Cathedral Saint-Louis

cathedralstlouis

A long time since its construction and centuries longer since its namesake reigned,

its triple steeples still rise above the square, dappled by the morning sun

as hordes of sleepy tourists and locals who might not miss them much

if they took a day off line up for their morning pastries and au lait,

and already outside the commotion is building, the music of the spheres

a little off key, its brassy tune clashing with the brash shouts of hucksters

out for the early mark, but as I pass through and the doors swing close

behind me, the sacred silence engulfs me, and it is indeed as if I have

crossed into the otherworld, despite the electrical wires announcing that

the church serves as current place of worship, not historical relic only,

and the plaques and boxes and racked brochures for sale

reminding all that not even here does commerce cease, and though

I’m not Catholic, I too give in—drop coins in the box and light

a candle in hope of some little glow of enlightenment, and Louis

would have presumed me innocent until his branch of the Inquisition

made its inquiries and determined otherwise, and would probably

have dealt like Jesus in the temple with the mess of humanity

out front, or had his minions do it for him, more likely. Still, as far

as medieval rulers go, he was at least less awful than his peers, and,

if we can trust the words of his friend and confidante Jean de Joinville,

a positive influence on law and religion, famous for his

charitable disposition and his possession of a fragment—

an expensive one at that—of Christ’s True Cross.  These days,

that kind of belief, that kind of fervor, has waned away, but

still amid the cool white stones of its monuments, one can, for a fleeting

moment, feel the circulation of saints and spirits along the aisles

and ambulatories under  the tent of colonial-colored banners.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

 

New Orleans Wednesday Morning

At 6 a.m. on a Wednesday, New Orleans is stretching

and waking up slowly, a solitary barge drifting lazily by

on the lazy river as the bloody-egg-yolk sun peeks

out red-eyed and bleary from its cloud-blankets;

the streetcars on Canal stand idling, blinking their eyes,

one finally crawling forward. A few cars cross

on Magazine, a bus sits waiting at the curb,

a garbage truck lumbers down an alley.

In half an hour, one runner, one cyclist,

the first pedestrians venturing out,

haphazardly clothed as if they dressed in the dark.

Now, the sun brightens, and the ripples

on the surface of the water glitter like diamonds,

or, well, rhinestones at least; shadows from

lampposts and palmetto trunks stripe

streets bathed in patches of yellow glow.

A timeless scene, but a cable hanging loosely

outside my 36th-floor room swings in the wind

like the pendulum of a towering clock,

a reminder that the hours keep ticking forward.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

Cyclist

Inside the coffeehouse, standing with hands on his bike,

a white racer, not new—there’s tape on the saddle,

as if on the verge of departure, but making

no perceptible movement toward the door,

lingering instead to converse with a friend

seated at one of the small, square tables

near the counter, with a book and a cortado,

but remaining standing himself, as if inseparable from the bike,

in dirty white joggers pushed up to his knees

and a faded black V-neck, not cut deep,

but just deep enough to reveal a hint

of chest hair along the clavicle, his face freckled

by the sun, arms marked by cycling scrapes,

and his brown hair, kind of messy, not badly cut,

just not fussed over, spilling out from under

a backward baseball gap, one strand drooping over his brow,

drawing attention to his eyes, and what seductive

eyes they are, flickering bright, their color shifting

from hazel to blue to grey and back again,

and I’m hoping that he’s not noticing my glances,

even though I’ve chosen a seat facing him

so that I can steal them as I work, taking sips

of coffee as an excuse to look up from my laptop,

not only his appearance attracting me

but also his posture, his demeanor, his seeming

comfort in his skin, peace with his soul,

as the light glitters in his eyes and joy escapes

when a toothy grin registers a joke,

and as I pack up to go, he’s still standing there,

with his bike, in the coffeehouse, and two weeks later,

he’s still standing there, with his bike,

in my mind, his image lodged there yet.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

 

Resignation

This is our life, our own special hell.

Try as we might, we’re still doomed to failure,

with no goods to bargain, no souls to sell.

 

It’s all vanity; trouble’s stickier than blood.

Forget your ambitions; you might as well sail your

little paper boats in puddles of mud.

 

I’m not pessimistic, just being real;

our wills are constrained like pent-up jailbirds,

so it’s easier to deal if you forget how to feel.

 

Armour up like a knight, but stay in the castle.

It’s dangerous out there on quests for the grail; turn

back now to safety, it’s not worth the hassle.

 

Limit to the back yard your adventurous forays,

because heroes are heroes only in stories.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

Commuter Sentence

Driving toward the cathedral in the morning, its spire

a compass needle center-lining the street,

the direction seems inevitable, if not exactly

intentional, a lucid focus in the sleepy haze;

wake and work–it’s something, it’s  what we do

to keep the anxious-making world at bay,

or at least dilute the concentrated panic.

 

But in the traffic-crazy evening rush,

the needle has broken off, and puzzle-pieces

of clouds drift apart like renegade republics

dislodged from their positions on the map.

Sunset’s coming, but I’ll see it in the

rearview mirror while I’m riding east,

back into the chaos, as the credits roll.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper