B N Oakman

B N Oakman writes poetry that has been widely published in magazines, journals and newspapers in Australia, the UK and the USA. An academic economist, he lives in Central Victoria and has taught at universities in Australia and England.





Universal Pictures


Creature From The Black Lagoon hangs

on a wall of the room where I work,

and on the other side of this wall


an analyst swims in unfamiliar waters,

encouraging diffident charges to paddle

in shallows before executing cautious dives


in quest of Auden’s ‘delectable creatures’,1

seeking acquaintance, perhaps tentative union

in depths unplumbed, then cautiously,


when these disavowed beings seem less alien,

stroking closer and closer to the surface.

But my poster displays a misbegotten thing,


a slime-green hybrid of fish and man

grasping a young woman in webbed claws,

oddly careful not to scratch her as he drags her


down to a subterranean lair, deeper, darker,

her soundless screams just little bubbles from red,

wide-open lips while the creature stares into her face


with great limpid eyes, tender almost, watching

her writhe in its scaly embrace, sleek

in a tight white swimsuit, but not doomed,


for in the movie her male friends spear the fish-man

and she surges up to the light in her lover’s arms,

never again to plunge into the black lagoon.


Also in my room is The Invisible Man

who imbibes chemicals to make himself vanish,

becoming discernable only by his garments,


for if he goes naked he seems not to exist,

though he may be present in every other sense,

perhaps even in a room like this, crammed


with paraphernalia, my books, furniture, papers,

posters, pictures – and should the analyst,

glistening from her immersions, decide


to walk through here, she, of all people,

ought not be fooled by such disguises: transparent,

murky or opaque – for these are Universal Pictures;


it even says so on the posters.



1W H Auden, In Memory of Sigmund Freud, stanza 26




Delusional Moments before my Cell Phone


One occurred in Rome, in a small pensione close by

the Campo dei Fiori, when the slumberous morning

was torn by shouts, shrieks of motor scooters, swearing –

a brawl in the laneway two floors down. Alongside me

a woman was asleep, black hair swept across a pillow,

bronzed flesh stark against the white sheet;

and I lay quiet, content to watch the Roman light

infiltrate the wooden shutters and stroke the sparsely

furnished room with bars of black and gold, to listen

to the row subside and wait for Italian commerce

to stir and climb slowly, irresistibly, towards

its daily crescendo. My passport was in order,

I had money, sufficient to last a few days,

and trunk calls were expensive. And I imagined,

I cannot say for how long, that I knew how to live.


The other, years later, was in Naples, by the docks,

waiting for a bus after a choppy crossing from Capri,

most of the passengers sick. I was standing in the tepid

rain with my arm around a woman, both of us soaked,

drops of rain forming on her face and glistening

in the streetlights like diamonds splashed wantonly

upon her beauty. Nearby a newsstand screamed

of murders and around us cars snarled everywhere,

anywhere, no place safe. My passport was in order,

I had money, sufficient to last a few weeks,

and trunk calls were expensive. And I imagined,

I cannot say for how long, that I knew how to live.


Since then I have never again imagined, even

for a moment, that I knew how to live, although

my passport is still in order, I have money, sufficient

to last several years, and these days I have a cell phone.




Eulogy for a Matriarch


the notices proclaim

you taught us how to live


laud you irrepressible

lament you irreplaceable


but the falling years

have struck you




as when children cried

for you to speak




as when children cried

for you to see




as when children cried

for you to hear


polished is your casket

a fine veneer 


brilliant are your fittings

plastic disguised as silver


consider your lilies

purest of whites


cultivated for show

not perfume


you detested scent

from crushed flowers