Unrealized Potential

After L’Arlesienne by Van Gogh

 

The crumpled pages of the open book seem

ready to take flight from the mossy table

like a paper kite from a meadow,

but the brown-skinned woman,

not old, but old enough to know,

whose tired but sensitive hands

have thumbed them into perpetual

memory, does not look down

at the familiar pages, but off

into mustard-lit space, not

at the kite skipping along the ground,

but at the sky it’s aimed for,

not at the inadequate words

but at the ideas they might

have expressed, were such

things possible at all. Her

other book, the red one,

lies there closed; of it,

she’s had enough already,

its story ignoring hers.

 

Note: My result from a workshop session on ekphrastic poetry led by Mark Wagenaar and Mary Moore.

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

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Going Toward Darkness

Nothing going toward darkness

stops that early, though it moves

haltingly, loitering half-shadowed

between moonbeams, alternately

lobbing fears at your window

and slinking back behind

nightmare trees. Anxious

agitation winds you up in sheets,

but the tangled covers cover

nothing; going toward darkness

you shiver, cold, exposed.

Note: Based on a deconstruction of Mark Strand’s “The Coming of Light” for a workshop led by Jericho Brown.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Too Much

It might have been the bills piling up,

or the dishes, or the vodka bottles,

or the impending deadlines for dental

appointments and vet visits and paper

submissions, a careless glance at the calendar,

that buried him under the covers

that morning he couldn’t get

out of bed, couldn’t get

up, couldn’t get

a promotion, a raise, couldn’t get

psyched up, couldn’t get

laid, couldn’t get

his ducks in a row, couldn’t get

a hold of himself, couldn’t get

no satisfaction, couldn’t get

a life, couldn’t get

the courage to end it,

couldn’t get

on with it,

lying in the dark,

tired of lying,

tired of darkness,

tired of anxious anxiety,

tired of depressing depression,

tired of maniacal mania,

dangling from both disordered poles,

dropping,

sinking into the mattress,

curling into a fetal ball,

pulling the covers over his head,

panicking as he attacked

the alarming clock.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Heat

When the heat arrives, around half-past July,

time shifts into a different dimension:

Not-a-morning-persons sip coffee on front steps

in their underwear at dawn; restless dogs drag

their lagging humans along the streets on midnight walks;

high noon drops the dead weight of silent stillness

over thirsty lawns toasted crisp and brown,

petunias and impatiens limp and yellow,

wilted over their funereal pots, a calico cat

melting in the meager shade of a sad azalea,

her breath her only motion. A dry wind rises,

swirling dust and rustling the crepe-myrtle branches,

but it brings no comfort, no relief from the sun god

relentlessly blessing his subjects.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

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

God of Style

You wouldn’t have heard the story

because Odin would have disapproved,

Baldr died too soon afterward, and Freyr

was never one to leak secrets to strangers,

but when Freyr was sowing his oats,

before he settled down and married,

he had been struck by the beauty,

incomparable really, of Baldr

in the prime of his youth, and Baldr

on his part, being fresh, eager, and needy,

had found himself drawn to Freyr’s

impressively enormous equipment,

which he offered to polish

and then take inside.

 

So they hooked up and got busy,

comingling their divinity until they

erupted into an orgasm like—

well, there’s really no adequate

simile for the fusion of gods.

Since it happened in Asgard,

where the laws of human biology

didn’t apply and the miraculous

was merely routine, their union,

though short-lived, produced

a child, a son whom they called

Tofar and sent for safety’s sake

to live with Freyr’s compatriots,

the Vanir.

 

In later years, when both Baldr and his

accidental assassin, Hodr, were long dead,

and Freyr was well established in his fertile

heterosexual marriage to Gerdr,

rumours of Baldr’s resurrection

circulated widely, but Freyr knew

the truth, that the reappeared one

was not Baldr as supposed, but

Tofar, who had grown into

the image of his other father.

 

And whereas the same-sex thing

had been little more than a bit of

experimental pleasure for the fathers,

the son was gay for real, with a husband,

a golden ring, and nothing in the closet

but a fabulous wardrobe.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper