The Smoke from Burning Bridges (Jennifer Compton)

(Edited by Kathryn Hummel)

What did he do after he had pressed his ultimate Send at 1-49 am?
Weep, pray, rant? Reach for a bottle? Rush into the street? Lie down
on his bed and wank? Choose another likely customer to alienate?
Did his skin stretch tightly across his lonely bones? Did he sweat?
I did not expect it to be the last of him. I thought that he’d reach for
Send again, some chill morning, in his room in the boarding house
on the other side of this city. I made a coffee and went back to work.


1. 05 am

Dear J — , (& M —)

Hi. I am at last on the internet. Can write at my desk listening to Aboriginal music instead of snot-snorting students at the library, a prospect I finally surrendered in despair. No longer. I also wish to make a documentary on the best poets here in the context of such a vivacious scene in [this city]. Paying off the very best high definition video camera now. You might be interested.

I am attaching a short story I finished earlier this morning. Second night this week without going to bed. I need to calm down, perchance.

I look forward to seeing you again, perhaps at one of your readings.


V —


1. 11 am

Hi — (who is M —?) ((My husband is called M — .)) Glad to hear you are doing well. And writing. Can’t say I am very interested in a doco, too busy. Off to [that city] soon. And the family you know.

I expect I will see you around the place, sans doute. [without doubt]


1. 13 am

Have a look at the story. As for [that city] the festival isn’t what it used to be, though I am sure you will enjoy yourself as long as you don’t cook. Don’t worry about the film, of course.


1. 27 am

Just too busy — and hot — to read at the mo, sorry.

As I have never been to the [that city] festival before I am sure I will think it is just wonderful.

Went off to the reading at D — D — in [that suburb] today and had a you-beaut time and tomorrow I am on a promise to go to the L — M — reading.

Us [this city] poets are busy little critters for sure.


1. 38 am

Sure, you are appreciably busy — how do you fit it all in?  Family? Heat? Too hot to read a story far shorter than the play I read, written by you. Nothing or no-one could have stopped me from reading it. But perhaps you feel you are far too important to make such an effort?

I met Picasso’s last wife in Adelaide, Phillip [sic] Glass, Amis, but that was all nearly 2 decades ago. We actually all met up again later in those days. We knew each others’ work. Picasso’s last woman suicided soon after the book she had written, published, suffered the ignorance of [that city].

Don’t tell me you can’t read the story. Print it up, read it later.

V —


1. 43 am

Sorry — just don’t want to read it — just don’t want to — want to be polite and all that but just don’t want to read the story.

Busy is an excuse, heat is an excuse.

I just don’t want to.

I have never met Picasso’s last wife or Phillip [sic] Glass or Amis (which one I wonder?) — no I never have.

Please don’t bully me or abuse me or make insinuations about me.

If you continue to do so I will cut off all contact with you because it isn’t pleasant to be on the receiving end.

Regards — J —


1. 49 am

Fine. Receiving end? Ask P — C — with his dozen mortifying messages from you [that year] about being on the receiving end. I spent an hour encouraging him to forgive you and visit with your friend from [that country] in [that year]. She (the world’s best mom) unbeknowenst [sic] to you, had to be persuaded to stay at the table after one of your rants. But I spoke for both of you. Something you would never do, so entirely obsessed with yourself as you are. Of course you can’t read my story, the psychology is obvious. Don’t worry about any more messages from me. There will be none.

And I will read none of yours, J — .


His ex-wife was wearing vintage leather shoes. His nephew drew breath
to speak a poem he had written that was as near to the truth as anything
I have ever heard. V —  monstering the whole house from his crow’s nest
at the kitchen table, dropping names like albatross scat. His time-ridden
father, flown in, spoke of his imminent birth. I would have had a private
word with V — , the walnut coffin, the white tulips, in the antechamber
of regrets, but his daughter gripped the lid with her fingertips, and was
pitiful. I withdrew. It was none of mine. After all, I had never loved him.


Jennifer Compton lives in Melbourne and is a poet and playwright who also writes prose.