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A few crumbs from a table of plenty



Selected poems



He's not difficult to find. Black men stand out in rich

barrios. He'll be standing outside the supermarket,


smiling, a self-appointed doorman selling a magazine

nobody buys. I've known him for a few weeks in each


of several years. His name is Samuel. He's from Ghana.

His father is dead. He sends what money he can to


his mother. He has no papers and no work because

he has no papers. Madrilenos offer small change after


shopping. Passersby sometimes approach with a euro

or two. Many dally to talk. He knows them, his clients,


various small and large details of their lives, what

to ask, friendly, without ever being thought a friend.


Before I fly home I hand him my leftover Euros and

he always asks god to bless me. I don't belabour him


with agnostic doubts for fear I'll debase his frangible

currency of gratitude, He gives me all he has to give.


I give him a few crumbs swept from a table of plenty.





So alive in death is how Juan Ramon Jimenez described the poet Antonio

Machado. We might say as much of Marilyn though it's not her words that

inform the imaginings of admirers fifty years post mortem. A giant plaster

statue in Rosalind Park models her scene in The Seven Year Itch, pleated

white dress billowing in updraft from subway exhibiting legs and underwear

while she blazes that ain't-this-wonderful grin. An image DiMaggio hated

so violently, demeaning for any woman of his, far too much whore and no

madonna whatsoever. Today they're shooting selfies between her legs. She's

also strung from light poles in View Street wearing a gold lame halter neck

gown plunging to her navel, her head tilted back just a little, her hands behind

her back, eyelids ultra lashed, heavily mascared, lowered so you can barely

see her eyes. Her lips scarcely part in an I-could-be-so-good-for-you smile.

Somebody said when she entered a room with Miller every woman hated her –

and every man hated him. With gratuitous nastiness to both the press labelled

them the egghead and the hourglass. Hers is a made up kind of life. Neither

blonde nor Marilyn nor Monroe. Mother in and out of mental hospitals. Foster

care for Norma Jeane. Abused. Believed Clark Gable to be her father for most

of her life. Relationships tricky. Three divorces. Got mixed up with Sinatra, the

Kennedys and assorted trouble. Difficult on the set. Late, moody and unlearned

of lines. According to Wilder an endless puzzle without any solution. Years

later, Clive James sneered She was as good at playing abstract confusion in the

same way that a midget is good at being short. Method, psychiatry and drugs

accompanied her back and forth through the porous borders of reason. Dead

at 36, alone, naked, drowned in barbiturates and swiftly passed into the hands

of strangers. Monroe knew betrayal as giver and receiver. Strasberg never

distributed the contents of the box of her belongings to people she liked, maybe

unable to find an affective memory for friendship's obligations. His third wife

flogged the contents for millions at Christies in '99. But this show is not about

troubling details. Think a 'celebration' of a creation called Marilyn Monroe,

an invention of the studio and Norma Jeane - who spoke of MM in the third

person. You can inspect some of her belongings in the gallery, see her fingers'

impressions in old makeup, take an excursion to genteel necrophilia, visit

a reliquary of the woman the cruel cameras loved. A woman utterly fabulous

on the screen, said Wilder. A woman alive in death as surely as Don Antonio,

someone we're still making into whatever we want her to be, someone still

turning millions for people she never knew.




One time friend

Once upon a time we were related, emerging biographies

enmeshed, edited by in-laws, each complementing the other,

one brimming urbanity's assurance, one bashful and book

bound. Nothing much to fight over, neither wed to dogma

nor seared by acids of covetousness. After divorce sundered

those biographies we stayed friends – until he contracted

expedient amnesia, steeled his heart safe, scatheless, swore

fealty to inviolable pride while I blundered, lacking pole star

or compass, in outer darkness - and emerged changed. I never

claim for the better. And yet I grieved when told he'd died.

Many were our good times. Pity the last 20 years or so.

He seemed a diffident revisionist, stroller of clean-swept

pavements, companion for flood-lit avenues, not a man for

the back streets where lesser cowards sometimes quaking go.




B. N. OakmanB. N. Oakman's poetry has been widely published in Australia and internationally. Recent collections include In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts and Second Thoughts. In 2016 the actor John Flaus recorded 25 of his poems for a CD titled What Did I Know?

Topic tags: B. N. Oakman, poetry



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Existing comments

Poor Keats. Poor Browning. Poor Tennyson. What did they know?

Frank | 10 October 2017  

One of the best pieces of writing about Norma Jeane. Coincidentally, I was reading about the life of John Wesley yesterday and noted his complete trust in God in the midst of coldness, unhappiness, confusion, boredom. He wrote that 'he didn't know what it was to love God... and yet to be so employed'.

Pam | 10 October 2017  

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