About longevity they were always curious,

the new journalists: about who would

live longest, and where, and why.

Their curiosity led them to Ikaria,

namesake island of the fabled Icarus,

fallen in the prime of youth,

un-marveled-at by those who noticed at all.

“Crazy kids,” someone probably said—

in ancient Greek, of course, making

the situation inherently more tragic.

Flying conditions were ideal

for that much earlier flight;

only a failure to follow instructions

resulted in disaster.


The journalists, from still young to middle-aged,

seek the agile centenarians,

to quiz them about food, drink, exercise,

and social habits, the quotidian details

of lives spanning many decades.

This time, the weather does not cooperate:

The journalists’ plane trembles

in high winds above rough seas.

Their wax has melted; like Icarus,

they are going down.


“Ironic, don’t you think,” one remarks,

“dying on a journey to vital age?”


Note: In The Guardian, in May 2013, Andrew Anthony writes of a trip to Ikaria to interview the elderly, during which he meets author Dan Buettner, who observes that it would be ironic if the longevity-seekers’ plane crashed and they died.  The opening of the poem alludes, of course, to Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts.”


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper





Backgrounded by wet-grass green velvet,

the slender vine creeps upward and to the left

on a wire-fence grid, a winding scenic

highway on a pre-Interstate map, with

each spade-shaped leaf a wooded lay-by,

the roadside attractions blossoms in profusion,

deep purple stars with burning yellow hearts,

their reverse a subtle lavender.


As springtime cycles toward the summer,

the rains have come, the bees begun their rounds;

the clematis has bloomed.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

My Youth Among Trees


A little pine limb blown down last night in rain,

cracked open, exudes with scented sap

memories of my childhood, with trees.


As a baby, I crawled in sycamore shade,

became a toddler pointing to people Sunday-dressed

strolling oak-lined small-town streets.


When five, I hauled bricks

in tricycle-drawn wagon to help

Dad build a patio under water oaks.


At nine, among the lakeside pines

My friends and dog and I

jumped into piles of prickly straw.


At Christmas, Mom made

decorations from pine burrs, cardboard,

glitter, and spray paint.


But then: A plague of beetles came to kill the pines;

almost all of them were cut,

teaching me how meanly nature acts.


When I was twelve, Mom having

returned to nursing work, I waited,

on weekday evenings just at dusk,


pacing along the row of cedars

my uncle had planted years before, to watch

for the yellow headlights of her arrival home.


That Christmas, she brought us a pretty

artificial tree, so that my dad and I no longer had to search

Granddaddy’s land for a pint-sized pine.


In my early teens, when my parents built

a new house behind a line of old pecans, I coerced

my younger brother to take the western room.


That way, I could have the morning sun

and watch the squirrels cavort

in the sprawling oak out front.


Still today, no matter where I am, I recall the trees that

sheltered me in youth, let them protect me from the greater heat

that blazes harshly down on grown-up heads.



Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

Musician’s Dues


A rock musician quite gay

desperately needed a lay.

He looked in bars

for dudes with guitars,

but, like a customer, he had to pay.



He discovered that if he paid,

he could usually get himself laid.

But after the fuck,

he run out of luck;

for seconds, the dude never stayed.



An amateur, he didn’t make real dough,

but still he needed his thrills, though,

so he gave up on dudes,

and his life much improved,

when he went out and bought a dildo.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

Meanwhile, Back at Vatican City…

Whistling the “Ave Maria,”
en route from the refectory,
the chorister crosses
himself and the path
of the holy gentleman
who beckons, in waiting
for the satisfaction
of “certain physical needs.”

That gentleman describes,
sotto voce but with hands
resistant to restraint,
his statuesque ideal,
tracing the curving pecs
of Rilke’s Apollonian torso,
resurrecting Signorelli’s
sweating flesh.

Outside the colonnade,
beneath the ornamental pines,
the singer’s rhythmic fingers
drum the telefonino keys,
seeking when and where
in Rome to find
those willing Roman boys
who do
whoever must be done.

But though the gentleman desires
for many men to come,
those who, in fact, arrive
do not suit his practiced taste,
for he has never cared
for those in other uniform
than greasy jeans.

As with so many affairs
of men, the plot
and players both
have come undone:

The chorister has been
sent down much like
a drunken Oxbridge fresher
gone a bit too far in decades past;

the gentleman awaits,
with his unlikely wife,
the formal charges
and impending trial;

the young man who would,
for pay, have helped
his grace to fall
has gone to serve
another member
of the brothers’ sacred band,

for the flesh will come
of the word.
Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper


At the Phoenix 1: On a Quiet Tuesday Evening

Upside-down lamps, half-lighted tonight,

dangle over the corner of Sixth and Peoria

like disco balls on a week’s vacation,

cars gliding by seemingly close enough

to touch if glass were a bit more permeable.

The downtown skyline, so close by,

nevertheless remains mostly obscured

from this angle, but its glow keeps it

continually in mind, if not in view.

The crowd tonight is sparse, quiet,

the music low as well, unobtrusive ambience;

I couldn’t even say what’s playing exactly.

From my vantage point on the pink

velvet sofa curving across the room,

I relax, drink a beer, watch the people,

and try to write the essence of the scene.


In front of me, in armchairs by the window,

two young men, both dark-haired, one

with diamond ear studs, the other without,

sit and chat. They seem to have recently

finished a shared platter of food; they

sip iced coffee drinks in tall, frosty glasses.

Friends, boyfriends, roommates? I idly wonder,

as one does.  Long-time friends, I think,

or roommates perhaps. Separate chairs,

table between them; lovers would have

taken the sofa, vacant before I came in.

Not new acquaintances, for sure;

too much at ease, too familiar with each other.

They laugh, trade a phone back and forth,

speak of many things. At one point I hear

a reference to the Lutheran church,

but in what context I cannot determine.


On the other sofa, blue-gray, behind me,

a hetero couple stretch their legs; I forget about

the TV until later; perhaps they are watching it,

idly, inattentively, waiting for something to catch

their interest. They don’t speak much, or move.

To my left, at a table, a group of four friends,

or just acquaintances maybe—they behave

more formally—talk about what sounds

like colleges, classes, careers, serious

matters, but routine; for most, this is not

the night for urgency. Always, though,

one exception: beyond the four,

against the back wall, one young woman

works ardently at her laptop, her phone,

a calculator,  oblivious to her surroundings.

To my right, at one of the tall tables

by the Sixth-Street windows, sit a young man

and woman, these too apparently friends

rather than lovers, judging by the

fragments of conversation I overhear:

“And then she says…and then I go…, so he…”

She’s blond, with a stylish short haircut;

he’s dressed simply but well: perfectly fitting

black T-shirt, white jeans, black sandals

(difficult for guys) that are actually cool:

not too clunky, too sporty, or too girly.

They converse across an empty table,

after espresso cups have been cleared.


Two regulars at the bar, one mostly silently,

quaffs half a draught,  not as frothy

as my Belhaven, wanders out for a cigarette,

returns to finish his beer. The other drinks

something red and slushy, discusses alternative

uses for a window-unit air-conditioner:

coffee table, ottoman, that sort of thing.

The bartender, wiry hair held back with

a bandanna, not rushed, but occupied,

being the only one on duty, half-listens

while he works, makes an occasional

jokey response; I’m listening to fragmented

bits of conversation, drifting off;

the traffic light outside blinks green again,

startles me from my reverie for a moment,

I notice the alien art: the current artist

has a thing for Star Wars, apparently;

I’ve not been sufficiently inspired

to take a closer look; it seems well

done, just not quite my thing.


I hear the door behind me, someone

in, or the smoker headed out again.

I’m sure there must be texts, but oddly,

not one of us receives a call, though

all are holding phones.  A hypothetical

caller with usual “What you doing?

would probably get the same answer

from any of us, “Not much, you?”

And, indeed, the unity of the action

is that there is no action, and yet,

this is stasis, not stagnation; our immediate

world seems right tonight, at peace,

or at least our meds are working.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

Untitled limericks

According to Michel de Montaigne,

the mind of a man can contain

a whole lot of fluff

but not much solid stuff,

’cause his thoughts are mixed up in his brain.



There once was a professor called Leeming

who lectured on “Being” and “Seeming,”

but students couldn’t decide

for the sake of their lives

if any of her points were redeeming.



There once was a student from Venice

who couldn’t control his penis.

He wanted to fuck,

but he was all out of luck,

’cause before he could start he would finish.



There once was a doctor named Hacker

who was just a bit of a slacker.

His patients all died,

his receptionist cried,

but his nurse took the blame, and he sacked her.



There once was a dude from Yazoo

who had attitude outta the wazoo.

He thought he was hot;

the ladies thought not,

and told him, “Fuck off, you spaz, you.”


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

Byzantine Mosaic Fragment with Leopard




Perhaps the artist intuited

what modern science knows:

the whole animal comprising

its molecular parts.


The composition, elliptical

in the geometrical sense,

ovals overlapping,

suggests also the grammatical

sense of economy, only

the relevant, the essential,

no excess.


Poetically elliptical as well:

the leopard figure sinewy,

powerful, strung tightly

for potential urgent action,

on a larger and more

dangerous scale like a

housecat springing

from lap pet to rabbit killer

faster than human or rabbit

can react.


A nature poem compressed

to maximum potency,

the vital colored stones

urged together

in mosaic.


Note: Byzantine Mosaic Fragment with Leopard is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper