To the Albanian Man Leading His Cows across Traffic by Kimberly Crafton

Tirana is crawling across the plain, swallowing fields, farms, and cattle. Tirana is crawling across the plain, tall tan buildings with teeth like balconies, swallowing green squares dotted white with sheep. The yellow streak of our taxi spits us out onto the asphalt and up into our concrete nest where, through windows overlooking the capital city, we still hear the echoes of the roosters and swallows who woke us in Korçë this morning, sun shining through grape leaves and onto the treasured roses.

 

*

 

At the bathroom sink, tired from the road, I hand-wash the stockings I just took off and hang them up to dry, the way my great-grandmother used to do. My stockings in the shape of her legs draped over the old shower rod, waiting for the morning. Poised for a fresh start.

Yesterday in Korçë, my friend’s mother picked for me sunlit roses from her garden. This one for fragrance, this one for color, this one for love. As if weaving a bouquet from her own locks of hair, she showered me with beauty. With her once vital arm, she pulled the limb of a cherry tree down, deft fingers plucked each ripe cherry, filling my hands to overflowing. It was her breath and not the wind that stirred the branches in the orchard. Pear. Apple. Peach. Plum. And yet nothing here was tame. Just as she will never be tamed. The life that flows through her, through her gardens, is wild and free. It grows the way it wants, shaped only by love.

 

*

 

Tirana is spilling over its banks, crawling across the plains. At the roundabout, our taxi breaks its stride to make way for two cows and you—an old man with a face like whittled limestone, guiding your cows across the grain of traffic. You walk unchanged, upright along the path you’ve traced across centuries, along the only path left to you. You are a blip out of the yellow cab window as we are rushed along, then you are gone.

 

*

 

My mouth was full of cherries and my heart was full of peace when I heard the farmers here in the southeast talking in low tones together, talking about cutting down their orchards. This news sticks in my throat like a stone. With no one to buy our cherries, they say, with no market in sight, much better to cut them down than watch our fruit fall uneaten to the ground. Arboreal mercy killings born out of the most ancient kind of love. I will kill you before I see you disrespected—and both bow their heads in prayer before the blow. I cannot bear to look.

 

*

 

Christmastime, 2004—I was frozen in place watching the news coming in from Indonesia. Videos of a strange sight on the coastal horizon. An optical illusion, beguiling the senses. Something foreboding in the air, and then it was upon them. The tsunami that claimed over 200,000—a wall of water so unimaginable, so inescapable. I was caught, watching as they realized that they were caught. Each one frantically thinking, looking for higher ground, finding none. Bracing, fighting to keep their grip, to stay on their feet, then getting pulled under. Some came to the surface again…once, twice, then no more. The beige brown water rushed on. Where there had been a woman, a man, a car, a tree, a house, a child, was instantly a churning, teeming motion, hungry and unstoppable. Devouring all. Rushing on toward more.

 

*

 

Waking at my friend’s house this morning, I stepped out onto the side porch, squinting into the spray of sunlight. Her mother was in the garden below, coming up the dappled trail flanked by peonies and roses. Her father was on the other side of the yard and it was clear that he still lights the fire in her eyes. All these fifty years and more. Their hands touch everything, feed everything, need everything, and nothing else. The hearts of every creature in Noah’s Ark beat inside their chest as they walk their plank together, two by two, waiting for the reign to stop. Reign of communist terror. Reign of civil war. Reign of brazen corruption. If it keeps on reigning, we might all get washed away.

 

*

 

Tirana is seething, crashing, crawling across the plain like something that is made not to eat, but only to chew. To swallow. When one eats, one eventually reaches a point of satiation, realizing I have had enough. But chewing has no such indicator. Chewing is just chewing. It can go on and on. And swallowing is just…

 

*

 

Time doesn’t understand that we don’t understand it. My great grandmother’s legs were just inside those stockings as we sat side by side, my small feet dangling off the edge of her divan. Her hands were just pushing them through the soapy water, hanging them neatly to dry—disjointed and dripping into the shower stall. She looked up, saw something strange on the coastal horizon of her subconscious, beguiling her senses. Something foreboding in the air, coming faster. She blinked her eyes, I blinked my eyes, and then the hungry wall of time swallowed her, leaving only her stockings floating, precious debris on memory’s churning surface.

 

*

 

This is the Lake of my mother and my grandmother, my friend tells me with the strength of petrified wood silent in her voice. And I understand. For as I sit looking, I am seeing mirrored in the surface of her lake, the lake of my mother and my grandmother. These twin surfaces shine strong and silver together against the distant, turbulent clouds. Strange how they are both coming and going simultaneously.

 

*

 

The tsunami of Tirana is raging across the plain, and even those who sensed it coming—so unimaginable, so inescapable—are helplessly caught. From our yellow taxi window, I am caught, watching. Fields, farms, cattle. Houses, chickens, trees. Traditions, fears, loves. Roses, peonies, grapevines. They were all just coming up the garden path, fiery eyes catching the spray of sunlight. Hand upon a rose. Leading the cattle to evening pasture. Fingers snipping the bud, picking the fruit. Talking together, crouched under the umbrella, feeling the approach of a storm. Thinking, looking for higher ground, finding none. Bracing, fighting to keep their grip, stay on their feet, then getting pulled under. Tirana is surging across the plain, racing on toward More, tall tan buildings with teeth like balconies swallowing the green, churning time, terror, and tradition into broken bits of precious debris.  There will be no new morning, no fresh start.

You have stepped into the roundabout, leading your cows into the moving maze as time and my cab rush me past. I catch your eye and am frozen in your gaze. We both bow our heads in prayer before the blow. I cannot bear to not look.

 

 

 

Kimberly Crafton is a writer who finds and translates into language the unexpected magic of every day life. Part gypsy and part bohemian nester, home is where she finds herself.

 

 

(Front page image via)



2 responses to “To the Albanian Man Leading His Cows across Traffic by Kimberly Crafton”

  1. Kofi Donkor says:

    Awesome, writings Kim! Wow, you captured each particular day event as they happened with Nother Nature. Bravo…!!!

  2. Sue says:

    This is exquisite!

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