The oldest stones, set on highest ground,

are also most impressive–an obelisk tall and confident,

a rugged faux-bark cross, elaborate scrolls and pillars,

the raised borders popular a century or two ago

but now discouraged because they impede a reaper

of a different sort–the groundskeeper’s power mower.


Around those cluster the still-old but less optimistic

monuments to people who lived just before my time,

those I never knew but whose names I recognize from

the oldfolks’ stories; when I was a child, my elderly

great-aunt, who didn’t drive, would have someone

bring her with her garden tools every couple of months

so she could tend her people’s graves, hoeing and weeding;

back then the place was still half-empty, and it was hard

to imagine enough local deaths to fill it. Slowly, though,

the vacant slots have filled with my elders, the church

ladies and storekeepers, stalwart citizens and local eccentrics,

and those who aren’t missed all that much to tell the truth,

bless their hearts, who populate my memories.


It would require no metaphor to say

that things have gone downhill from there, the newer markers

different–shinier but more uniform–tumbling down the grassy

slope toward the river, a good number of them my relatives,

nearly all people I knew in past decades. Not much room left

under the flagstaff and wooden crosses erected in more recent times,

in an attempt to reassert some values perceived to have faded,

but the crosses will rot long before the stones fall, and

the flag tatters and fades, requiring continual replacement.


What will happen when the last plot is claimed, the last stone

laid in the last row of this familiar graveyard? How long

will people remember, still come to place their plastic flowers here,

and where will others dig the holes for them?


Copyright 2020

T. Allen Culpepper

They Brought Flowers

“Scientists discover Neanderthal skeleton that hints at flower burial”

The Guardian, 18 February 2020


At first—for a long time, actually—

they brought flowers, talked to me

from my graveside, said they missed

me and all of that, and they were

sincere, I think, but then one day

I noticed that their visits had stopped.

Why, I don’t know, the view from here

being rather limited. Maybe some

cataclysm wiped them out at once,

all the Neanderthals, though we never

thought of ourselves that way, of course;

we were just people like everyone else.

Or maybe some ferocious predators

devoured our village, or maybe it was

a slower phenomenon, gradually

dying out from natural causes

until no one who knew me was left—

it’s so hard to gauge the time. Perhaps

they just evolved and lost interest,

or maybe a long cold spell killed

off the flowers so that there was

nothing to bring and no point in coming.

It did get lonely after a while, though,

what with never going out and never

having visitors, and the options are

limited for eternal souls separated

from their bodies before they had

religions to misdirect them. Anyway,

another day, another eternity, it doesn’t

really matter, or at least it didn’t until

I heard the scrape of tools, steel ones,

modern, not the old-school implements

I used when I walked above ground.

Have my people returned, better equipped,

I wonder, or have curious strangers

come to pay their awkward respects?

Either way, I hope they’ve brought

flowers, because I have missed the flowers.


Copyright 2020

T. Allen Culpepper


Cathedral Saint-Louis


A long time since its construction and centuries longer since its namesake reigned,

its triple steeples still rise above the square, dappled by the morning sun

as hordes of sleepy tourists and locals who might not miss them much

if they took a day off line up for their morning pastries and au lait,

and already outside the commotion is building, the music of the spheres

a little off key, its brassy tune clashing with the brash shouts of hucksters

out for the early mark, but as I pass through and the doors swing close

behind me, the sacred silence engulfs me, and it is indeed as if I have

crossed into the otherworld, despite the electrical wires announcing that

the church serves as current place of worship, not historical relic only,

and the plaques and boxes and racked brochures for sale

reminding all that not even here does commerce cease, and though

I’m not Catholic, I too give in—drop coins in the box and light

a candle in hope of some little glow of enlightenment, and Louis

would have presumed me innocent until his branch of the Inquisition

made its inquiries and determined otherwise, and would probably

have dealt like Jesus in the temple with the mess of humanity

out front, or had his minions do it for him, more likely. Still, as far

as medieval rulers go, he was at least less awful than his peers, and,

if we can trust the words of his friend and confidante Jean de Joinville,

a positive influence on law and religion, famous for his

charitable disposition and his possession of a fragment—

an expensive one at that—of Christ’s True Cross.  These days,

that kind of belief, that kind of fervor, has waned away, but

still amid the cool white stones of its monuments, one can, for a fleeting

moment, feel the circulation of saints and spirits along the aisles

and ambulatories under  the tent of colonial-colored banners.


Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper


New Orleans Wednesday Morning

At 6 a.m. on a Wednesday, New Orleans is stretching

and waking up slowly, a solitary barge drifting lazily by

on the lazy river as the bloody-egg-yolk sun peeks

out red-eyed and bleary from its cloud-blankets;

the streetcars on Canal stand idling, blinking their eyes,

one finally crawling forward. A few cars cross

on Magazine, a bus sits waiting at the curb,

a garbage truck lumbers down an alley.

In half an hour, one runner, one cyclist,

the first pedestrians venturing out,

haphazardly clothed as if they dressed in the dark.

Now, the sun brightens, and the ripples

on the surface of the water glitter like diamonds,

or, well, rhinestones at least; shadows from

lampposts and palmetto trunks stripe

streets bathed in patches of yellow glow.

