Independence Day, 2017

Practicing tai chi

in the rain

on the Fourth of July,

I ponder the origin

of fireworks

between sips

of espresso

as I try to remember

the names of yoga poses

in Danish

and think of how good

our president

has made Canada look,

but my Stars and Stripes

still fly high

over me and my neighbors,

old and young,

white and black,

Latino and Asian,

and for a moment,

I forgot the divisions

and remember,

despite my Southern roots,

the unity.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

July 4th, 2016

After the dawn’s early light,

but before the fireworks start,

the flags drape gracefully,

ruffled, but not unfurled,

by the soft, warm breeze

in a morning moment of peace,

the persistent joy of birdsong

from the neighboring treetops

drowning out the violent murmur

of the television news oozing out

from inside around the badly

hung storm door, as I sit

on the porch with my cats,

like humans, killing machines

also capable of affection,

pondering the privileges

of living in a great country

whose greatest weakness

might be its obsession

with its own greatness,

its constant need to control,

to exemplify, its difficulty

sometimes in recognizing

its own problems, and

undeniably it has erred—

we can all name the times

and places—and yet it

has received and nourished,

saved and welcomed,

drawn strength even

from those it has denigrated,

and in all but the darkest times

allowed the dissenters to speak.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper







At the Farmers’ Market on the Fourth of July

By way of preparation, I breakfast on ice cream

and strap a small American flag on a plastic stick

to the handlebars of my bike with a band of Velcro:

I will be cycling to the farmers’ market on the Fourth of July,

dressed for the occasion in a red-and-white T-shirt

over bright blue yoga shorts, accessorized with

the inevitable bandana. We had rain yesterday,

and today hasn’t heated up too much when I start out

at eight-thirty; it’s not a long ride—through Turner Park

and the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood, then south

on St. Louis—badly in need of repair, my pavement-

pounded joints inform me—to avoid the traffic

on Utica and Peoria. When I cross under the expressway

and pass the cone-hatted musician always stationed

just outside the barriers, playing unfamiliar tunes,

I know I have arrived at my destination—the popular

Saturday-morning market in the middle of a street

in the middle of a city in the middle of America,

the Cherry Street (it’s really Fifteenth) Farmers’ Market

in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Parking the bike, detaching the basket,

and exchanging my helmet for a patriotic baseball cap,

I slip into the crowd, taking, as usual, a stroll through

the length of the market, assessing the options,

vegetable and human, before I commit myself to any

purchases, not above, I admit, snapping the occasional

cell-photo of a hot, or just interesting-looking, guy

who might turn up in a poem later, because, hey,

everyone in town is here: the young parents with babies

in strollers or trussed up on the backs of dads

or against the breasts of moms; the families with a kid

and a half; the serious cyclists in tight shorts and tank tops;

the gay boys in their flip-flops and espadrilles;

the women in their floral maxi-dresses; the muscle-men

all pumped up in their flag-adorned T-shirts;

the glittery women of a certain age; the blond-haired

hippie couple, the chic in beads and braids, the handsome

dude bearded and barefoot; the elderly lady

in a sun-hat, walking with a cane and drinking hot coffee

despite the now-blazing sun; the thirty-somethings

with their yoga mats; the dignified middle-aged

Asian woman above-it-all elegant in a long striped

sheath; the preppy kids in big sunglasses;

and the stars of the show—the dogs sniffing everything

out and soaking up the fawning attention of strangers.

And the crowd mills and swarms and circles,

ogling the displays of produce and flowers spread

enticingly under bright white canopies:

the blackberries that will sell out so quickly,

the juicy red tomatoes of every size and variety,

the rich yellow squash, the leafy green carrot tops

hanging from bags and baskets, the purple flowers

at the stall near the west end. And the overheated,

young and old, cooling off with an icy probiotic

pop-on-a-stick from Jared’s ice chest.

And so it’s done: I’ve seen the sights, spent

my money, filled my basket, greeted a few friends,

swum the channel of flag-adorned garments,

dodging prams and skateboards. I linger for a moment,

not quite ready to leave the spectacle behind, but

then I finish my popsicle, lick my sticky fingers, drain

the last bit of water from my cup and toss it in the

trash barrel. I re-attach the now-packed basket,

hang my cap from the handlebars, buckle up my

helmet, unchain the bike, and I’m off,

homeward bound, independently alone

on another Independence Day.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

Happy Lamps

Maybe you’ve seen the fireworks

they call Happy Lamps. You buy them

as flat hexagons with charges

attached to every side, you suspend

them on a string, and when

you light the fuse, they flame and spin

until the charges force the casing apart

so that a rice-paper lantern drops,

with kite tail and tassels red for luck.


They don’t make much noise or go

flying through the air, but we like them because

they are what remains when all the joys

of colored flames and powder shells are spent.

Fragile, for sure, and short-lived,

their translucent panels painted

with giant flowers and baby dragons,

marked with scorches around the edges,

the only next-day still-tangible remnants

of all the money we just burned.


When ours spring open, we rush

to blow out any residual sparks

before the lanterns themselves burn up,

and with lengths snipped from a ball

of twine I found with a pair of

garden scissors we use for cutting flowers,

I hang them from the rafters of the porch,

and we watch them dangle in the breeze.


July Fourth was wet this year,

and a downpour just before eleven

left them damp but, miraculously, intact,

and now, nine days later, they still

hang there, though two of four

are somewhat the worse for wear,

losing shape, one panel fallen,

and one will soon become a home

for wasps if we don’t cut it down.


And rather like the lanterns,

we two hang out on the porch as well,

not talking much, him thinking,

as I guess am I, about how things

used to be but clearly are no longer,

coming to an end perhaps,

but not quite vanished yet.


And so that swaying lantern

that I lean against the post and watch

becomes a metaphor for us:

The sparks and pops that first

ignited passion, the dizzy whirl

in which we lost our bearings,

the relationship that grew,

often strong but yet as fragile

as the humans we two are,

and then the state of things

as they are now; each day

that still dawns on us a wonder

if not a complete surprise,

and yet as my dad always says,

where you go is where you are,

and though I couldn’t tell you

how we came, I look around,

and damned if we aren’t here.


The world once succumbed

to flood, I’m told, and is

destined still for fire:

The Happy Lamps both scorched

and dampened still hang

though they no longer spark

and whirl . . .


It’s time to take them down, I know,

but I can’t do it yet.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper