no longer mine.




We left the land behind
covered by the ash of houses and flesh,
like everything else, too heavy
to be carried on backs or bare hands.
we pushed the elderly in wheelbarrows,
strapped the infants to our chests like ammunition,
and took flight in the snow.

At the road’s last bend I turned in tears
To see the roof of my house snap in half
Like a tree bit by the jaws of a hungry lightning

I could feel the heat of the burning threshold
pulsing under my tongue.

I bit through it to stay alive
And slowly chewed through the memory
Cautiously rationing the blood for three days.

When we arrived at the border
An endless caravan of ragged souls
ripping from spines with every step
Slowly hemorrhaged through the exit wound checkpoint

There was a soldier with a screwdriver
Removing wedding bands from women’s fingers.
His hands were a colony of hungry fire ants
Burning through the layers of my clothing.

A captain with a hawk sitting on his shoulder
Counted our heads. He collected pleasant features
with his pocket knife, and fed his bird
eyeballs and women’s nipples.
When it swallowed, breast milk dripped off its beak
The color of the muddy snow.

Others sat by the fire,
next to the pile of car tags, kidneys,
passports, jars of pickled hands, and land deeds.

They drank vodka from a dead baby’s bottle
sharing their fresh kill with the wolves
and a bloody hound, playing a drunk accordion.

At the checkpoint they stripped us
off our boys and men,
told us to cross alone,
And never look back.
When they unhinged their guns’ gates
A stampede of angry bullets roared like a mob
Cheering their favorite dictator.

They aimed their hooves at our men
Grinding their bones into soft, pink salt.

their souls tore out of their bodies
like legless birds escaping a collapsing city.

They hovered over our heads for days
Unable to land anywhere.

They were caught in the net of a photographer
Who sold them by the pound to foreign newspapers.
The editorials showed pictures of bodies covered in dirt
The headlines read “ETHNIC CLEANSING”

The civilized world was appalled.
They said, that kind of behavior is a no-no.

They stuffed UN resolutions into our mouths
and call it a peaceful solution.

Forgive, they said, it is time to move on.
Be civilized. Shake hands.
Sit here. Sign there.
Smile for the camera.


The lust of land makes murderers of men.
It makes them dull to history and eager to forget

Their justice is a whore with bedroom eyes
Turning tricks for the foreign press

They say she’s here to stay
she now answers in my name

Her palms are an army of proper white men
I am to kiss in gratitude

I am to be schooled in the ways of her civility
Mind her peacekeeping whip

Though the wolves scratch their hooves
on the northern border again
like the salt they took from me is not enough

I feel the lightning’s pitchfork in my throat
ripping through my threshold again

The roof of my mouth caving in under the weight
of the body of evidence they will not let me claim


My last son died in a day of peace.

When we came back to our charred house
He lifted the torso of a body from the threshold
And suddenly awoke the snake of a mine
Sleeping under the petrified remnant.

His feathers scattered all over the yard.
His head toppled against the last standing post
Like his old childhood ball, and rolled down
All the way to my feet.

He is the only one I got to bury.
A rare tombstone with a given name.

I say,

Everything ash has touched belongs to me.

Every life hung in branch, gutted by knife
Or buried by gun
is mine.

Plant me a tree for each son I lost.
The forest is mine.

Every stone, every crater,
Every stomp and ghostly river
Is mine.

Every wind.
Everything the feather touches
Is mine.