Jeff Whitney


Jeff Whitney is the author of five chapbooks, two of which were co-written with Philip Schaefer. His poems can be found in journals such as Adroit, Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, Okey-panky, Prairie Schooner, Third Coast, and Verse Daily. He lives in Portland.



He had to keep quiet because his father worked nights
so by six he was in his room drawing cracks in the world
that opened onto other worlds, convinced he might someday
open like that, too, step like some alien out of old skin, and some town
would be waiting for him, his one-man parade, and his mother
wouldn’t stay up with her head in the chimney
taking secret puffs, face lit each time she inhaled
making a small period of light in the blackness
around her, saying nothing in that smoke.
This was that town. Its perpetually dead
and drunken children. Its way of staying exactly
the same. And maybe he was onto something,
when the lights went out and he’d stare
at plastic ceiling stars spewing recycled light
in the middle of that nested silence,
with his mother ostriched in the fire
place, his father attending to the sick and dying
world. He never had a sister or a brother
but there was a pair of desert tortoises named Eli
and Eli he flushed thinking they would make it
home, or to Egypt, and a hermit crab that liked to do nothing
but sit in the ramparts of a miniature castle, oldest sentry
on earth, last soldier of a proud kingdom no one knows
how to pronounce anymore. How all of them—he, the hermit
crab, his mother, the turtles—resembled a child
misplaced at the beginning of a story who must leave the forest
but has lost her compass and so navigates by lights
falling down the sky, tears on the cheek of a god
on fire. How all of them might get up some morning
to find milk in the dried-up goat. Might find something worth finding
in the rattler den besides eight-hundred serpents
coiled into one large muscle under dirt, one clot
of Medusa hair. How, once in everyone’s life
they get to be Moses under the heavens
he knows and has come this far for.