A timeless scene, but a cable hanging loosely

outside my 36th-floor room swings in the wind

like the pendulum of a towering clock,

a reminder that the hours keep ticking forward.


Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper


Inside the coffeehouse, standing with hands on his bike,

a white racer, not new—there’s tape on the saddle,

as if on the verge of departure, but making

no perceptible movement toward the door,

lingering instead to converse with a friend

seated at one of the small, square tables

near the counter, with a book and a cortado,

but remaining standing himself, as if inseparable from the bike,

in dirty white joggers pushed up to his knees

and a faded black V-neck, not cut deep,

but just deep enough to reveal a hint

of chest hair along the clavicle, his face freckled

by the sun, arms marked by cycling scrapes,

and his brown hair, kind of messy, not badly cut,

just not fussed over, spilling out from under

a backward baseball gap, one strand drooping over his brow,

drawing attention to his eyes, and what seductive

eyes they are, flickering bright, their color shifting

from hazel to blue to grey and back again,

and I’m hoping that he’s not noticing my glances,

even though I’ve chosen a seat facing him

so that I can steal them as I work, taking sips

of coffee as an excuse to look up from my laptop,

not only his appearance attracting me

but also his posture, his demeanor, his seeming

comfort in his skin, peace with his soul,

as the light glitters in his eyes and joy escapes

when a toothy grin registers a joke,

and as I pack up to go, he’s still standing there,

with his bike, in the coffeehouse, and two weeks later,

he’s still standing there, with his bike,

in my mind, his image lodged there yet.


Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper


Out of Reach

Always just slightly out of reach,

on the edge of the bed, the edge of his seat,

hand on the doorknob, warm spot cooling,

always about to be, maybe already, somewhere else,

but there’s no transporter, no vanishing-cabinet,

no magical disappearance, still here in his way,

and so you reach, you’re always reaching,

arm extended, just inches from a hand to hold,

a foot or two from the full embrace

that you need so badly, and maybe he does too,

if only arms were longer, space less infinite.


Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

Eden Falls


It must be an ancient place,

the way the mountain has eroded,

maybe sacred once to one tribe or another

in a time when life was simpler, more elemental,

and still it feels like a sanctuary–cool, dark, and silent,

but for the soothing fall of holy water,

and the avian choristers’ anthem.

Translucent green leaves filter the sunlight,

dark branches like the leading

between colored pieces of stained glass

telling old stories too distant to easily believe.

Like an empty cathedral, a tranquil, reflective space

that fills with one’s own belief or doubt.

But these stones were never hewn by human hands;

there’s no need for a preacher’s pulpit or bishop’s chair,

or even the allusion to some lost paradise

from which this place takes its name,

because divinity comes here

to touch the earth, to breathe the air,

to mingle with the waters.


Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper


I’m attempting to learn Danish, so just for fun (bare for sjovt), here’s my attempt at a translation into Danish:

Eden Vanfald

Det kan kun være en gammel sted,

på grund af hvordan eroderet bjerget,

måske hellige en gang til en stamme eller en anden

i dag da levet var enklere, mere elementære,

og stadig er det som en helligdom—

kølig, mørke, og næsten stille,

selvom den beroligende falde af helligt vand,

salmen sunget af fugle.

Gennemsigtig grønne blade diffunderer sollyset,

deres mørke grene som bly

mellem stykker af farvet glas

at fortæl historier for lang væk til at tro nemt.

Som en ledig kirke, et roligt rum som fyldes op

med mands egen tro eller tvivl.

Men disse sten blev aldrig skåret

af menneskers hænder;

der er ikke behov for prædikants eller biskops stol,

eller for allusionen til nogle tabte paradis

hvorfor den tager dens navn,

fordi kommer guddommelighed her

til at røre jorden, til at trække vejret i luften,

til at blande med farvandet.




Secret Rivers

At the conflux of secret rivers,

lie portals sacred and mystical,

where bones rise with the spirits—

unseen, but sometimes heard, jangling and moaning;

and felt, their magnetic motion always felt, as the waters

flow under our feet, through our consciousness, over our souls.

Hidden, these rivers, concealed,

sometimes restricted, but never contained, never completely contained.

The fisher king angles among them, the sailor drowns

where they deepen and whirl without warning.

At the conflux of secret rivers,

the old gods, pagan but wise, demand

the old rituals, the sacrifice of blood that appeases

their lustful, capricious appetites,

troubling, but necessary, always necessary

for firing human passion.


Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper


Pink Azaleas

The pink azaleas fade the fastest,

their festive petals turning a nasty brown.

All year they’ve waited for their glory moment,

the sudden burst of bloom that makes them

special among the other shrubs,

but their faces once revealed begin to crumple

and decay, so that within in a week

they’re like aging drag queens

holding out for one last show

before saying goodbye to the stage.


Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper


Nôtre-Dame des flammes

Even the holy water of the Seine,

the re-baptism by fire-brigade hoses,

could not prevent Our Lady’s

close encounter with the hellish flames

sent to test her fortitude and mock

her claims on eternal existence,

and yet, despite her scorched tresses,

her toppled aspirational crown,

the burning in her mediaeval gut,

her heat-forged spirit endures,

hard as the stone of her towers

still raised Orans-style toward heaven,

signaling the path that her body,

like her spirit, will ascend

at resurrection.


Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper