Bildungsroman (Jen Webb)

A history of speech

I like a door that sounds decisive when you close it a child who knows precisely when to hang up the phone the historian who discourses on the use of ‘hang up’ for the phones we now use my rusting memories of lying on the floor of my parents’ bedroom spiral-wired phone against my head listening to you breathe while you listened to me breathe as though we were rehearsing for a future we would not live to see.

Leaving love behind, you place the phone back in its cradle. Leaving love behind, you close the door. So gently it might have been a breath.

After watching Q&A once too often

Remembering the things we have forgotten: those leaves blown across the roof by the recent storm; those monstrosities propped against doors.

We love our monstrosities when they wear velvet collars, when they carry sheaves of wheat or prizewinning cakes.

You made love to me for hours and hours, like it was the World Cup. You made love to me like a story you would tell the grandkids. Leaving me ashy and scattered. Leaving.

Every morning I fill the French press and drink cup after cup of coffee. Wakeful from the beginning. Wakeful to the end. Surprised by the way every door will open, and close, all by itself.


We were fourteen and fifteen and spent afternoons stretched out kissing on your bed while your mum tapped on your door saying Orange juice, dears? Scones? and then I’d pedal away on my no-gears bike from your Fourth Street apartment to my Seventh Street home with its mullioned windows and parquet floors, fourteen blocks away, lips swollen, and I loved you I said, loved you, then left not just you but everything.

The film is breaking down. Its emulsion shatters like glass and each image is eaten by the decay, unstable as memory, as the history we failed to share. The weather has changed, and still I commit to nothing. I have no library card; pay only casual rates at the gym. I am no longer a little girl.


Jen Webb is Distinguished Professor of Creative Practice, and Dean of Graduate Research, at the University of Canberra. Author/editor of thirty scholarly volumes, she has also published eighteen poetry collections and artist books, and is co-editor of the bilingual (Mandarin/English) anthology Open Windows: Contemporary Australian Poetry. Her most recent poetry collections are Moving Targets and Flight Mode (Recent Work Press).