The Interpretation of Leaves

Brown leaves dancing on the lawn,

like a flock of tiny birds,

suddenly rise into flight,

circling in late-autumn wind—

rustling omen of something,

but who can fortell of what?

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

The Bluejay of Fear

The jay was beautiful once, in his feathered garb of regal blue,

but now he’s only dead, gone the way of all flesh and fowl,

and though I’m not the assassin–the cat has brought him in,

as nature-programmed hunters do–yet still I feel the guilt

for this handsome creature unjustly slain. So runs the elegy

I’m composing in my head as I pick up a couple of feathers

dropped, and the cat, having grown bored with the game,

leaves the scene.

But then I realize the bird remains alive,

perched on the kitchen curtain-rod, first thinking he’s badly hurt,

de-winged, unable to flay and stuck in purgatory,

but when I approach, he takes flight, heading every which way

but out; with doors and windows open wide, the bird flies

into the wall, and I marvel at the lack of brains that

often accompanies unearned beauty.

I cannot catch him,

or shoot him, or guide him; the attempt goes on for hours,

until, like Poe’s raven or the mariner’s albatross, his presence

dooms me to the memory of regret. Having provoked me

into agitation, he settles and grows quiet, spends the night

on his perch, head tucked under wing, in the way of birds,

as I toss in troubled dream state, and not until the next

midmorning, when the cat’s interest returns, does my

blue-winged demon depart with a raucous squawk

by the obvious escape right previously unseen.

He’ll have

a story to tell his avian cronies of his traumatic, near-death

experience, and I’ll be haunted by his image, with half-open

beak and the same stupid, black-eyed terror that I

sometimes feel myself.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Birdsong

At four they start their chorus, after a bit of a tune-up,

in the spring of the many birds—I don’t know when

I’ve seen such numbers, from bite-sized chickadees

to the fattest robins on record, showy cardinals

to mean-spirited jays. Whether their rousing strains

constitute a melodious symphony or merely a

cacophonous racket remains a question for debate—

a delight for the early riser but hardly conducive

to an open-windowed lie-in on a Saturday morning.

They flit about the garden and the branches of the

as yet unbloomed crepe myrtle shading my bedroom,

their arias invading my dreams and goading the cats

to sharpen their claws for a pre-dawn hunt.

The early ones create the earworms, their agents

and producers probably taking a generous cut.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Troubled Birds

Served notice by a signal wave

unheard, unfelt by humans,

the birds took flight en masse,

darkening the sky as in the Hitchcock

film, but evading, not attacking,

headed heavenward, not swooping

down, greening the radar screens,

even the flightless plastic flamingos

lifting beaks and wings, alert

to disturbing premonitions

of instability, and then the earth shook

with the shock of a forced injection,

the fissures of its aging dermis

burst to expel its essential spirit,

trembling, freeze-framing, rocking

back to nurse its wounds, and the birds

came down, but they will roost

uneasily tonight.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Another Aubade

When it’s 5 a.m. but you’re wide awake

on a summer day when there’s no need

for early rising, no hurry to get moving,

what can you do really but sit on the porch

in your underwear, drinking black coffee in the dark,

watching cats prowl the yards and mourning

the loss of stars as the sky begins to brighten

slightly and a gentle wind breaks the stillness,

stirring the uppermost branch of the hackberries,

ruffling the feathers of the early birds

anticipating the dawn in that long, lonely

moment just before it that brings to mind

departed lovers and forgotten dreams;

but the birds sing reassuringly

as the first light reveals the first blossoms

on a late-blooming crepe myrtle,

and the coffee is good and strong.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

 

 

Mixing Metaphors

Birdsong at four, after restless sleep,

the world seeping back into my consciousness,

I think first with typical human egotism,

but it’s the other way around, isn’t it,

the world drawing me back into itself,

one more pinch of flour beaten into the batter,

another drop of tint diffused into the base paint

until it’s indistinguishable if not unseen,

though even in dissolution my bones will feel the shaking,

even if my still-groggy brain can’t grasp

what the birds are stirring up.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Jay

jay

Perched in the tree,

he’s a subtle marvel

in his morning coat

of blue and grey,

camouflaged among the leaves

by his likeness to the patches

of sky visible between them;

but reticent only

in resting appearance,

he squawks his displeasure

at the idling cat

he dives to peck:

touché!

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper