At home, sequestered in his room,

ears headphoned, eyes fixed on

his laptop computer screen; in his

classes at the community college,

getting his basics out of the way;

at work, waiting tables for tips—

in so much of life, he’s merely

human, if even that–but in the gay

club after hours, when the DJ cranks

the music, a little drunk, a little high,

he sheds his mortality along with

his shirt and dances his way

through the glittering lights

into the realm of gods.


Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper


Rain Dance

Outside, distant thunder applauds the performance

of  rain dancing on the pavement strewn with magenta vinca blossoms.

In here, the clock, tripped up by a power blip during the night,

flashes a time that is not now, and therefore, by my groggy-headed logic,

this moment is timeless and must be savored,

so I snuggle into my nest of pillows for a Sunday-morning lie-in,

happy that the sheets on now are the soft jersey ones,

glad that I started the dishwasher, its hum-swoosh-and rattle cycle

oddly comforting–domestic, mundane, familiar.

The Radio One presenter starts every sentence with “Basi’ly”

and plays a Sam Smith ballad that’s sad in a good way,

especially when his voice climbs for the trademark high notes

in the bittersweet chorus, and though I’m lying here  inbed,

arms wrapped around nothing but a pillow, I’m lying

to myself, and in the lie, I’m dancing with the rain–

a slow dance, a last dance, but dancing all the same.


Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper


At four they start their chorus, after a bit of a tune-up,

in the spring of the many birds—I don’t know when

I’ve seen such numbers, from bite-sized chickadees

to the fattest robins on record, showy cardinals

to mean-spirited jays. Whether their rousing strains

constitute a melodious symphony or merely a

cacophonous racket remains a question for debate—

a delight for the early riser but hardly conducive

to an open-windowed lie-in on a Saturday morning.

They flit about the garden and the branches of the

as yet unbloomed crepe myrtle shading my bedroom,

their arias invading my dreams and goading the cats

to sharpen their claws for a pre-dawn hunt.

The early ones create the earworms, their agents

and producers probably taking a generous cut.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper


Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for literature,

but chances are I’ll never have that honor.

Maybe it’s only because I’m a terrible singer.

No, wait, that can’t be the problem.

Maybe it’s because my poems don’t make sense.

No, that can’t be the problem either.

Maybe it’s because I live in Oklahoma,

don’t carry a guitar, and don’t have rock-star hair.

Not to say his lyrics aren’t brilliant, they are,

but it takes more than words to be an icon–

it takes time and place and hair and guitars.


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

At the Center of the Universe

On the Boston Avenue pedestrian bridge

over the railroad tracks in downtown Tulsa,

lies the so-called Center of the Universe,

marked by a concrete circle. As a result

of some unexplained phenomenon,

if you stand inside the circle

and speak or shout or sing, your voice

takes on a vibrato or tremolo

quality that only you can hear,

regardless of the direction you face.

It lends its name to a music festival

now in progress, and apparently

also morphs time and space

to produce weird twists of fate.

For example, many bands are playing,

but just one I want to hear tonight–

the Mowglis–were to play at nine-thirty,

but unexpected rescheduling

moved them back to six 0’clock,

so I missed them and was angry.

But then I see a Tweet from them

about a short acoustic set

they’re doing later,  not on stage,

but on the bridge right at the Center.

So I head out to try to catch them,

and craziness ensues–traffic,

parking confusion, misplaced wallet,

general mayhem, lines for wristbands,

then more lines for beer, clock ticking,

but then I arrive and find myself

sitting on a bench with them,

chatting while they wait for their gear,

and then the set, though short, is brilliant,

close-up, intimate; fans of all ages

singing along, clapping, and dancing.

In the moment, it really feels

like some universal center.


Copyright  2013

T. Allen Culpepper



Right downtown, on a corner

that’s been through many cycles

of hipness and unhipness, its

patrons unfazed either way.

An old place, not large.

Beaten-copper tabletop,

not yet cleared of previous

occupants’ beer dregs and

cigarette butts—still allows

smokers a spot inside.

Dark-wood-paneled bar,

ceilings fans dangling from

high tongue-and-groove;

concrete floor, painted,

but not in recent memory;

unplayed shuffleboard.

Tabs still taped to mirror

behind the bar, tallied

with a pencil, though there’s

a modern register for

paying out at the end.

There’s a Celtic band tonight,

playing pub tunes and Irish reels,

the fiddler someone I know.

The crowd’s mostly regulars,

most know each other and

the members of the band,

drinking pints of Guinness

or cans of Foster, not Irish,

but still a popular choice.

Here and there along the bar,

a shotglass of Jameson’s.

There’s a larger backroom

and a patio, but it’s hot

outside, and the band’s

set up right by the front door,

so everyone’s crammed in here,

most dressed thoughtlessly

in whatever they happened

to be wearing when they

decided to come in.

Not stylish but comfortable,

the kind of place you go

with friends at day’s end,

when “going out” is

too much trouble.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper