Poison oak, some boyhood bravery
When the telephone was a tin can on a string
And I fell asleep with you still talking to me
You said you weren't afraid to die

In Polaroids you were dressed in women's clothes
Were you made ashamed?
Why did you lock them in the drawer?
And I don't think that I ever loved you more

Than when you turned away
When you slammed the door
When you stole the car and drove towards Mexico
And you wrote bad checks just to fill your arm
I was young enough, I still believed in war

Let the poets cry themselves to sleep
And all their tearful words could turn back into steam

But me, I'm a single cell on a serpent's tongue
And there's a muddy field where a garden was
And I'm glad you got away, but I'm still stuck out here
My clothes are soaking wet from your brother's tears

And I never thought this life was possible
You're the yellow bird that I've been waiting for

The end of paralysis, I was a statuette
Now I'm drunk as hell on a piano bench
And when I press the keys, it all gets reversed
The sound of loneliness makes me happier



Lyrics submitted by rjbucs28, edited by kangaroo98


Poison Oak song meanings
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  • +5
    General Comment:from the lines "+ i'm glad you got away, but i'm still stuck out here. My clothes are soaking wet from your brother's tears" I got the impression that this was about someone (Maybe- with the whole being ashamed about women's clothes deal, someone who was gay) who killed themselves.
    Just a thought.
    clippy.hangeron June 16, 2003   Link
  • +3
    Song Meaning:This song is about someone who had a lasting influence on Conor's decision to pursue music. If you look at the last line of each of the first two stanzas you see some foreshadowing in Conor's lyrical focus. "You said you weren't afraid to die" foreshadows his focus on ephemeral themes. When his companion leaves, he says "And I don't think that I ever loved you more" because his companion served as the catalyst for Conor's embark into music.

    "Let the poets cry themselves to sleep
    And all their tearful words could turn back into steam"
    He starts to see himself as a poet. His transition is painful but necessary.

    "But me, I'm a single cell on a serpent's tongue
    And there's a muddy field where a garden was"
    These lines represent his loss of innocence. Things were all sunshine and rainbows until this shocking episode, the schism from his companion. The serpent's tongue represents the hypocrisy and venomous in realistic songwriting.

    "And I'm glad you got away, but I'm still stuck out hear
    My clothes are soaking wet from your brother's tears"
    He feels stuck.


    "And I never thought this life was possible
    You're the yellow bird that I've been waiting for"
    His former companion showed him that it's possible to break free from these chains. The yellow bird is a Shakespearean reference.

    "The end of paralysis, I was a statuette
    Now I'm drunk as hell on a piano bench
    And when I press the keys, it all gets reversed
    The sound of loneliness makes me happier"
    This stanza pretty much wraps up the song. He was a statuette, but now he's free of the paralysis he was living. He turns to music, but not with classical tendencies, but a raw drunken rage (which is more meaningful, in my opinion).
    He's lonely now but somehow he finds fulfillment in his music.


    Emphaticon July 14, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General Comment:This song is absolutely amazing. I just saw Bright Eyes last Friday..and I didn't have the album yet so I didn't know this song. They played it and I was in awe. I must admit..I got a tear. And that's never happened to me from a song. So, i got the album..realized that the song was Poison Oak. And what do you know, it made me tear up a few more times. You know when people have that ONE song that really touches them...that "changes their life" (obviously an exaggeration)...right, but this song is definitely that to me. All of Bright Eyes' music is so emotionally charged, but this song is just overflowing with it. It's beautiful.
    Cronmoaxon February 02, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General Comment:well I don't know totally what it's about but i know somebody's gay and somebody killed themselves
    fruitonpieon March 22, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:If it's so obvious that he's singing about his brother, makeartnotmath, then please explain "my clothes are soaking wet from your brother's tears." Unless it's purposely ungrammatical, then it doesn't make any sense that he's singing to his brother. Unless "your brother's tears" is his own tears, which doesn't explain why he'd refer to himself in first person in the beginning of the line ("MY shirt"). Or maybe the brother with the tears is a third brother? But then why would he say "YOUR brother's tears" and not "OUR brother's tears?"

    According to two different people, Conor has claimed that the song is about two different people. One person said his cousin Ian and the other said his brother Justin. So who should we believe?

    Well, I think it's about his cousin Colin, who committed suicide a few years ago. I don't really know anything about Colin, so I won't try to make up facts to explain the song, but when you read the following lines, keep in mind that Conor had (at least) two cousins, Ian and Colin:

    And I'm glad you got away,
    But I'm still stuck out here.
    My clothes are soaking wet from your brother's tears.

    Colin "got away" by killing himself, and after the death, Ian cried on his shoulder. Makes sense, no?

    To me, the song is about questioning the purpose of life. Conor wanted to get away from everything like his cousin was trying to do--he loved his cousin for slamming the door and stealing a car and driving to Mexico because it seemed like such actions had purpose and vitality. Conor was in a state of "paralysis"--unable to understand what the hell everything is about--he "still believed in war," even. But the death has awakened him--it's the "yellow bird that he's been waiting for." He's still "stuck out here" and "drunk as hell," but he realizes that he wants to keep living because the suicide has only resulted in a muddy field where the garden was ("A Difference in the Shades" reference, maybe?) The sound of loneliness makes him happier, after all, he can be happy and content with himself. He "never thought this life was possible"--that he could be happy with life, at all, and not want to kill himself, but having witnessed the suicide of someone he was close to, he's realized that'd he rather just make music and try to work through his sadness than run away, use heroin, or kill himself.

    And maybe his cousin had sexual identity problems--"dressed in women's clothes, made ashamed..."??

    I readily admit to the extreme possibility that I'm wrong, and I feel awkward writing about Conor and his brothers and cousins as if I actually know them...
    LuckyMonkeyon February 19, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:I don't really know how to explain my interpretation...But somehow I feel like he is singing about himself. I realize there are fragments of the song that quite obviously go against my theory, but to me this is about him being torn between his true identity and what others feel he should be. He never loved himself more than when he left...Left the pain that was the only constant where he was before. But no matter how far he ran, there was still that baggage. The baggage that Conor sings through first person as. He is two separate entities...The one he sings the song through, and then the one he is actually singing ABOUT.

    The sound of loneliness makes him happier...He just wants to be alone. One person. One being. One interpretation of human existence.
    Angalieneon August 13, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:This song was breathtaking live. You know some people have heart attacks from looking at phenominal art.. I think if this song were on a canvas, we'd all die.
    UsPeopleWhoSufferon February 06, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:saw bright eyes in NYC recently...he said the song was about his brother, then proceeded to mention humorously that the brother was probably backstage drinking his booze
    themasseson February 09, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:i can not even begin to describe how much i love bright eyes. I havent ever gone to a bright eyes concert, yes, i know it is a crime! i want to go SO bad, because i think they are better then phenominal. this song is so charged with emotions, and beautiful writing. i agree with luckymonkey..and somoene who wrote about the garden of eden, that makes total sence, to me.


    Poison Oak some boyhood bravery.
    when the telephone was a tin can on a string.
    and I fell asleep with you still talking to me.
    you said you weren't afraid to die.

    (I Think that is about him reminiscing about his childhood, and then later he referrs to the future..perhaps?)

    In polaroids you were dressed in women's clothes.
    were you made ashamed whyd you lock them in the drawer.

    (Again, i believe that this is a sexually puzzled COUSIN. He was dressing in womens clothes, because he was insecure..or just curious, i dont know, and he hid them in a drawer, because his parents (who were christians) were ashamed of being sexually confused, or maybe...afraid of same gender marraige, so he hid them and locked them in a drawer)

    And I don't think that I ever loved you more.
    Than when you turned away.
    When you slammed the door.
    When you stole the car drove towards Mexico.
    And you wrote bad checks just to fill your arm.
    (Obviously, the cousin was ashamed of his decisions, and he wanted to get away from every thing, all of the stress, and his parents...and so he stole the car and drove towards mexico, duh..and later he shot up heroin in his arm.. the line" he wrote bad checks.." reffers to he couldnt AFFORD the heroin, so he just wrote bad checks..)

    I was young then I still believed in war.
    But let the poets cry themselves to sleep.

    (Ironic, no)

    and all their tearful words could turn back into steam.
    me Im a single cell on a serpants tongue.
    and theres a muddy field where a garden was

    (All of their tearful words, maybe refferrs to the sexually confused parents, and they said tearful words, and hurt the boy. Maybe the cousin wasnt christian, and so he was just a single cell on a serpants tongue, because there are millions, again i agree with whoever said sin and that there wouldnt be any without the serpent.. Maybe the muddy field where a garden was..refers to either a cemetary? that is not kept up..or it symbolizes how something was so beautiful, and amazing, and then it just turned so ugly, like dirt...)

    and I'm glad you got away.
    but I'm still stuck out here.
    my clothes are soaking wet from your brothers tears.

    (conor is glad that a friend...(someone elses cousin) died, because he didnt deserve to suffer. of course that he isnt GLAD that he died, but maybe he thought it was better then suffereing. conor is still stuck in life, and the brothers tears, i think has to do with colin and ian, that the conor was the FRIEND and his friends cousin commited suicide, so his BROTHER was crying on conors shoulder, and so thats how conor got tears soaked by YOUR brothers tears(the song is to the passed away friend)

    And I never thought this life was possible.
    You're the yellow bird that I've been waiting for.
    The end of paralysis I was a statuette

    (I never thought this life was possible, I never thought that I would end up here, or be doing the things i am(i.e. heroin) Your the yellow bird Ive been waiting for....you are the freedom, and the REASON for living, and not committing suicide, you are the yellow bird, i.e. the reason for living (canaries..) I was just stuck here, and i want to leave(statuette)

    Now I'm drunk as hell on a piano bench,
    And when I press the keys it all gets reversed.
    The sound of lonliness makes me happier.

    (When i write this music is so beautiful. it reverses all of my pain towards you, and the sound of lonliess makes me happeier. after all who doesnt want to be alone once in a while. all of this is an opionon, no proven fact. it is so amazing how all of his songs are like a diary entry, and expresses everything, without everything seeing so obvious. it makes you think so much, and maybe that is why we all love conor oberst. this was the most AMAZING. song i have ever heard in my LIFE. it is so well written, phenominal..abosolutely breath taking and heart breaking.
    reminisce_historyon July 09, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:This song is about his cousin and it's a eulogy about how his suicide left Conor in sadness at first. But it ultimately changed him for the better.

    The interesting part, to me, is when the music abrubtly quiets and Conor sings "And I never thought this life was possible, you're the yellow brid that I've been waiting for." To me this symbolizes a turning point in his mind where he realized the reality of the effect suicide has on the people left behind. In this, Conor comes to recognize that he is somewhat "better" in the sense that he can better understand his depression and he can better understand why he should not want to kill himself.
    Right now, at this point in time, he is "drunk as hell on a piano bench," and "the sound of loneliness" makes him happier. This means that he is attracted to "the sound of loneliness," or the sadness that people have expressed in art from feeling lonesome. Because he is on the other side (he's not so lonely anymore), he can better appreciate the emotion of sadness, even feeling a love of it, where just hearing it can make him happy.
    While depressed, he never thought that a life with a mind that has love for life was actually possible. When he hears or sees or feels sadness in art in the world, it makes it happy because his yellow bird (see Simon Joyner), who came to him in the tragedy of a friend's suicide, made him realize that he is happier than the art he hears, so by comparison, he is grateful for that. This is why he says "it all gets reversed." When he was depressed, he didn't love the sadness in art, because it actually just made him think worse of living. Now that he's happier, the sadness/loneliness is a beautiful thing that he has grown to love and *feel* for, so it makes him happier, or as I would put it, more peaceful in his mind.
    This song is put after "Landlocked Blues" on "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" because IMO "Landlocked Blues" ends with the resolution that only way out is death, but "Poison Oak" ends with a realization that the impossible has come true, that living, and being okay with that, is not only possible, but real.
    XianSnakeon September 30, 2006   Link

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