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

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

 

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

Again

Some nights the old fears come back,

rustling around the door as dusk

bleeds light from the sky and then

making houseguests of themselves,

hogging the pillows, drinking up the wine,

demanding too much attention, but here

they are, and like forgotten cousins

or friends from lives you thought had died,

they must be entertained, and so

you dance with them and listen to

their talk and take a certain comfort

in their familiar spirits, but still

you wish they’d go and leave you to

the loneliness they represent.

 

Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Panic Attack

Panic swoops down and preys on him:

a fearsome, famished raptor

ripping apart his flesh

with razor-claws,

digging in through muscle

to devour the organ meats,

savoring his heart and brain.

This is the point at which

the nightmare is supposed to end,

but he’s been wide awake

from the beginning,

and the scenario’s stuck

in a replaying loop.

When he tries to tell others

how it works,

they always advise,

“It’s OK, calm down, it’s

only in your head.”

But that is where he lives.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

We Are All in Fear of Falling Asleep

We are all in fear of falling asleep,

of losing our grip on the ledge of wakefulness

and falling fast into unconscious dark,

into a temporary death.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

It happened to Matt on his way to the restaurant,

and he was late for his shift—three days late,

his tables unwaited.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

It happened to Lynne on the way to the church;

by the time she reached the altar, her bride

had left her, the cake gone stale.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

It happened to Aaron at the tattoo shop,

leaving his client with a three-pointed star,

and a pool of ink on the floor.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

It happened to Lizzie watching a movie at home;

she missed the ending and left her cats

to feed themselves.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

It happened to Ravi at the drafting table,

lines gone astray, figures unfinished,

engineering specs left incomplete.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

It happened to Mitchell in the greenhouse,

dropping his tools and falling among them,

the plants’ cultivation neglected for weeks.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

It happened to Taylor, out on a first date

with a new boyfriend. Only one kiss and then he went

before anyone came.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

It has happened to commuters on car-packed streets,

to workers in factories making gadgets,

to priests in the middle of saying Mass,

to stock-market traders while making deals,

and to thousands of students attending lectures.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep,

abridging our lives by hours, by days, by weeks,

losing our places in the waking world

as we drop suddenly into slumber

or stumble like zombies between

living and coma.

 

We are all in fear of falling asleep,

and of failing to know whether we have.

 

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper