Eighty years of tarnish

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Selected poems


A valley in Spain


for Juan Carlos Jiménez


In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the Battle of Jarama was fought between the 6th and 27th of February. Insurgent Nationalist troops attempted to capture the Madrid-Valencia road and choke supplies to the elected Republican government whose forces were defending the capital. The battle was a shambles and the outcome a stalemate. The road remained in Republican hands until the Nationalist victory in 1939. 


Late autumn. The Jarama is sluggish,

waters low, banks burnt brown. Boys

racing bicycles stir columns of dust.


The river flooded during the battle,

surging so wide, so deep, that two days

of eager slaughter were postponed.


I won't polish away 80 years of tarnish.

The brass cartridge still grips its bullet

just the way you found it while walking


your dogs. A misfire. No mistaking a

firing pin's dent in a detonater cap. No

flesh torn. No bones smashed. Still, I


imagine a rifleman suddenly defenceless,

fingers fumbling to jerk an impotent

projectile from his rifle's breach.


This valley is sown with old ammo,

not all of it spent. Devotees of a dead

despot besmirch belated stones carved


and plaqued for the Republic's dead.

Small finds, such as your gift, turn the

mind to the innominate dead of a war


without a peace treaty, where loyalists

to a traitor's banner lie crossed, blessed

and hallowed beneath their names.


In a visitors' book at the small museum

in the town of Morata de Tajuña is an

entry in the hand of a militiaman from


the Lincoln brigade who returned to the

field in '86. Above his name he writes:

For Justice. For Freedom. For Democracy.


All hacked from the convulsing body

of Spain while high-minded proselytisers

of like ideals stood by and watched her die.



unfunded empathy


On Monday 29 July 2019 the prime minister of Australia declared he would not engage in 'unfunded empathy' by raising the Newstart payment which, at the time, was $277.85 per week.


an astonishing phrase from a believer

particularly an enthusiastic follower of the founder

who commanded us to love one another

even as he had loved us

it's more what you might hear from a Pharisee

or a friend of money lenders

those who made the temple a den of thieves

or perhaps it might be uttered

by an acolyte of the rich and powerful

a group as likely to pass heaven's gates

as a camel to squeeze through a needle's eye

yet even such as these might shorten their paradisiacal odds

by dispersing their treasure amongst the poor

then let those hosannas in excelsis be fully funded

and hallelujahs in their thousands

be franked with the imputed dividends of love



my father laboured


my father laboured in unskilled jobs for 51 years from age 14

he was paid modest wages

he slept away his evenings in a tired armchair

he slept away the afternoons of his holidays

he never complained

he was a reluctant writer

he was adept at mental arithmetic

he surpassed his economist son at mental arithmetic

he offered no advice on career or girlfriends or anything else

he knew little of universities

he neither encouraged nor discouraged my long lingering in them

he never asked about subjects I studied or subsequently taught

he taught me by silent stoic example to avoid hard physical labour

never a day passes when I don't honor his wisdom



your tiny hand


Giacomo Puccini, La Bohème, Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Decca 


driving to Melbourne  

passing ruins of the pub incinerated for a payout

stereo pumping La Bohème 

Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu 

opera’s one-time hottest couple

soon the cooling, falling apart, separation, divorce 

but now it's the pulsating duet and aria

My name is Mimi, Your tiny hand is frozen 


hope has not died  

Mimi hasn't started to cough blood  

Alagna’s letting rip for all he's worth 

the soaring intoxication of new love 

and when his urgent tenor commands those stretched high notes 

I can no longer hold back my tears 

a sudden outpouring that blurs the road   

compelling me to pull onto the verge   

overpowered by thoughts of first meeting you 


the blind date 

those transcendent all-consuming months  

thinking of nothing other than you 

my desk buried beneath documents I no longer cared a damn for 

but so soon the crush of conformity

the lacerations of assorted afflictions  

the kindly savageries of life-saving surgeries

the better angels earthbound, wings besmirched in mire

yet the fire of those blazing days never quite gutters 

still occasionally and unexpectedly flaring  

never mind the rolling storms of sludge 

splattering the blades of an ever-swirling fan 



BN OakmanBN Oakman's poetry has been widely published in Australia (including in Best Australian Poems 2014 and 2015) and internationally. Recent collections include In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts (IP 2010) and Second Thoughts (IP 2014) plus two chapbooks. In 2016 the distinguished Australian actor John Flaus recorded 25 of his poems for a CD titled What Did I Know? Once upon a time Oakman was an academic economist. 

Main image: Supplied

Topic tags: BN Oakman, poetry



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I have to say: great artistic work, a labour of love.
Pam | 01 October 2020


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