July 14, 2008

Albert Haley

BARCELONA

She was not the one who let you kiss her
behind the fake palms at the wedding reception.
She was not the one who went with you to Star Trek

number whatever and your knees bumped together
and struck intergalactic sparks in the back row.
She was not even the one who did your loads

of laundry in college and typed two and a half
term papers for you and cried at the bus station
while it was snowing like a scene from a bad novel.

The one you’ll remember until you stop
remembering is the girl who sat beside you
in eighth grade biology and she kept smiling

sunbeams of encouragement as you dropped
then fumbled the scalpel and she had brown hair
and an implied continent of freckles and a short dress

and skinny legs and all the boys said Chrissie
was too nerdy because she got 100’s on all the quizzes
and had a rock and mineral collection at home

that she dared to discuss over a half pint of milk
at the cafeteria lunch table. Together you took apart
the fetal pig and it seems like yesterday becomes today

because in your mind it is as if you were married
to Chrissie for those two piggy days in that class
more than anyone else you’ve known before or since.

From snout to curled tail she wasn’t girl-like yech
or gross but right there with you observing
the wonderful and frightening bits and pieces

such as sprawling liver, thumb-sized kidneys,
or tracing out the vas deferens and inguinal canal,
and you were accidentally brushing your foreheads

and touching each other’s still smooth hands
and those trusty knees came together beneath
the table in a way that did just about everything

except make a baby and that wasn’t actually necessary
because as unnamed boyfriend and girlfriend
your pig dissection discoveries were the actual equivalent

of your own offspring nursed with fumes
of formaldehyde and careful forceps pull
and tweezers squeeze until you put the remains

in a bag at the end of the last day and dropped
them in the hazardous waste container.
Then it was time for lab reports to be written,

grades to be entered in Mr. Bender’s book,
and for everyone to move on to another project.
You got a B and Chrissie nailed the A and she said

she was sorry and patted you on the back,
an entirely new gesture from her that moved you,
but you couldn’t say so. “It was just a pig,”

you told her but even then you knew it wasn’t
and that you would never ask her to a dance
or even see much of her again after this class was over.

The pig was everything, heaven and earth and love
and brief roses with no sequel. Years later
you heard that Chrissie was an indie singer

with a single in play, then the band fell from FM grace,
she faded away and moved to Barcelona of all places
where you hope, really hope, she is shaking a tambourine

as well as her long brown hair and that late at night
she still takes out her rocks and turns over some
of the interesting ones she has collected along the way.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2015
2007 Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

_________

Albert Haley: “After many years of writing short stories and novels and seeing some of them published, I one day woke up and realized I had written my way into poetry. One immediate benefit of divorcing fiction and marrying poetry was that I could stop buying paper by the case at OfficeMax. The greater thing was that I could suddenly say much more. It’s that beautiful paradox built into the form. Though I enjoy autobiographical and even confessional poetry by others (e.g., Jimmy Santiago Baca, Ginger Andrews, Sharon Olds), I find that my poems tend to shy away from being a record of the life I’ve lived. So when it came time for ‘Barcelona’ to want to be written, I started with the fact that, yes, I once sat next to a girl in junior high biology class. That was it. Nothing fleshy happened to us, only to the frogs and pigs we poked and dissected. The poem became a fabrication, which come to think of it is a nice word since it gets at what I value—making new things out of words. And ‘Why Barcelona?’ my wife asked. Well, I’ve never been there; I just like the name.”