To Tulsa Then I Came

To Tulsa then I came in the middle of an August heatwave,

driving a car without air-conditioning in temperatures well

over a hundred, traveling the turnpike up from Muscogee,

through a lot of nothing, to connect with the expressway

from Broken Arrow, exiting at Fifteenth and Delaware,

for my first glimpse of the city on the way to TU

to start my doctoral studies after making the stressful decision.

Sweaty I was and exhausted, and the trees all looked strange,

when I arrived without a plan for where to sleep,

agreed to a lease on the first crappy apartment I saw,

and spent the night at a motel on Admiral, the surroundings of which

did not impress me aesthetically or in terms of safety.

So much about the city has changed now, the university

hardly recognizable, the landscape of the Delaware intersection

so much changed, the arts district thriving in once-dead downtown,

even the grocery-store chains all replaced.

But still it remains a place with a history: the road, the music,

the deco facades that oil money and depression labor built,

the infamous riot that the textbooks somehow never mentioned.

And yet, curiously, also a history without a place—

not really located South, or West, or Midwest either,

but in a city unlike the rest of Oklahoma,

itself dissimilar to pretty much anywhere else on earth.

To Tulsa I came and went and came and went and came;

and longer have I stayed than ever I could have imagined


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper


Just at dawn, a doe with two fawns

crosses beside the lake between tall pines

and rambling, unmanicured azaleas,

the creatures’ graceful forms silvered

by the horizon’s first glowing as they

footprint the white sand spongy with wet.


Their moist noses rise to the air,

scented with sweet camellia,

and at a premonition perceptible only

to themselves, the deer dart across

a tire-hardened dirt track and into

the evergreen woods. As the animals

veer westward, the pines shrink, thin,

and brown, until the trio emerges

onto an open field, the view of their

arrival framed by the redbuds

etched onto its periphery.


Their dancing hooves stir dust

lofted by a crosswind before it

resettles to the ground as they look

for a place to shelter themselves

from the threatening exposure

of high noon’s harsh, hot light.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper















For L. S. 


When the person who died was only semi-famous,

the lesser known member of the band and not

the center ring of a paparazzi circus, you can’t

help wondering about the unrevealed details.

A relative belatedly announces the death, says

the deceased was a private person, lived abroad.

But who still loved him in the recent years,

who will miss him at the pub or coffeehouse,

who will take the dog?


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Changing Places

I imagine some literary cataclysm

in which Whitman and Dickinson exchange places:

Emily, no longer able to wait for life,

proclaiming her exuberant greatness

from some upstate mountaintop;

Walt sitting quietly in his room,

endlessly rocking, writing cryptic letters

to his latest beau, wondering

if maybe he should get out more.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper