Portrait of a Young Man in a Dingy Room

In a tawdry motel room

decayed from the Seventies—

wood paneling, moldy green

shag carpet you wouldn’t want

to walk on with bare feet—

a young man of more recent

vintage kneels on the nightmare-print

bedspread in a white jockstrap,

something rather like a corset,

and a black scarf looped

noose-like around his neck,

staring blankly past

the harsh fluorescence intruding

from the open bathroom door

at a black-and-white TV,

its crackling screen displaying

a face open-mouthed, as if in ecstasy

or in pain, and the room door, too,

of turquoise steel, with old-school lock,

stands wide open so that we

are privy to the scene, watching

him as he takes in the imagemh,

and dead-center in the room,

on the floor, a telephone.

Has someone gone for ice

or come for him?

Note: This poem is based on a photograph by Willy Vanderperre which appeared in Arena Homme in 2010.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

Narcissus in Stripes

As in so many fashion shots,

the clothes don’t really go together,

a strategy I suppose intended

to draw attention to the individual pieces,

in this case, all stripes, a crinkly

banded-collar shirt, untucked,

sleeves rolled, collar open, though

the camera’s gaze surveys him from the back,

slightly toward his left profile,

the photographer having posed him

angled back as if leaning against

an invisible wall, a posture exaggerating

the width of his shoulders and further

slimming his already slender waist

and legs in the snug wide-striped

trousers cut from cotton or maybe linen,

smooth and trim in the rear, his

buttocks not pronounced, front

pocket puckered just a bit,

the pattern biased along the leg seam,

lending a rather zebra-like effect,

maybe just a streak of wildness.

The model, dropping forward his neck,

bows his wavy dark-haired head

to peer into a circular mirror

the he holds out erect in front,

to peer from under languid lids

at his own smooth face, not

as if he’s checking hair or makeup,

but as if, liking what he sees,

he regrets his own uniqueness,

the fact of mere reflection,

the cold and lifeless glass.


Note: the poem alludes to a photograph by the late David Armstrong of model Simon Nessman for the Narcisse series in Vogues Hommes International Spring/Summer 2012.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper

Versace Duo


The market for crotchless leather trousers

priced in the thousands cannot be large,

nor, one hopes, will cheap knock-offs

of them soon be trending in the high street.

But Versace has chosen them for its fall

menswear ad campaign, and there

in striking sculpted beauty stand models

Daan and Filip, wide grommeted belts

cinched tight around their hips, from

which hang the unlikely garments, useless

but exquisitely tailored from the finest

pebble-grained hide of some sacrificial

beast, the open center displaying paisley-

patterned briefs, which, unlike the trousers,

might actually sell in the shops, Daan’s

black ones well-filled, Filip’s white ones

revealing the outline of his penis. Above

the chaplike trousers, Filip, shirtless, wears

a studded leather moto jacket hanging

open to show his musculature and one

partly shadowed nipple. Standing tall,

he wraps his right arm around Daan’s

neck and shoulder in a pose that might

be that of brothers or best friends, except

that Filip’s hand pulls up Daan’s printed

black sleeveless T-shirt as if beginning

to undress him, in the process showing

off the smooth, taut abs of Daan, who’s

slouching a touch to the right. Daan’s

bare left arm hangs straight down

the center of the photo, drawing the

viewer’s eye toward the chaps and

Filip’s package, but his right, bent

at the elbow, crosses his chest underneath

his T-shirt, hand resting lightly on his

own left shoulder. Filip tilts his head

forward, platinum hair in a carefully

constructed mess, sporting his trademark

slightly menacing look, with smouldering

eyes and sneering mouth suggesting

his dominance in whatever kind of

relationship is being portrayed, while

Daan looks up into the camera, head

angled a little back and left, so that

the razor-cut edges of his hair, just

a shade or two darker than his mate’s,

dangle freely, but not looking at Filip,

who also faces forward. Daan’s face looks

brooding,vulnerable, and slightly troubled,

as if he’s not sure he’s really into what he’s

doing. The photograph itself, shot in

classic black and white against a neutral

ground, takes a strong vertical perspective,

emphasizing the models’ slender height,

elongating their straight-hanging left arms,

tracing the center line of their torsos, with

only the belts and Daan’s just-noticeable

twist to the right lining up horizontally.

Though the models’ pose does not look

forced, the photographers obviously

have a penchant for formal composition,

evident in the triangulation of lines, with

the enfolding right arms of both young men

and the shape of Daan’s pulled-up shirt

replicating with softer edges the sharp

angles of the leather jacket’s lapels

and the cotton-cloaked wedges between

the models’ legs. Only the name of the

fashion house, superimposed in yellow

capitals at bottom right, identifies the

vendor of whatever’s up for sale.


Note: The poem references a photograph by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, featuring models Daan van der Deen and Filip Hrivnak, used in the advertising campaign for Versace’s AW 2014 menswear line. The ad appeared in various publications, including the September 2014 issue of Out.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper


Clothes Horse

Appearing in a magazine whose editors

perennially advise ‘wear grey suits’

and whose actual readers wear their

plaid shirts and selvedge jeans with

simple trainers and plain brown boots,

he advertises the latest line of Versace,

the line of his body tilted back in profile,

hips thrust forward in leather trousers

adorned with copper studs and chains,

shoulders arched way back as if he’s

leaning against an imaginary wall

(a pose that’s hard to hold when

standing, but perhaps he’s on his knees,

kept just out of the shot), so that the

unbuttoned silken shirt—its black

background figured with large, circular

images of a feather-headdressed Indian

mounted on a dappled horse, unexpectedly

bridled, and bordered with colour-bold

geometry at collar and tail—

unfurls, flaglike, in the electric breeze

of an out-of-frame fan, coincidentally

revealing his muscular abs and pecs,

gym-chiseled and bottle-bronzed,

tousled golden-blond mane meticulously

misted with a spray bottle to make him

look just a little sweaty, though his skin

looks perfectly dry, his angled jaw firm,

lips petulant, and eyes shadowed, turned

slightly toward the viewer, their gaze

combining invitation with challenge,

as if he would allow you to mount

but probably throw you. Maybe, though,

he would leave you the shirt as he

galloped off into the dull grey backdrop

probably chosen to please style editors.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper


Camera Man

Asian with a camera, but not

a tourist. Just slightly overweight,

but well turned out in denim top,

loose navy trousers, new red trainers.


With two girls he’s photographing,

probably for a college class,

on Sixth Street late on Sunday,

assignment doubtless due on Monday.


Procrastinator making bella figura

with laziness plus sprezzatura.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper

Not What He Seems

Today’s Narcissus has no need

for a still, reflective pool,

working as a fashion model,

eyeing the camera framing him,

gazing into his own face

on the covers of magazines.


In one particularly provocative shot,

his face turned over his right shoulder,

golden hair pushed back and crowned,

he appears heavily pierced,

with dangling crystals and silver horns,

studs like rivets surrounding lips,

shoulder hunched, bare torso creased,

smooth and hairless, nipple elliptical,

fierce, wild  look of woodland son

of beautiful nymph and minor god,

mouth like an over-ripened fruit,

shadowed hedonistic eyes,

a creature lusting and lusted after.


But just two glossy pages later,

there are neither jewels nor holes,

the boy still beautiful, but the fantasy dead.


Note: Inspired by a photograph of model Filip Hrivnak in a Vogue Hommes International fashion spread photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott and styled by Panos Yiapanis.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper


He’s called Niall,

and he’s seated on a low wall

outside the cathedral in Edinburgh,

in a photo by J. D. Price.

twenty-something maybe,

probably at university,

dressed in layers of navy

with high-top brogues.

Wavy natural-blond hair,

roundish transparent-framed glasses

complement his clear white skin,

his smooth clean-shaven face

accented by wet red lips

that hint at a sensuous streak

otherwise kept from all

but his closest intimates.

Grey-blue eyes, cool but not hard,

suggest a degree of intellectual detachment;

not the type prone to emotional display,

but a sensitive soul with tenderer depths

than he would choose to reveal.

Obviously he can think,

but one wants to make him feel.


Note:  This poem was inspired by a street-fashion photograph by Jonathan Daniel Price for garconjon.com.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper