Disturbance

On unstable days, the atmosphere

bears down, humid and oppressive, pressing

tightly in, constricting breath and movement,

scrambling thoughts, intensifying moods

gloomy and depressing, building up

tensions and minor irritations until

anxiety renders me dysfunctional,

and I can neither focus on a task,

nor sit still with my constant jitters.

It happens often enough that it can’t be

mere coincidence, and yet I don’t

know what to call effect and cause, whether

emotions take a barometric turn,

or the same gods’ grip shakes and strangles both.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

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No Sense in It

The voices that flash before my eyes

smell like duct tape fresh off the roll,

like plastic and glue and mechanical things

that some people could fix, the ones who rise

as if dawn will judge their souls

and finish their coffee before birds sing,

the bitter before the sweet, and the voice

feel bitter, not sweet; the harshest ones

strip the hair from my legs like tape

ripped from it, the agony like the choices

that confound when the sun

drags in the problem of the day–

something that taste’s like the cat’s fresh kill

and rings in my ears like the victim’s blood

still wet on the sacrificial stone.

It’s a dream that strangles my will,

stabs me with splinters of dead wood, dead would,

and keeps me cocooned in bed alone,

washing down the flashing screams

with the vintage smell of fear.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

 

Wake

Drowsy from reading, I stretch out on the bed,

near, but not touching, the cat, who likes her space,

and various pasts and futures fill my head

with thoughts, some welcome, others hard to face.

 

The window, left partially open, admits the wind,

and riding it in, the melodies of birds–

song that trills above the dishwasher’s din;

the thoughts stir feelings too  difficult for words.

 

The approach of spring always creates

unstable emotions that swirl around and collide:

the wish for freedom bound up with the need to mate;

new dreams mixed in with fear that something’s died.

 

My love craves exposure, but I’m wary,

even though you’re just imaginary..

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Leaving Albuquerque

The conference over, the city lies

quiet under a bright but chilly

morning, and my good trip has

gone a bit too long, the excitement

of new people, places, and ideas

having faded when my mood took

an anxious turn. And now my

flight is canceled, and there’s

a long wait for the next one,

and worries about when

I’ll get home.

 

But the airport observation deck

at least affords the mountain

views that have eluded me

for most of my stay, blocked

by commercial towers and bits

of scruffy urban sprawl. Here

the blue-grey peaks push up

from flats of dry, brown grass,

and a white wave of cloud

rolls up behind the ridge.

 

To settlers and adventurers, these

imposing peaks have proven

themselves both obstacles to

movement and gateways to

opportunity, but to me today

their rugged beauty is neutral,

a background of seeming stability

and permanence—though I know

that Nature takes a different

view—contrasting with the

temporary anxious flux of my

travel complications.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

 

 

 

 

Boxing Day 2017

Patchy sunlight seeps through the grey December sky,

diffusing itself over the aftermath of Christmas

in the recycling bin–bottles and boxes, bits of ribbon-bows

and colored paper–and, on the table, panettone crumbs,

on what’s usually my favorite day of the Christmas season,

Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s feast, the day after the big one,

when the mood remains festive and the lights still twinkle,

but the anxious rush has calmed; this one, though, hasn’t started

right–a cold opossum rummaging through the garage predawn,

backed up bathroom pipes first thing in the morning,

so I sit here drinking coffee and worrying about that,

and about the little things–the brake light that’s out,

the cat’s dental appointment with the vet, the paper

that already should be written. Not a total crisis,

not the zombie apocalypse or the heat-death of the universe,

but it’s not always the avalanche that gets you; sometimes

it’s all the little slides.

 

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

After the Chocolate Bunny’s Gone, Even the Ears

Late afternoon on Easter Sunday: Downtown’s

as lonely as my living room now that

the celebrations have all ended–the processions

long over, the dishes washed from brunch,

the lilies already beginning their wilt–and I

am cycling around deserted streets under

granite-coloured skies threatening the storms

that come up suddenly in unstable spring;

I’m delaying the necessary return to the old

routine of Sunday-evening fears, drifting

through restless dreams into Monday’s panic.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper