Two Poems by Jeff Oaks

Jeff Oaks

Jeff Oaks

Jeff Oaks' newest chapbook, Mistakes with Strangers, was published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2014. He has published poems in a number of literary magazines, most recently in Assaracus, Barrow Street, Field, North American Review, and Tupelo Quarterly. His essays have appeared in At Length, Kenyon Review Online, and Creative Nonfiction, and in the anthology My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them. He teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh.


We don't have a very good name for what
weakens the shell, cracks it opens, makes us
step out into the light. First bees with
their powdered legs then small sparrows who
rain down seed-slivers over the sidewalk.
Why stand out here staring at the great flower
grown in a pot I nearly threw away? It
has a kind of stature for all its luck I
might say I lack. Although I'm here, right?
Watching small birds remove each seed
with the cunning of jewelers. With all
the courage to continue. Without a name
for any of the things they don't have.


Who isn't a boulder turned to dust? When
isn't there something in your eye, an ache
where there's been a blink? Who hasn't buried
a civilization or two out of laziness? Reverse
the hourglass and there's another hourglass.
How else can the salad or the oyster or clam
bite back? The wind's circular saws keen
with the claims of the ancient mountains
made out of collisions, burning under us.
Where there is no snow, there is still this
form of insistence which the worm learns
to avoid, the wasp to structure, the child
to shape all day into castles, his face
to the ocean heaving up empty armors.