A Minion of Death Serves Breakfast at the Wakeup Hotel

waiter.jpg

Too anorexic to work as a fashion model

(with translucent skin whiter than the ghost

of porcelain drawn tight over his shaved

skull, black apron wrapped like a shroud

around his skeletal frame, eyes set deep

as if peering from a cave, mouth set

in a show of perpetual doom) he has taken

a job as a hotel waiter, moving around

the restaurant with zombie-like efficiency;

he performs his duties wordlessly, with

neither smile nor nod, replenishing the fruits

that nourish the living, with the secret

knowledge that death will take them soon

and he will feast finally on brains.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

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Palm Sunday, 2017

The palm fronds that will become ash,

left long, flap wildly in the wind, or,

folded into browning T’s, lie pinned

against shirt fronts in the usual haphazard

procession behind the red-shrouded

cross borne by a gentleman crucifer

of a certain age, a banner hoisted

by a girl taking flight, the hymn parts

as usual out of sync, out of tune,

nearly inaudible; and, inside, the longest

gospel of the year deflates the mood

to gloom in this season of rapid change,

in weather, in emotions that rise and crash,

azalea blossoms and thunderstorms, new

loves and old anxieties, the death that

precedes life that precedes death,

the eternal question remaining where

the chain will break, the cycle end at last.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

 

 

Obituary

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

Possum Portrait

A reluctant subject, anxious of pausing

her foraging for some tasty insects to snack on,

a female Virginia opossum sniffs once

to proof the absence of threat, and then

sits up in the front yard, her ghost-white

face glowing in the tree-filtered lamplight

seeping weakly into the pre-dawn darkness,

the same face that peered from Algonquin woods,

the same black eyes that scientists say

watched dinosaurs live and die, that

saw past the dinosaurs and Algonquins,

past the settlers and builders of cities.

 

Although her kind have suffered their losses,

to coyotes and dogs, to redneck hunters

with shotguns, to the noisy machines

hurtling with ungodly speed down streets

and highways; the species has survived,

virtually unchanged, and death to her

is only a game that she has often played

and so far won. She might climb a tree

to survey her options, might enjoy

a starlight swim if the opportunity

presents itself, but she will not run away

from death; she will walk, slowly,

at her own pace, taking another

solitary journey, and if death chooses

to follow her, that is the business of death,

not of possums, to whom death is only

a trick of last resort that sometimes

works and sometimes doesn’t.

 

My particular possum, very much alive

and grown tired of posing, raises

a four-finger wave, idly licks her palm,

and ambles off to finish her scavenging and find

some dark, safe place to sleep the day away.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Blood, Skill, and Mercy

While I read, sitting on the porch

on an Indian Summer evening,

fiction in which the boy narrator

retells to his grandmother the story

of a tiger and a rabbit, the ones

from Winnie-the-Pooh, my tomcat

bounds past, mouthing the bunny

he has half-slaughtered, slinging

blood like a red-wine christening,

to remind me that our domestic

animals, no matter how cuddly, remain

killing machines, that life is short

and nature cruel, that sacrifice

allegedly pleases the capricious gods,

and helpless to do otherwise, I

mourn the young rabbit, celebrate

the formidable skill of the hunter,

drink the wine, burn some incense,

and petition divinity for mercy.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

 

The Death Dance of the Fig Wasp

Compelled toward her irresistible doom,

she lustfully orbits the still-firm pod

until natural necessity drives her

into a frenzy and she burrows herself

into the inverted flower of maleness,

shedding her instinctual caution,

sacrificing her capacity for flight,

plunging headfirst where many like her

have gone before but never returned,

martyring herself to the reproductive

process so that a future generation

of wasps and figs can survive, though

she herself will not; and so, wingless

and mired in the airless moment,

with no past or future to call her own,

she takes the mother’s chance,

creating new lives for death.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

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Herbicide to Some Degree

I confess I killed the blanket flower,

snuffed out its autumnal blossoms

petaled in hues of mustard and rust,

brought from the nursery fully quick

but now dead brown out by the walk.

It was not an act of willful murder,

and yet I acknowledge herbicide

by negligence: I know that it handled

its tangled roots much too roughly,

knew even then I was confining them

in too small a pot, the only one I had,

bigger than the nursery container,

but still, I left them no room to stretch

and thrive, unwilling to make the minor

sacrifice of returning to the store

to pay the higher price for a larger pot

and lug home the heavier clay. And

then I fear I might have overwatered

the poor thing as well. Harboring yet

the faintest hope of its resurrection,

I can’t just throw it heartlessly away,

even knowing that the cause is all

but lost. I regret my careless actions

and wish that I could make amends,

but I know a jury of seasoned gardeners

would find me guilty in two minutes.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper