I was arrested
by my father's face in a hallway mirror.
I'm the age inhabited by him
much of my life: youth spent,
decrepitude on lay-by. It's
an incontestable likeness,
shape and set of the head,
hair still thick, striated with grey,
his eyes softened by capitulation, a face
reposing in kindly ineffectualness.
He seems about to say something,
but I know he won't; this man
who might have been someone else,
if only ...
Suddenly the face
wears a grey stubble-cut beard,
the set of the mouth is harder,
eyes watchful, sharp
behind steel rimmed spectacles
as though much has been lost,
defeat suffered, tolerance strained,
surrender's terms rejected.
If there's a treaty, it lies unsigned.
I turn away,
leave the glass
reflecting the empty hallway
and a Dutch genre print, a courtyard
seen through an open doorway
from a room observed from another room;
but I'll meet him again soon, glancing
from shop windows, glazed
pictures, closed circuit television.
I greet him with affection.
We know each other well — men
we might have been.
B. N. Oakman
Suddenly, in the glass, facet-edged,
an enemy. My hand,
twined trembling in the tap's calyx,
is a drunk's hand, deep
flutter of wine along sinew, and
idiotic, I am granted prophecy,
that approach to the still waters
permitted only those
dumb as a filled urn.
Crowned awkward with feathers of maidenhair,
I see: my crumpled iris-rim lip
is her lip;
the fine spoked wheel beneath my grimacing eye
has etched itself deep with years upon her face.
The wet red meat of my viscera is made of her,
a shy-hood I cannot take off;
the text that writes my living flesh
bad at the source,
the voice of a woman who might do anything,
crying out, Why are you doing this to me?
I'm contemplative, shy with women, serious —
he's visceral, impulsive, brotherly
only in blood. He's certainly not otherly
inclined, one woman told me, He's a riot.
I hesitate and chat, where he's imperious
and kisses them on the mouth — and women buy it.
He loves John Lennon, sings his heart, obsesses;
Jane plays piano and hoards minutiae
such as, What year did Buddy Holly die?
She belts out Joplin (Scott, not Janis). Sweet
talk explodes to fury. Then he confesses
he's wrong, quite often lying. And they eat.
She's put on weight. They're like my tank of fish
with their circling and returning and their prowling.
One evening she's laughing, then she's howling.
I stay aloof, take sodden hankies, see
her anger and her pain. In love, I wish
sincerity could out-trump vanity.
B. N. Oakman's poetry has appeared in various publications in in Australia, the UK and the USA and recorded for ABC Classics. He was awarded a grant by the Literature Board of The Australia Council for 2009 and a chapbook, Chalk Dust: Poems from the Social Domain (Mark Time Books), appeared the same year. A full-length collection of his poems, In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts, was published in 2010.
Belinda Rule is a candidate for Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. Otherwise she writes software specifications and makes websites.
John Upton has extensive drama credits for TV and stage over 25 years. His poetry has been published in SMH, The Age and The Australian newspapers, and in literary magazines.