Jennifer Compton lives in a small town called Wingello in Australia.
She is a poet and playwright. Her most recent book of poetry was
Parker & Quink published by Ginninderra Press in 2004. Her most
recent stage play was The Big Picture which premiered at the Griffin
Theatre in Sydney, Australia and was published by Currency Press.
In 2004 she was a guest at the International Festival Of Poetry in
Genoa. She will be the Whiting Fellow in Rome in 2006.
Imposing the Chat
We hopped into the car and thundered
via Bungonia towards Captain's Flat.
The flier intimated - FAMOUS CHILD MURDERS -
but didn't really GET IT. Known Gunther for yonks.
Before he hooked up with Ebony Simpson's mother.
Gunther paints. Got a couple of his canvases because
they are the real thing.
Money on the walls.
We got loster and loster. Ended up near Nerriga.
Almost off the map. Is it the right way up!
A baby rabbit ran under our wheels.
We felt the thud as we thundered on
through the fool-the-eye Australian landscape
that does not contain any movement. Except us.
We saw a bloke in a fire truck, paused
in a driveway somewhere near Windallema.
All you guys who do not live in Australia
cannot imagine how the haunted trees crowd
in on you and you do not see any sign of life
until the lights of another car rush towards you
so you dip! On the road that goes from tar
to unsealed death trap to two lane highway
like a joke! Had to speak sharply to the husband.
He was doing the thing he does that shits me.
Australia, you huge, ungainly bitch. You lonely
girl. It gets to him. It gets to me.
The daughter was going to make the trip but
the morning of her biology trials for the HSC
the curse arrived. I was naked in the shower
when she told me. I've often wondered how
it would happen. When it happened I had my
mind on something else. My own story.
It was beginning to sink in, what we were in for.
We were beginning to make bad taste jokes.
Walking into the Ebony Simpson Exhibition
raped and drowned in a dam at age 9 - saying
"We still have a daughter. Hah! Look at her!"
But she stayed home. Studying Modern History.
I go down to the shop, she is not ready to do that
yet, to buy her sanitary pads.
Every family man in the village seems to be there,
eyeing the sanitary pads I had, in my haste,
forgot to hustle away. I am losing all sense of
myself. I do not want to write this.
We were late, very late. The courtyard
lit up for a party and frieze of backlit
party goers with drinks in their hand.
For all the world like any other launch.
A muted woman, the appointed greeter,
tried to gentle us into our group with
a white, or red. Or beer. Until she made
eye contact. She saw we were untouched.
And laughed. And backed away. Said
something that I couldn't quite catch.
It used to be the cold room of the local butcher.
The carcases of local beasts hung by their heels.
But now it is fairyland. Scented candles loiter
in concentric circles like tiny stars, someone
lit every one of these oily, flaring--death traps!
So many women in those silky, floating frocks
I am on full alert for the tackle and roll.
The husband's sport's coat will suffice.
I like to have a purpose when I am out. A goal.
No one will catch their hem and go up in a shriek--
burning! Not on my watch they won't.
And now for The Art. I will turn and look!
Jeez! It's sad. The saddest ones withold
almost everything. In their regulation
wooden-sided, glass case, a dried leaf.
A snap. A tatter of the poem they wrote
the night ... ! What is the use of poetry?
What is it good for? The night ... the night ...
Well. Every art work had the night, or day.
When it all stopped. Sweet suffering Jesus!
As my husband, the ex catholic, is prone
to say. I have to look at every single one!
A girl on her pony is squinting into the sun.
Just like my daughter. Brian sees his chance.
"That's my ..." But I forget her name.
It may have been Jennifer. Or it may not.
"Your daughter ... rides?" So difficult
the choice of tenses. I want to say -
"And was she a famous murder?"
Brian tells me. The whole, sad story.
Some local loser who got it very wrong
and didn't even think to cut and run.
Her mother found the body but has become
a fully fledged tai chi, aromatherapy, new age
cope-a-thon. Not here tonight. Has let it go.
A common route, apparently, out of the horror.
Explains the plethora of floaty robes.
But Brian will not budge or bleed or weep.
Forgive, forget, move on. He is a stone.
All the world will weep, but he will not.
I make the hunch of the shoulder, angle
of the chin, the husband knows means -
Share the load!
"I moved from Sydney to give her, to give
them all, all my children, a country childhood.
To keep them safe. To keep them safe from harm."
Which is the reasonable choice my husband made.
And the husband is done for. Gone. Into fruitless,
bootless empathy. The guilt, and shame. The guilt.
We shake Brian loose but everywhere is the same.
Some story that scalds and excoriates. It gets worse
and worse. Can't weep but can't not weep.
Making wry mouths at each other.
I see Brian as he is about to leave on his own.
He raises his hand. I raise mine.
We took the easy way out. We went home
by the highway. Our car and the road made
for each other. Working together to swallow
distance. And a big yellow moon!
He tried to ring the children to tell them.
"They will be asleep," I said.
He checked I had my seatbelt on.
We said nothing else until we got home.
"Will you ...?" he said "While I ..."
I did what I haven't done for the longest time.
I checked my sleeping children. Sprawled
like vast continents across their single beds.
I may have reached out and touched them.
They may have grunted, "What's up, Mum?"
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