The Unslept

In the wind of the night,

a dog howls at the crescent

moon fractioned against

the round shadow

of its former fullness, leaking absinthe

dreams over the restless, fretful earth,

troubling its insomniacs

with wide-eyed consciousness,

as if Lethe flowed around them

but they somehow remained completely dry.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper



Unrealized Potential

After L’Arlesienne by Van Gogh


The crumpled pages of the open book seem

ready to take flight from the mossy table

like a paper kite from a meadow,

but the brown-skinned woman,

not old, but old enough to know,

whose tired but sensitive hands

have thumbed them into perpetual

memory, does not look down

at the familiar pages, but off

into mustard-lit space, not

at the kite skipping along the ground,

but at the sky it’s aimed for,

not at the inadequate words

but at the ideas they might

have expressed, were such

things possible at all. Her

other book, the red one,

lies there closed; of it,

she’s had enough already,

its story ignoring hers.


Note: My result from a workshop session on ekphrastic poetry led by Mark Wagenaar and Mary Moore.

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Going Toward Darkness

Nothing going toward darkness

stops that early, though it moves

haltingly, loitering half-shadowed

between moonbeams, alternately

lobbing fears at your window

and slinking back behind

nightmare trees. Anxious

agitation winds you up in sheets,

but the tangled covers cover

nothing; going toward darkness

you shiver, cold, exposed.

Note: Based on a deconstruction of Mark Strand’s “The Coming of Light” for a workshop led by Jericho Brown.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

The Inevitable Birthday Poem

The tumbled geometries of the cityscape

bask in pools of light–cool blue, warm golden;

the tenderest top leaves of the young pear tree

adjacent to the rooftop deck slow dance

to the softly swirling autumn breeze

on a still-too-warm October evening,

and azaleas bloom out of season.

Another birthday; I’ve rolled a double five.


I guess it’s good enough to be alive,

not important to understand the reason,

but to  take the air and just keep breathing;

treat others kindly but do as you please;

don’t be afraid to take your one big chance.

The Boss says open doors don’t mean the ride’s free;

to your history you may be beholden,

but the road itself is your escape.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

No Turning

After many years of intermittent insanity,

anxiety and depression, everything spun

out of control and I came to wander

in the wilderness of psychosis, where

I saw delusional visions of a sane oasis,

but I did not conquer my demons,

and when I struck rock bottom,

no water flowed.

The world turns and changes,

but I do not hope to turn again.

No water flowed, and no wine flowed,

and I forgot who had how many

prodigal talents to be denied,

in age, my age, the ages of the rocks,

the forgetfulness that comes with age–

and you were my rock once,

but you rolled away,

gathering no moss.

The world turns and changes,

but I do not hope to turn again.

And I have not forgotten my talents,

nor do I have the heart to cut

a tree, even the fruitless fig,

but the volume of my trumpets

cannot fell the walls,

regardless of what raised them;

my song plays softer,

and the rabble overwhelms it.

The world turns and changes,

but I do not hope to turn again.

There is no infinity like

the finity of dreams.,

and yet, we go on,

visionless, we go on,

doubting our belief,

questioning its relevance,

but too fearful

to relinquish it.

The world turns and changes,

but I do not hope to turn again.

Until the cataclysm, the earth

will rotate and orbit its destruction,

and I will soldier on,

thought it’s too late to change;

the world will turn,

but I cannot,

being from where

I am destined to be.

The world turns and changes,

but I do not hope to turn again.

On the dance floor at the concert,

I move to the music,

gyrate and sway,

but I do it in one spot.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper