Ikaria

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

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Clematis

 

clematis2

 

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

1

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.

 

2

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.

 

3

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
regardless
of the word.
Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper