A slab of grey-streaked marble cloud

leans against the pale blue sky

not yet gilded by the sun,

like a piece of construction material

tilted up to a just-primed wall

at a building site, in wait

for the workers to arrive

and fix it to its proper place;

then red-eye planes like diamond knives

saw sharp lines through the sheet of stone,

cutting it into squares of tile.


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


Another Aubade

When it’s 5 a.m. but you’re wide awake

on a summer day when there’s no need

for early rising, no hurry to get moving,

what can you do really but sit on the porch

in your underwear, drinking black coffee in the dark,

watching cats prowl the yards and mourning

the loss of stars as the sky begins to brighten

slightly and a gentle wind breaks the stillness,

stirring the uppermost branch of the hackberries,

ruffling the feathers of the early birds

anticipating the dawn in that long, lonely

moment just before it that brings to mind

departed lovers and forgotten dreams;

but the birds sing reassuringly

as the first light reveals the first blossoms

on a late-blooming crepe myrtle,

and the coffee is good and strong.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper



Lavender Soap

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico


The smell of lavender soap

rises to greet to morning air

as moppers splash suds

from hundreds of wash buckets

onto rollercoaster sidewalks

in front of as many shops,

some pausing a momentito

to let a pedestrian by

or returning a passing “Buenos,”

others too intent on their task

of scrubbing clean the already

clean stones worn smooth

by a century of footsteps

and scrubbing, wielding

their mops with reverence,

their work more ritual

than mere quotidian chore.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Morning Music

The cool night seeps in through the window,

and just before dawn, the soft music of a sad ballad

drifts into my gradually returning consciousness,

in a moment of gentle beauty

before the city returns to day,

the hotel with running showers and flushing toilets and clanking dishes,

the street with can brakes and car horns

and tienda grills sliding up,

and though I admit the room was stuffy in the afternoon,

I would have missed so much

in a room with sealed windows

and air-conditioning–

I would have missed the music.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper

Mixing Metaphors

Birdsong at four, after restless sleep,

the world seeping back into my consciousness,

I think first with typical human egotism,

but it’s the other way around, isn’t it,

the world drawing me back into itself,

one more pinch of flour beaten into the batter,

another drop of tint diffused into the base paint

until it’s indistinguishable if not unseen,

though even in dissolution my bones will feel the shaking,

even if my still-groggy brain can’t grasp

what the birds are stirring up.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper


Hop on take off dodge car dog on porch barks cat crossing street runner short shorts young mother with stroller kid too old pedal spin pick up speed turn lights go yellow red green [push off go through crossing around park pond twice watch out geese maybe three times break orbit asphalt bumpy man with cane yellow hydrant red octagon stop almost not quite it’s clear green street signs one missing sun warm heating up roll sleeves mauve crepe myrtle keep pedaling time running short hurry one more loop construction avoid breeze now cool fresh still summer fall coming traffic cross turn shift brake release shift pedal harder spokes twirling blur slow roll brake stop off lock stow cats one stroke each head to shower not really time but early morning bike ride fast.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

Morning Sacrifice

Making such a racket

that I can’t hear my world-weary head pounding

outside the screen-figured window well before eight on a cool spring morning

(the faulty modification reflecting my mental displacement)

the procession enters

with jackhammer crosses, power drills, circular saws,

and a diesel-powered digger

tank-clanking forward and beeping incessantly back

(Number 412 in your hymnals, “Engines and steel,

loud pounding hammers, sing to the Lord a new song!*),

the acolytes of the waterline priest

shouting their “also with yous”

in some kind of Spanish

as I commune with my chalice of decaf

and biscotto on a saucer,

trying in vain to practice my catechism of Italian,

to read a page of the German liturgy of plurals and pronouns;

my matins bells are the ringing of metals colliding,

and in their pauses a blue-feathered solo chorister

aloft in the branches of a crepe-myrtle

stubbornly reasserts his hymn to nature,

and I think of Mahalia Jackson belting out

“I sing because I’m happy” on scratchy old vinyl**

and wonder if the jay sings in joy, lamentation, or dogged stoicism,

or maybe he is merely announcing the late arrival

of the cat, now waiting impatiently at the door

to be ushered inside to her soft pew,

seeking quiet comfort

but in no wise repentant for her cold-hearted slaughter

of the young bunny earlier in the week,

whereas I, feeling a twinge of guilt for resting here

while the builders toil with their hands,

toy with the beads on my bracelet

and mentally rehearse an “Our Father,”

having forgotten all but the opening line of “Hail, Mary,”

but, like a monkish medieval scribe,

I belabour my manuscript, bleeding ink,

sent out into the world in a different way,

but sent out no less;

and then comes that moment of sweet silence

after the post-eucharistic blessing,

before the bird takes flight

and the builders recess.



*“Earth and All Stars,” words by Herbert Brokering, music by David Johnson, in The Hymnal 1982, “according to the use of The Episcopal Church,” Church Publishing, New York.

**The line is from “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” words by Mrs. C. D. Martin, music by Charles H. Gabriel, as performed by Mahalia Jackon on historical recordings 1946-1954 and reissued on CD in 2004 by Disky Communications.

Link: Jackson singing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” via YouTube.


Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper