In an old photograph, the last tsar

rows his straw-hatted  family across a lake

at Gatchina, the water placid, mirror-still,

their reflections barely distorted,

the only disturbance the swoosh of the oar–

a moment stolen from history,

the bloody future unforeseen.


Copyright 2018

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

Pozzotti’s Panther*


The great cat’s humongous feet

support a massive chest, the creature’s

strength mainly in its legs and flanks,

the head relatively small, the balancing

tail cable-thin, the body marked

with molecular diagrams

of some primitive lifeforce,

mouth open and teeth bared,

but as if to scream instead of bite,

eyes pleading, not daring

or rather, daring a different response

to dangerous beauty.


*Panther by Rudy Pozzotti


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper


Pozzotti’s Fox*




stands lined out against a slender tree,

tail flagging high, nose lifted to test

the nighttime air, bright eyes opening

onto a dark, sad wisdom.


Stealth, cunning, death, and the Devil,

says the plaque beside the print,

but the fox has nothing to hide,

no fear of circumstances beyond the grave.


Its cleverness shows a cleaner cunning

than the conniving human kind,

and we, not she, must own

the deviltries of this world.


*Fox by Rudy Pozzotti


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

On “Tatjana, Veiled Head, Tight View”

In a portrait Ritts shot at Joshua Tree,

her head wrapped in black cloth,

a sheer veil both reveals her face

and curtains it off from us.

Her eyes, perhaps green or blue

(the photograph’s in black and white),

under gracefully arching brows,

cast an open gaze, frank despite its masking.

Her other features, a slender classic nose,

lips full but not unnaturally enhanced.

Though I know neither the woman nor her story,

her expression’s that of a confidant woman,

who knows what she wants and how

to get it without compromising herself,

who makes her own choices about

what and when to display, conceal.

The veil adds texture to her countenance

in the way of cracks in the paint

of a Renaissance portrait not yet restored.

Mostly the photo emphasizes

the left-and-down diagonal threads

making up the veil, suggesting

optimistic motion, but

over the woman’s left cheekbone,

to the viewers’ right when facing the image,

the crossthreads stand out more,

as if on a face in the aftermath of tears.

Her composure has arrived perhaps

by way of sorrow as well as joy.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

Depp by Ritts

Improbably seated on a kitchen stove

in a 1990 portrait shot in Los Angeles

by Herb Ritts, a still-young Johnny Depp,

his eyes deep pools of brown, gazes

at the camera. He’s dressed in T-shirt,

jeans, black boots, a single pendant

suspended from a chain circling his neck.

He sits on the burners beside a kettle,

left foot resting on the open oven door,

right leg crossed over knee, both hands

clasping boot, cigarette between the

fingers of the left. His hair, shorter than

in later years, a careful mess on top,

razor-cut wedges on the sides; there’s

a bit of scruff above his pouty lips,

a small tattoo adorning his left bicep.

“This is me,” he seems to say, “the way I am.

Accept it, deal with it, or just move on.”


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

On “Stephano, Seated, Milan” by Ritts

In a 1985 platinum print

by the late photographer Herb Ritts,

a young man in Milan, Stephano,

sits nude but self-enveloped,

masculine but vulnerable,

perhaps even a bit fragile,

emotionally if not physically.

His dark hair’s center-parted

and cut to fall just below his jawbone,

his head tilted back and to the right,

mouth turned down—thoughtful merely?

or weary, anxious, peeved?

His right hand rests in his lap;

his left arm crossed over his torso,

left hand clutching right shoulder,

knees drawn up to his chest.

The platinum printing gives

his skin a bronzy sheen.

He sits on a polished black floor,

leans against a white wall

and lighted shadowed beam,

but it seems his life is anything but

black and white,

everything relative and complex,

maybe sometimes too much

for him to handle.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper