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The epiphanies of our lives


Baby, I Don’t Care

The title is Robert Mitchum's famous line from the 1947 film noir, Out of the Past, 
directed by Jacques Tourneur, and also starring Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas.

never thought I’d say it       couldn't sound like Mitchum
tolling every syllable like his death knell 
before he kisses Jane Greer on the beach at Acapulco  

Are you sure? she asks         adding extra bait to the hook
      Baby      I don’t care he says       and as soon as he kisses her 
all the traffic lights on his road to hell turn green

who can blame him?       remember her entrance
       strolling at sunset into La Mar Azul (hot chilli     cold tequila)
the flies stop buzzing     a guitar starts to throb

the kind of girl a guy would die for       'die from' more likely
        three corpses from four bullets is handy shooting    
takes two for Kirk Douglas     a durable performer even then

you’d turn a few heads in La Mar Azul      flesh aglow
from stolen Aztec sun        but we're in a real-life drama 
         and you're the girl with the dead-end part    the stiff 

in a tragedy by Stupidity    the Three Stooges hamming 
as your doctors        but you fluff your exit lines   
         mess-up your death scene three times over

so when I kiss you (it won't be in Acapulco)      I’m stalled at a detour 
on the road to hell     facing red       grateful I'm going nowhere
while Mitchum  charges flat-chat to the inferno 

you're asleep now        no empty bed yet damns my breaking day
        and for the rest         when I hear them trilling 
about property prices          blathering about positive thinking 

getting lubricious over big cars and bigger careers     spending 
their waking hours with the All Ordinaries   then believe me 
Baby     (if you'll wear the diminutive)         I don’t care

Look At My Eyes

Look at my eyes.
I'm dead behind these eyes.
Archie Rice, eponymous character in John Osborne's play, The Entertainer, (1957).

I know how Archie feels
after the fire's gone out
easy to grab at pain killers
a few swigs of self-deceit
no trouble doing drugs
helpful doctors will oblige 
or try DIY
no one will notice
you'll still be moving and nodding
not a bother to anyone 
after all you're only dead inside

somebody taught me
pain is more lively than torpor
but there's a price
you'll be a bloody nuisance
a pest in a popularity quest 
now look at my eyes
see anything burning
maybe smouldering
or is there a blaze
the flames dancing in the ruins


Save two, my classmates in Poetry are young enough to be my children. My trade,
'economist', seems a subset of 'leper' to them.

I want  you to list the epiphanies in your lives, says the lecturer. We'll build poems
around them. Then he smashes my sole advantage and tells them what an epiphany is.

I ponder, but cannot manage to think of one.
Does he really believe people have several?
My extra years are like binoculars peered through from the wrong end,
shrinking past significance to present inconsequence.
Meanwhile Youth is attacking notebooks, scribbling with furious intent.
I'm becoming desperate. I'm starting to sweat.
Maybe I don't view life the right way, certainly not the way my classmates do.
Then at last I recall a distant day. To be precise, a distant night.

Divorced. Three children. Closing 40. Senior lecturer in economics.
Mortgaged to infinity. New woman ten years younger. In the dead hours
between two indistinguishable days I dreamt of myself when old: grim
rented room, plain-label tomato soup simmering on a single gas ring,
a cockroach named Harold my dearest companion, The Financial Review
dangling from a loop of string ready for base duties in a communal toilet.
My dream didn't seem worthy of Doctor Freud's attention, but I figured
less explication and more application of the dismal science might make
my dismal prospects a little less dire.

It's hardly an inspiring epiphany. It's not going to satisfy youthful
optimists captivated by predictions, plans, revelations - all bearing fruit
in the future - rather like investments, if you think about it.

I won't divulge my modest insight here. Typical bloody economist, they'll say,
immolating in flames of righteousness. Concrete capitalist. Neo-liberal stooge.
He even dreams about economics!

So I tell the class I saw my circumstances as if for the first time after reading
Auden's injunction to aspiring poets: First secure an income, the master
is alleged to have said.

Who's Auden? mutters someone. Probably his accountant, sniggers another.
Giggles ripple around the classroom.

Shit! says the lecturer.

He's a man around 40, a published poet with a PhD, divorced, with a new
and younger partner, young kids, a mortgaged man - and he knows a lot.

Suddenly, as if for the first time, I realise I like him.

BN OakmanB N Oakman’s poetry has been published in literary journals, magazines and newspapers in Australia, the UK and the USA. His collection titled In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts, was published by Interactive Press in 2010. He lives in Central Victoria and has taught economics at universities in Australia and England.

Topic tags: New Australian poems by B.N. Oakman, Epiphany, poetry



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Existing comments

Who's Auden? "Soon we will have to smooth him out to see who it is" Igor Stravinsky. And there's nothing like building poems around the epiphanies in your life!

Pam | 10 July 2012  

Delightful. I'm off to the Book Store to find more. Thank you.

Gray Lindsay | 10 July 2012  

Melancholy is a delicate art form, too easily seduced by the lure of self pity, though -as in this case - it may be restored by the cold shower of self mockery...Very good job!

Moderato in Extremis | 12 July 2012  

Thank you for this. Shall send a copy to my (published) singer/songwriter son. He's only 22 but quite unlike your fellow Poetry students. Not only does he know who Auden is, he also writes about such personal experiences with humour, insight, and the true poet's acceptance of human frailty; another outsider constantly observing and admonishing with a loving mind.

Carol | 20 July 2012  

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