Curve Ball

From the Olympian mound, the pitcher-god threw us a curve,

a ball of pandememic-virus starter ringed with a spiky cornona,

designed to explode and multiply at baseball time,

sending mortals in search of sanitizer, masks, and rolls of paper,

forcing even the most social—those Italians!—to keep their distance,

and granting the wishes of all who ever said “leave me alone.”

 

People used to playing the game, now forced to watch at home alone,

listen to the experts explaining the urgency of flattening the curve,

of washing their hands fifty times a day and maintaining social distance,

while wondering if they too will become infected with corona

and pondering how best to manufacture their own paper–

just a question of material and method, since they have plenty of time.

 

Exactly what are space and time? Such questions arise when there’s time

and space to ponder them because everything’s so quiet, and we are so alone,

sheltering at home and hoarding milk, bread, and toilet paper,

hoping that survival skills are graded on a favorable curve,

thinking that for patience we each deserve a golden corona,

and how contagion travels so quickly such a distance.

 

Not going to work or school seems not so bad, but how to distance

yourself from your family and friends all the time?

So can it be that bad, so much worse than other viruses, this corona?

Because it turns out that hard as adulting is, alone-

ing is that much harder, with an anxious-making learning curve.

Can it really be as deadly as they tell us in the online papers?

 

Teachers and students distracted—must they still write, still mark those papers

in times when the apocalypse seems quite real and not too distant?

Employees and business owners trying to chart how their trajectory will curve,

what good without income is a mandate for taking down time?

Who knows how all this will end? The pitcher-god alone,

watching the ball from atop his mountain’s high corona.

 

So many definitions—aureole, crown, halo, ring—for this corona,

but the thing itself is far more intense than words on paper,

the way it brings people down with sickness, death, facing fear alone.

Caution is clearly required, but can human will alone enforce the distance

between our life and all the threats to its existence? Only time

will tell, one supposes, which way the spinning viral ball will curve.

 

All we can do is try to keep distance between ourselves and this new corona,

and if it comes our time, we won’t be saved by masks or toilet paper;

we dream we grip the bat to swing at the curve, but we wake like we die, alone.

 

Copyright 2020

T. Allen Culpepper

 

 

 

 

Resignation

This is our life, our own special hell.

Try as we might, we’re still doomed to failure,

with no goods to bargain, no souls to sell.

 

It’s all vanity; trouble’s stickier than blood.

Forget your ambitions; you might as well sail your

little paper boats in puddles of mud.

 

I’m not pessimistic, just being real;

our wills are constrained like pent-up jailbirds,

so it’s easier to deal if you forget how to feel.

 

Armour up like a knight, but stay in the castle.

It’s dangerous out there on quests for the grail; turn

back now to safety, it’s not worth the hassle.

 

Limit to the back yard your adventurous forays,

because heroes are heroes only in stories.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

Happy Yak

I was so surprised to find the yak in the kitchen at 3 a.m.,

especially at this altitude in the middle of summer,

wearing a kilt, rummaging through the fridge

in search of salad greens, and drinking my last beer,

that I was initially speechless, but I eventually

collected myself enough to ask, “Wouldn’t you

be happier at a higher elevation in a significantly

colder climate?” But he only grunted, waved

away my question with a cloven hoof, and

said, “You can research habitats on the internet,

but that doesn’t make you an expert on happiness.”

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Circle

Sometimes you want to stomp

on the circle of the cycle

of this whole crazy circus

and squish it into something

flatter, with sides and angles

and corners you can knock

your knees on and get

your bearings even if hurts,

but since there’s no way

to get yourself on top,

you just pump in more air

and keep rolling around again.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Sunshine

My student introduced herself as Sunshine

and wrote in her journal that she had never

lost a friend or family member to death

and was engaged to marry the first and only

boy that she had ever dated, and that,

unlike her classmates, she couldn’t write

about her troubles because she had never

really had any.

 

Reading her observations,

I sat for a moment stunned, wondering

whether to celebrate her fortune or mourn

her lack of life experience, to wish

for her cocoon to hold itself intact or to fear

what might happen when it breaks open

and she discovers that even a butterfly

must take wing into a world of risk.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Half There or Half Here?

Halfway to nowhere,

moving slowly toward stasis–

enlightened or stuck?

 

Would Buddha in dilemma

disappear the muddy road?

 

Does the way of the crossways

that my crossed way crosses weigh

me down as I cross myself,

or cut across to open

new ways forward out of time?

 

Is the present moment free

of past regrets and future

reincarnations,

or is it the product of

their sordid union?

 

In my tracks I stop

and try to track my stops,

my lurches forward,

and my lapses back.

 

The end is near,

so very near,

the beginning

that progress seems

like only not going

too far backward

all at once.

 

Vive la holding steady,

tracing circles

in the gravel

of my zen garden

to dull the knife.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

 

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

 

 

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