St. Patrick’s Day, Tulsa, 2019

The church shifts it forward this year–

Sundays not being for single saints–

but the festival-makers stretch it

out over the whole weekend, this

everyone-Irish feast that everyone except

the Irish celebrates, knowing little of Patrick,

but assuming his fondness for stout ale

and the occasional whiskey for breakfast,

all things green, and maybe having heard

something about his chasing snakes away,

But his day here is a kind of rite of spring,

especially this time around, coinciding

with the start of spring break for local colleges,

and morning has broken blue-skied and sunny,

and though nature’s show of green

is limited mostly to early-bird weeds,

the trees are budding with potential,

the odd tulip blossom trying to open,

the songbirds lilting an Irish air.

The street parties will draw big crowds

on a day like this, almost perfect,

and maybe Padraig, reanimated, would

be appalled, but maybe he’d just raise

a slainte, join in and dance an ecstatic reel.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

 

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Fate

Walking her little yappy dog

on the trail through the mountain pasture,

the tourist woman would have been trampled by cattle

spooked and protective of their young

if she, as well as several of the cows and all of the hundred-odd passengers and crew,

had not been killed by the defectively engineered passenger jet crashing just there and then.

The dog escaped unharmed and ran off into a nearby wood, where, at dusk, with surprising boldness, it took up company with a passing pack of wolves.

So, in a sense, the story ended well, just not for the woman, or the people on the plane, or the sacrificial cows.

Cooyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

An Elegy Belated by Decades

Our building at the college smells of chlorine

this morning—apparently something they’ve done to the floors—

and the sharp edge of its scent scraping my nose

triggers memories of my childhood days, those

I spent in the keeping of my father’s aunt, an old-school

Southern homemaker whose economical rules

meant collecting straw to make her own brooms,

and whose housecleaning standards required that every room

be scrubbed ceiling to floor with Pine-Sol or bleach—

no imperfection missed or deemed out of reach.

Chicken for dinner came from the backyard, neck

wrung and feathers singed—organic, low-tech.

When she said she’d have baked a cake had she known you were coming,

she meant it literally, a multi-layered something.

But there’d be crackling bread, some greens, a stew,

and looking up from her quilting, she’d be glad to see you.

She pushed a wheelbarrow to the store for the grocery haul;

she never contracted her greetings to “y’all” from “you all.”

Out in the garden, sunbonnet on, she hoed;

indoors after noon, she watched soap operas and sewed,

while I playacted traveling to Columbus,

where she said the train passing her house had its terminus.

By the time I knew her, she was elderly, by no means thin,

but a youthful beauty lingered in her glowing clear skin.

At five with a cold I balked at her smelly cures,

but she was a remarkable woman; her memory endures.

 

 

Homeless in Tyler

A country lyric inspired by complications with a hotel reservation

 

Verse 1: Homeless and lonesome on the streets of Tyler,

my lover has left me, my friends have all gone;

but, like you can see, I keep walking and smiling,

drinking cheap whiskey ’til I feel like I’m home.

 

Chorus: Homeless, homeless in Tyler . . .

I’m just a loser—drunk, lonesome, and broke.

Homeless, homeless in Tyler . . .

The bottle’s run dry, I’ve lit up my last smoke.

 

Verse 2: When I get too drunk, I’ll lie still and play dead.

If you happen to find me before it’s too late,

don’t try to help me, just shoot me instead.

It’ll do me no harm to speed up my fate.

 

Repeat chorus

 

Bridge: Tyler’s in Texas, and Texas is big,

but the stars in the sky are not meant for me.

 

Verse 3: I could have been famous, or lucky in love,

or living life large in some mansion somewhere,

but the fact of the matter’s I’m totally fucked,

with no place to go and no one to care.

 

Repeat chorus

Repeat and fade

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

 

Long Night Moon

After a storm, the drapes of rain are drawn,

but a low ceiling of clouds still obscures

the fullness of the December moon,

making darker the longest night of the year,

with Mercury and Jupiter conjoined,

as stars fall behind the heavy barrier,

and Earth’s upper half leans backward until

it reaches the maximum tilt of winter solstice,

inviting winter in, but also promising

the turn of the wheel toward another spring.

A cold midwinter moon, a long night moon,

at the solstice ritually fired and feasted;

the decorative evergreen branches, cut, must die,

except as symbols, but the trees live on.

Next day, the sun rises late, but rises still,

and blazes bright until its early setting.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Barking Time

On Wednesdays at noon,

if the weather is good,

they test the tornado sirens,

and the dogs on the street behind me

join in, turning their howls

to harmonize, but the test

blasts through a solid minute,

longer than the dogs can

hold out without a breath,

and, one by one, their voices

drop our of the chorus;

but the siren, mechanical, controlled,

trails to silence when its time is up,

while the dogs, being dogs,

will still have their day.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper