Cemetery

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

The Coronameron

CoronaCover

A literary and artistic Coronavirus reader!

Poetry! Prose! Art! Cartoons! Photography!

It’s here! The stay-at-home, self-isolation coronavirus reader you’ve been waiting for, whether you knew it or not! Twenty-three artists and authors, sixty-four pages, nine thousand words, forty-two thousand characters—all for your entertainment and enlightenment during these strange times! Yes, it’s The Coronameron, modeled after Boccaccio’s Decameron, in which young Florentines isolate themselves in the countryside and entertain themselves with stories while they wait out an outbreak of the plague. This time, the location is pretty much everywhere, the plague is the coronavirus, and the “stories,” loosely interpreted to include poetry and art, are from real people rather than fictional characters. More than sixty pages!

Although you may download the collection for free without obligation, we invite a contribution of US$5 for each download (payable via PayPal).  It’s a great deal: more than  five pages per dollar! All proceeds will be donated to the Tulsa Community College Foundation’s emergency fund for students and employees.

(If you prefer to donate directly to the TCC Foundation emergency fund rather than via my PayPal account, you can do so here: https://www.tulsacc.edu/about-us/tcc-foundation/emergency-fund/form
Please click “donate on behalf of an organization” and use Coronameron as the organization to make it possible to track how much the project generates.)

Download PDF here:

THE_CORONAMERON

Make contribution here:

www.paypal.me/allenthepoet

Sonnet in Isolation

A plucked string out of tune still sounds,

its tone always in harmony with itself,

as the strongest souls always stand their ground,

the cacophony of other voices without effect.

But a string that’s too tightly wound goes sharp,

sometimes breaking; or, if slackened, flattens.

Though in isolation it doesn’t jar

the ear, with the other strings it clashes.

In theory, you could play a simple tune

on a single string as the instrument,

but making a chord takes another one

willing to forge a musical agreement.

To ourselves we should, of course, stay true,

but others are good for saying “I love you” to.

 

Copyright 2020

T. Allen Culpepper

 

Curve Ball

From the Olympian mound, the pitcher-god threw us a curve,

a ball of pandememic-virus starter ringed with a spiky cornona,

designed to explode and multiply at baseball time,

sending mortals in search of sanitizer, masks, and rolls of paper,

forcing even the most social—those Italians!—to keep their distance,

and granting the wishes of all who ever said “leave me alone.”

 

People used to playing the game, now forced to watch at home alone,

listen to the experts explaining the urgency of flattening the curve,

of washing their hands fifty times a day and maintaining social distance,

while wondering if they too will become infected with corona

and pondering how best to manufacture their own paper–

just a question of material and method, since they have plenty of time.

 

Exactly what are space and time? Such questions arise when there’s time

and space to ponder them because everything’s so quiet, and we are so alone,

sheltering at home and hoarding milk, bread, and toilet paper,

hoping that survival skills are graded on a favorable curve,

thinking that for patience we each deserve a golden corona,

and how contagion travels so quickly such a distance.

 

Not going to work or school seems not so bad, but how to distance

yourself from your family and friends all the time?

So can it be that bad, so much worse than other viruses, this corona?

Because it turns out that hard as adulting is, alone-

ing is that much harder, with an anxious-making learning curve.

Can it really be as deadly as they tell us in the online papers?

 

Teachers and students distracted—must they still write, still mark those papers

in times when the apocalypse seems quite real and not too distant?

Employees and business owners trying to chart how their trajectory will curve,

what good without income is a mandate for taking down time?

Who knows how all this will end? The pitcher-god alone,

watching the ball from atop his mountain’s high corona.

 

So many definitions—aureole, crown, halo, ring—for this corona,

but the thing itself is far more intense than words on paper,

the way it brings people down with sickness, death, facing fear alone.

Caution is clearly required, but can human will alone enforce the distance

between our life and all the threats to its existence? Only time

will tell, one supposes, which way the spinning viral ball will curve.

 

All we can do is try to keep distance between ourselves and this new corona,

and if it comes our time, we won’t be saved by masks or toilet paper;

we dream we grip the bat to swing at the curve, but we wake like we die, alone.

 

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

cathedralstlouis

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