The most complicated systems

are a solid, cemented structure

of fake palm trees that do nothing

but lie.


It grows dark in the shadow of a white marble building,

and I feel bad, feel that it is my fault. I don’t want

to go to that dark place of my ancestors, cold, white,

snake-bitten in the darkness.


I beckon a physical light,

a light that begins to tremble

and bear witness to all

that they did, and by acts

like those thou didst teach

thy people the hope

of a new and better understanding.


But then the spirits vanished, and after that, they lived apart.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper


Note: This poem resulted from an exercise in a workshop on “Doing Stuff with Words” led by Grant Jenkins of the University of Tulsa. The poem was  constructed from fragmentary phrases and clauses culled more or less randomly from a variety of texts (including essays by Freud, the Bible, the Quoran, Joyce’s Dubliners, a novel by Rilla Askew, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, etc.).

Troubled Birds

Served notice by a signal wave

unheard, unfelt by humans,

the birds took flight en masse,

darkening the sky as in the Hitchcock

film, but evading, not attacking,

headed heavenward, not swooping

down, greening the radar screens,

even the flightless plastic flamingos

lifting beaks and wings, alert

to disturbing premonitions

of instability, and then the earth shook

with the shock of a forced injection,

the fissures of its aging dermis

burst to expel its essential spirit,

trembling, freeze-framing, rocking

back to nurse its wounds, and the birds

came down, but they will roost

uneasily tonight.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Possum Portrait

A reluctant subject, anxious of pausing

her foraging for some tasty insects to snack on,

a female Virginia opossum sniffs once

to proof the absence of threat, and then

sits up in the front yard, her ghost-white

face glowing in the tree-filtered lamplight

seeping weakly into the pre-dawn darkness,

the same face that peered from Algonquin woods,

the same black eyes that scientists say

watched dinosaurs live and die, that

saw past the dinosaurs and Algonquins,

past the settlers and builders of cities.


Although her kind have suffered their losses,

to coyotes and dogs, to redneck hunters

with shotguns, to the noisy machines

hurtling with ungodly speed down streets

and highways; the species has survived,

virtually unchanged, and death to her

is only a game that she has often played

and so far won. She might climb a tree

to survey her options, might enjoy

a starlight swim if the opportunity

presents itself, but she will not run away

from death; she will walk, slowly,

at her own pace, taking another

solitary journey, and if death chooses

to follow her, that is the business of death,

not of possums, to whom death is only

a trick of last resort that sometimes

works and sometimes doesn’t.


My particular possum, very much alive

and grown tired of posing, raises

a four-finger wave, idly licks her palm,

and ambles off to finish her scavenging and find

some dark, safe place to sleep the day away.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper


Mercury had gone retrograde on Tuesday,

but the earthquake didn’t shake our moorings

until Saturday morning, when we were

sleeping in or sipping coffee or heading

out for a run in the early coolness. At

Richter 5.6, it hardly brought the houses

down, but in a region where earthquakes

are a rather new phenomenon, wrought

perhaps by humans rather than our

natural mother, it was enough to loosen

our grip; to rattle windows, frighten

animals, and set off car alarms.

And then the day turned weird—

machinery went awry, gears slipping,

chains breaking; attempts to communicate

misfired as thoughts shot off into the

skies; restless trees shifted their roots,

and gnomes rushed out into parks

and gardens; the laughing gods

danced a capricious gig. But with the

messenger god tumbling backward,

we cannot run; it is no time for travel.

Nor can we raise an army; it is no time

for action. It is no time to start, but to

hold still, commune with our thoughts,

measure our words with care. We

can only think and plan and worry

and take long naps for solace

until the herald’s fleet-winged feet

propel him forward again and we can act.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper