Barcelona, June 26th, 2007
by Julia Klatt Singer
Somewhere between late-night and early morning
it is the sound of breaking glass that fills the air—
not the call of the cooking-oil man
with six orange barrels strapped loosely
to his dolly with bungee cords. He taps and rolls
them through the cobblestone streets, metal
on metal, the din of drums enters
through her window
my mother’s sleep.
She does not dream of needles,
her body grown wild,
organs she has lost.
Now she is present tense. Her past
she has flown out of, her future she left at home,
next to the stack of books on cancer
written in a language no one speaks here.
The sound of breaking has us standing
on our balcony, mother and daughter
four stories up
as a woman curses, smashes another bottle
on the stone wall of the building across the street,
a wine bottle in one hand
she flips off the neighbor, who, three stories up
stands on his balcony, clutching
the empty bucket.
The water perfectly aimed—
angry drunken crazed woman
does not mind, decides, instead, to pull
her wet shirt off, wave it to the gathering crowd,
then pour wine from the bottle on both of her breasts.
I have not seen my mother naked. Just
X-rays of the tumor, her bruised forearms, a quick
glance at the scar that tracked the progress
the tumor made. Her skin is a blueprint,
her body altered so deeply, I feel the urge
to draw a new map, one that will lead me to her.
We watch now as the woman’s mother
in her heavy black shoes that pin her to this night
White haired and bony, dressed in hose and a shift
Takes her daughter by the elbow, opens her purse,
and takes a dry shirt from it, that her daughter refuses.
We watch as the daughter holds the bottle high,
watch as her mother tries to reach it.
She cannot. Her daughter swings
It slips from her hand, drops
slowly, strikes and splinters on the sidewalk.
We follow the river the wine makes, notice
it flows to the sea. My mother and I
find ourselves drawn to the scene, to the sounds
as if they are here for us. Require us.
We both know the red pool of blood
even the tiniest prick draws, know too
its irreversibility, its clarity, the surprise,
both intimate and ordinary. Know that beauty,
like the memory of this night, is broken
in pieces and shards, jagged and sharp.
NOTE: Barcelona is a city on the coast of northeastern Spain. It is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, as well as the second most populous municipality of Spain. With a population of 1.6 million within city limits, its urban area extends to numerous neighboring municipalities within the Province of Barcelona and is home to around 4.8 million people, making it the fifth most populous urban area in the European Union. Barcelona is a major international tourist destination, with numerous recreational areas, one of the best beaches in the world, mild and warm climate, and historical monuments, including eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Map courtesy of mapsoftheworld.com.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem takes place in the old town section of Barcelona, where buildings are close and everything is made of tile and stone. Sounds travel, feel as close as they are. I have been traveling with my husband and two young sons. My mother has joined us for a week. She is between chemotherapy sessions and in a rare move, decided to join us. Rare, because my mother has always been supportive, but never wanted to be a burden, or get in the way. It was a delight to have this time with her. And like the drama of our own lives (her cancer, year four) we were willing to be swept up in someone else’s drama, for a few moments. And yes, every drama, feels connected when you are traveling; you pick them up, carry them, like souvenirs.
Photo taken in Barcelona, Spain, by the author.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julia Klatt Singer is the poet in residence at Grace Nursery School. She is co-author of Twelve Branches: Stories from St. Paul, (Coffee House Press), author of In the Dreamed of Places, (Naissance Press), A Tangled Path to Heaven, Untranslatable, (North Star Press), and her most recent chapbook, Elemental (Prolific Press). Audio poems from Elemental are at OpenKim, as the element Sp. She’s co-written numerous songs with composers Craig Carnahan, Jocelyn Hagen, and Tim Takach.
Photo of the author taken in Barcelona, Spain.