The Guilt That Follows the Craziness That the Anxiety Provokes

 

Mostly, he was even-keeled, stoic,

the anchor in the storm; a lover

told him once he showed a range

of emotion narrower than that

of a rock.

 

Mostly, he lived a quiet life, alone,

reading his murder mysteries,

playing a bit of piano, tending

to animals, taking long walks

in the park.

 

But a few times a year, usually

during seasonal changes,

the lonely nights unnerved him,

and he drank too much and binged

on online porn.

 

Mostly, it helped a bit, getting

“it” out of his system, as they say;

it was crazy times, but after a week

or so, it wound down to exhaustion,

followed by guilt.

 

Mostly, it’s a way, the counselor

tells him, of shutting down the brain

when the wild thoughts drag him

under in a fierce riptide

of meta-analysis.

 

And thus, it seems, he can’t be blamed

and yet the guilt—so much of it—remains.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around

A tangle of passions, in the plural

rather than singular and shared,

had brought them to this pass,

their desires and aspirations mismatched,

so that when the incensed burned out

and the wine bottle ran dry,

no one was surprised, not really,

at the expiration of what had become

mere ritual, mere ritual marked

for duty’s sake, no longer

a feast of cannibalistic fervor.

Then came a season of resignation

before the explosion that ended it all.

Afterward, there were tears, but those

dried up as well, and the world

creaked a bit on its axis

but continued to turn.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Yes, I’m Going There

“No upcoming destinations,”

my cellphone tells me, without

being asked, as if I had high

expectations that I am now

being prompted to lower,

to accept without protestation

this prognosis of stagnation,

of futureless stasis or movement

merely in pointless circles,

of restless ghostly wandering.

The power of suggestion

is strong, but still I will resist

for now, admitting that my

path might be hard to map,

that I might sometimes veer

slightly off the grid, gripped

by anxiety and indecision,

but I do have destinations,

even if I haven’t determined

them yet, and the phone

has a power switch that,

at least for now,

I can still control.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Athena

For Maria Spelleri

 

In a dispassionate play Bertolt Brecht would have written

if only there had been more time, the goddess Athena,

the owl-eyed diva of wisdom, no great beauty, still

a material girl at heart, has taken up prostitution

because sex work, though unglamorous, yields ready

cash—she has done the math—and a girl does what

she has to do while fashion houses keep churning out sweatshop

leather bags that one must have to prevent the fall

of another civilization, and so, inspired by designer logos,

she has mapped out her strategy, donned her emotional

armor, taken up her snake-wrapped spear, and gone

calmly, deliberately, courageously into war to maintain

her fashionable image and save the economy from ruin.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

In the Bag

My hand, stiffer and scalier than on earlier expeditions,

reaches into the cavernous interior of my book bag

like an old snake, bound up in its own tired skin,

slinking through a hole into its den underground,

but finding it in disarray, as if disturbed by intruders,

bent on deceit rather than theft, who left the furnishings

behind, taking away only the comfort of familiarity,

of the sure knowledge of where things lie and who

placed them there, slithering serpentine among

the colored folders meant to keep the papers organized,

searching them for—what was it, the syllabus, an graded

essay for a student previously absent, one of my many

misplaced lists and books, papers and pens and markers?

My looking is taking too long; some eyes are looking up

from phones, someone has asked a question that I

haven’t quite grasped. My mind has wandered to that time

in fourth grade when I worked so far ahead but then

couldn’t find my assignments and had what I know now

was one of my earliest panic attacks, but back here

in today’s class, students are offering excuses, asking for

favors, reporting problems, and, my brain nearly

exploding on its re-entry into  present time, which is now

future time because it kept going while my mind

bogged down in the mud of distant memory and lost

its focus on the short-term—short-term, school term,

syllabus, calendar, what was the question? The snake

bares its fangs but loses focus on its strike so that the prey escapes,

and I withdraw my hand from the bag, empty, still needy,

and as the hungry unfed snake crawls back into the light

to warm its chilly blood, I rest my arm on the podium

and gaze out into the eyes of my students and wonder

what they have remembered, what they have forgotten,

what dreams they have tried to prey on and seen escape,

what uneasiness they feel crawling out of their comfort

zones, if their thoughts, like mine, wander and rebel,

mutiny against them like drunken sailors aroused against

an incompetent captain too weak to maintain order.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Icon

Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for literature,

but chances are I’ll never have that honor.

Maybe it’s only because I’m a terrible singer.

No, wait, that can’t be the problem.

Maybe it’s because my poems don’t make sense.

No, that can’t be the problem either.

Maybe it’s because I live in Oklahoma,

don’t carry a guitar, and don’t have rock-star hair.

Not to say his lyrics aren’t brilliant, they are,

but it takes more than words to be an icon–

it takes time and place and hair and guitars.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Trying to Move On

A seasonal ballad of lost love to be accompanied by mournful fiddles, whining steel guitars, and an assortment of empty whisky bottles

 

In the first clear light of springtime,

when warming nature stirred warm feelings,

I met a man I thought I loved;

his kisses sent me reeling.

 

And then as soon, I lost him,

watched him go off to find

someone else or something new,

maybe even a better life.

 

And I, not ready for goodbyes,

wiped the tears out of my eyes

and tried to move on,

tried just to move on.

 

In the blazing sun of summer,

I met I man who seemed so right

that when he seemed to share my love,

I thought I’d finally won the fight.

 

And then as soon, I lost him,

watched him go off to find

someone else or something new,

maybe even a better life.

 

And I, not ready for goodbyes,

wiped the tears out of my eyes

and tried to move on,

tried just to move on.

 

In the yellow light of autumn,

with the leaves starting to turn,

I met the man I’d dreamed of,

the one for whom I’d yearned.

 

And then as soon, I lost him,

watched him go off to find

someone else or something new,

maybe even a better life.

 

And I, not ready for goodbyes,

wiped the tears out of my eyes

and tried to move on,

tried just to move on.

 

In the cold, grey light of winter,

with the trees bereft of leaves,

I met a man I lived for,

whom I wanted so to please.

 

And then as soon, I lost him,

watched him go off to find

someone else or something new,

maybe even a better life.

 

And I, not ready for goodbyes,

wiped the tears out of my eyes

and tried to move on,

tried just to move on.

 

And I, not ready for goodbyes,

wiped the tears out of my eyes

and tried

to move

on.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper