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Unready for sudden fatherhood


Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya 













At Leonor's grave

In Soria, on 8 August 1912 Leonor Izquierdo y Machado, aged 18, died
after three years of marriage to the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875–1939).

Let Machado be your guide:

From the train see Sorian fields/ where
the rocks seem to dream, sway past
Silver plated hills/ gray heights, cardinal rocks.
Go in October when Over the bitter fields ...
a sun of flame is cooling, though the earth is hard
as baked brick. Don't wait for December when
The North wind sweeps the stiffened land
and Snow over the field and roads/
is falling as over a grave.

When you arrive:

Wander where the Duero flows between
gray cliffs/ and phantoms of old gray oaks.
In darkness stroll the alleys and lanes of Soria
so beautiful below the moon. In daylight
Go climb Espino,/ upon high Espino
where her earth lies. A hundred years
have withered since Leonor died;
a lettered marble rectangle seals her place
in the graveyard behind the church.

The poet is your true guide:

Machado asks, Leonor, do you see the river
poplars/ with their firm branches? but knows
there can be no answer. Oh, what death broke
was a thread between us! His shadowed spirit
goes walking alone,/ sad, tired, pensive, old
as if he buried her yesterday. Treacherous
the almanacs of solace, courageous
those who dare to love, lively
a poet's words on their flimsy, resilient page.


The Dog

Francisco de Goya, 'El Perro' (1819–23), Museo del Prado, Madrid.

When Miro visited the Prado for the last time,
guided by a curator in honour of his fame,
given a folding chair in deference to his age,
he asked to see only El Perro and Las Meninas
and sat staring for half an hour at each.

I've neglected The Dog, eager for flashing
steel with Goya's Marmelukes, two peasants
mired in muck clubbing each other to pulp,
systematic slaughter in Tres de Mayo,
Saturn tearing his child apart with his teeth;
the late savageries of the pinturas negras,
misanthropies of an old and deaf master.

I see only the dog's head, snout upturned,
ears drawn back. Alone, forlorn, hopeless,
it peers over the rim of unstable ground, perhaps
quicksand. Abandoned on oblivion's brink
it invites me to tarry, heed its plight,
feel the anguish of unassuageable loss — then
dash for the bullets, bludgeons and blood.


Mr Hardy

Undergrowth dense, paths grown-over, filigreed gloom
drapes across the day — and dead leaves, stirred
by fitful breezes, whisper like the turning of pages:

Know the forest, touch its pulse, study its ways, the habits
of its shy creatures. Surrender to its mysteries. Strangers
come and go. Observe them. They too have their place.

And if in some hidden glade you meet another who, like you,
knows the forest, and thereafter feel the sun more warming
on your back, the wind less cutting on your cheeks,

then search no more. Stay. There is no better place.
The undergrowth, so robust, holds the madding crowd
at bay. Leave — and never find that glade again.



My father was ten years old when South Melbourne Football Club
won its last premiership in 1933. The club, reconstituted as the
Sydney Swans in 1982, won AFL premierships in 2005 and 2012.

He told me he took a train to Melbourne, watched
his Swans play, fell asleep on the homeward journey,
missed Bungaree, and walked miles from Ballarat
to his parents' farmlet in the heart of the spud country.

I see him tramping an empty road, blackness mitigated
by a wan winter's moon, hear the clash of leather boots
on bitumen, the baying of disturbed farmyard dogs; him
scarcely more than a big boy who played bush footy

unready for sudden fatherhood, never again to quicken
to another triumph before he was coffined beneath wreaths
of white and red blooms, his Swans long flown from
their lake to nest by the shores of a virescent harbour,
the gilt of heyday glories peeled from the walnut of honour,
the pavilions of his rapture crumbled into ruins.

B. N. OakmanB. N. Oakman's poetry has been published in literary journals, magazines and newspapers in Australia, the UK and the USA. A new full-length collection, Second Thoughts, will be published by Interactive Press in 2014. His work has been nominated for The Pushcart Poetry Prize 2015 (USA). He lives in central Victoria.

Pictured: 'Saturn Devouring His Son' by Francisco Goya

Topic tags: B. N. Oakman, poetry



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Existing comments

I've visited the Prado in Madrid only once, some time ago. I can remember only fragments of disturbingly beautiful art. Second chances come along, luckily.

Pam | 31 March 2014  

that Swansong is just lovely work. Thank you.

Brian Doyle | 01 April 2014  

I confess I have not read B.N.Oakman's poetry before. I'm very grateful to Eureka Street for introducing me to it. These are wonderful, sure footed poems and I look forward to Second Thoughts. I loved the technique of At Leonor's Grave, the italics presenting the power of the original and the commentary offering it to us with such seamless and sensitive ease. I must get back to the Goyas - the Prado is the Gallery I love most - but are their 'savageries' really misanthropic, or are they amongst the fiercest calls for justice and compassion ever created?

Joe Castley | 01 April 2014  

Beautiful, poignant poetry....love his work..thanks Eureka Street and B.N. Oakman

Penny | 01 April 2014  

".....his Swans long flown from their lake to nest by the shores of a virescent harbour" Whow. He captures VFL/AFL history in Melbourne in afew words. A great treatise for the romantic Victorian football lover, built around the village of Melbourne.

Rob Russell | 30 April 2014  

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