Susan Bradley Smith began her professional writing life as a rock journalist but has also worked as a waitress and teacher. Her latest books are a novel-in-verse The Screaming Middle, the poetry collection Beds for all who come, and the memoir Friday Forever. An advocate for Arts and Health, Susan is the founder of the writing and wellbeing consultancy Milkwood Bibliotherapy, and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Curtin University. Her secret ambition is to swim every ocean pool in Australia without writing a book about it.
This poem is from a sequence titled ‘A Short Cycle of Regret…’ and first appeared in Issue 15. Please support our work and buy a copy or subscribe today.
In these swindling times, I don’t care that
you are married. It is exciting to be bad
and also right. We are in the middle of a
miracle, away together for a weekend riffing
on stolen time pilfered from real life like money
from a mother’s purse. Even though you look
well-loved there are violet bruises beneath
your eyes. You’ve been speaking in your sleep.
You take a call. I read the paper. Those
Pussy Riot girls are licking salt in Soviet prisons
just because of their band’s faultless, unforgettable
name and their splenetic racket and their unlicensed
occupation of public places. Meanwhile, you sit there
and persist with the theatre of your own concerns.
You ask me to pay attention. When I look up you are
so beautiful I can barely believe you exist let alone
love me but you said it: I am your ground zero;
you are my vanguard.
You pause. Today, without your bragging
suit, you look like you did when we were
young and stripped-down and our whole life
only knew three chords. I might as well
complain rain is wet as say please don’t go,
I think, as you take her call again. Some
poseur is fighting another to run the
country. The mafia is at it again in the
suburbs. Mainstream fashion is the new
fringe. It all crackles at my touch. I listen
to you talk, and read the paper, and although
I am one of misery’s best graduates, your
news still shocks me. Just as I had stopped
sliding clichés like thermometers into my
declarations of love—I am your ticket, you are
my collector—you tell me we’re through.
In the café by the harbour we have the kind
of conversation that happens to all lovers
sooner or later—last line: it’s over. I would
have liked to have left the past alone, but as
you talked about the failed philosophy of us
my shock soured to a bitter glandular juice
making quick work of all sentiment, like
camphor on the mouth of memory. It’s true,
I’d been monothematic this is not a love song
but before ‘us’ you were anhedonic, split in half
from the very idea of who you once were.
Are. Remember Hastings? The Sex Pistols
gigography was once also ours. What can
anyone possibly say anymore that is novel
enough to warrant imprisonment?
The seagulls are not my friends and their
eyes marbling my toast are also yours. I am
limp with terminality. At the table opposite
a father is busy being humiliated by his wife
who is documenting his failings in the presence
of their son. How utterly cruel it seems. The café
table is smiling at me with sun-kissed woodshine
and spilt sugar as gay as Christmas. I am
spoiling the scene with my tight, peppered
offence but my love will not quiet. It will
not hurry like inspiration to the end just
to suit you. Sluiced in sunshine or not,
I remain a citizen in a closely beleaguered
city and within the citadel of us things
could still go either way.
We are so old, yet you have turned me
into a pop song, into someone you used to
love, a hangover that creeps up on you
before you’ve even finished drinking.
Marriage must be a first-rate thing
for you to sing its tune despite your
antidisestablishmentarianism blues but
seriously: love as anthrax? No one really
wants to catch that again. The knowledge
of us is cream in my bones. Green, I am, and
dreaming again of your strum. You wrote
me love letters in invisible ink but they
still hum. And hum and hum, like the
soundtrack for a revolution.
You walk away from me across the airport
terminal, the floor glittering like a crushed
disco, towards the record shop where all
the songs of us are on sale. And machines
to play us too. Before you make it home
I will be arrested for collapsing hysterically
in public places. The cause: no marrow.
Only the concealed heroin of you, wrapped
in the bone of me. Outside it is a gutsy,
sunlit day. Despite the lunatic soak of
needing you, the creep of seizure, the
godly rant of my blood, I turn away.
I let you go. It’s not my day.
Any fool would say.
Hindsight will be Satan.