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



You’re only as old as you feel, the adage states,

an appealing fantasy, but clearly untrue,

as shown by wrinkled skin and added weight,

the piper’s bills for what you used to do.

Even if your step still springs, it hurts,

though you can’t recall what made it so.

Motivation comes only in spurts;

metabolism has begun to slow.

The actors that you watched as teens on screen

have been divorced three times and have grandkids;

it’s not something you thought you’d ever see.

Basically your youth has hit the skids.

It could be worse, of course; you’re not dead yet–

but you’d better hurry with goals unmet.


Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Breakup Sonnet on a Random Line from Shakespeare, Taken Out of Context

I could not stay behind you, my Desire,

though my failing was not for want of love.

Your ambition I admired, your fire,

but for both of us it wasn’t enough.

We began on equal terms, two hearts,

partners in a balanced relationship,

but I was cut as you became the star;

you gulped the wine that I could only sip.

Sometimes I was content to hold the ladder

steady as you climbed up to the roof,

but, always left behind, I grew sadder,

lonely—not, as assumed, aloof.

When, against my will, you set me free,

I tried to climb, but fell, without you to help me.


Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Notes: The line is from Twelfth Night, but the punctuation, capitalization, and context have been altered to change the meaning. The poem is also partially a response to the song “The Good Side,” by Troye Sivan, imagined from the opposite point of view.


Drowsy from reading, I stretch out on the bed,

near, but not touching, the cat, who likes her space,

and various pasts and futures fill my head

with thoughts, some welcome, others hard to face.


The window, left partially open, admits the wind,

and riding it in, the melodies of birds–

song that trills above the dishwasher’s din;

the thoughts stir feelings too  difficult for words.


The approach of spring always creates

unstable emotions that swirl around and collide:

the wish for freedom bound up with the need to mate;

new dreams mixed in with fear that something’s died.


My love craves exposure, but I’m wary,

even though you’re just imaginary..


Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Sonnet: To My Cat Sweetie

I cannot claim that you do not shed,

nor can I pretend that you enjoy the brush.

You often wake me demanding to be fed,

and you howl even when I beg you to hush.


More than once you have made me bleed

with undeservèd wounds from sharpened claws,

and when you’ve crossed the fence, you pay no heed

to my pleas to climb back over because


otherwise I must trespass and force

my way through prickly limbs and tangled vines

to reach you there, non-chalant, of course;

any accusations you deny.


But when you snuggle up, though I start sneezing,

your warmth comforts me; I find it pleasing.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

It’s Parting Time

It would be easy to deny the truth,

or at least to secret it away

and go on with the pretense that we’re okay,

but if pressed we couldn’t provide proof.

It’s been a while since things were really right

between us, but habits form and it’s so hard

to shake muddy water off, light

out for new territory as if unscarred.

When we try to talk we go in circles;

when one comes home from a bad day, the other trumps it.

Every little thing’s a pointless hurdle

that one or both of us must try to jump.

Times once were good, but now we both know

it’s all over; one of us must go.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper