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

 

April

April is a month, the month if you’re a poet,

at least two months if you’re an academic,

not the cruelest month maybe, but the fullest,

and, as Lou Reed warned us, it’s always,

always back to the rain, cold and heavy

as the seasons fluctuate, trying to settle

on spring but not quite succeeding yet.

We did our pilgrimages last month,

for spring break, beaches and mountains

this century’s shrines of choice,

and the land here’s not dead,

except figuratively, maybe, spiritually;

the azaleas, oblivious, threaten to bloom.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

 

St. Patrick’s Day, Tulsa, 2019

The church shifts it forward this year–

Sundays not being for single saints–

but the festival-makers stretch it

out over the whole weekend, this

everyone-Irish feast that everyone except

the Irish celebrates, knowing little of Patrick,

but assuming his fondness for stout ale

and the occasional whiskey for breakfast,

all things green, and maybe having heard

something about his chasing snakes away,

But his day here is a kind of rite of spring,

especially this time around, coinciding

with the start of spring break for local colleges,

and morning has broken blue-skied and sunny,

and though nature’s show of green

is limited mostly to early-bird weeds,

the trees are budding with potential,

the odd tulip blossom trying to open,

the songbirds lilting an Irish air.

The street parties will draw big crowds

on a day like this, almost perfect,

and maybe Padraig, reanimated, would

be appalled, but maybe he’d just raise

a slainte, join in and dance an ecstatic reel.

 

Copyright 2019

T. Allen Culpepper

 

Not My Wedding, Not My Royals

On accidentally being in London on the day of the royal wedding

Harry and Megan never consulted me

before scheduling their royal wedding for when

I would be making my very first visit to England,

and my invitation got lost in the Royal Mail–

they might at least have invited me to the reception–

so while they were saying their vows at Windsor Castle,

I was touring London’s parks and squares,

where people congregated to enjoy

a fine spring day in a celebratory mood;

only the monarchists interpreted the lovely weather

as a sign of heaven’s blessing on the couple,

but even republicans were game for a picnic and a pint.

In Green Park and St. James’s, the tourists

strolled about, taking the royal air

despite Her Majesty’s absence from Buckingham Palace,

while locals sat around chatting or walked their dogs.

In Russell Square, twenty-somethings sunned themselves shirtless,

and loners read novels on shady benches

under gnarly plane trees leafy and green,

against one of which a terrier relieved himself.

Two uni students on a coffee date

at the Italian cafe in the corner

spoke of their studies, politics, life, and themselves

over cappuccino ordered so late in the day

that the Italians surely snickered in laughing derision.

At the adjacent table, three English generations–

father, son, and father’s father–drank pints

from tall, thin pilsner glasses, and in

the trio one could see three ages of man.

The young man, blond and bright, drew my eye,

but I pondered his father’s thoughts, and feared

that I share most of the grandpa’s years.

An Asian family talked little but exchanged

glances charged with centuries of meaning,

and two elder gents, one armed with a can,

the other in a driving cap, commented

dryly on perpetual injustice

and chuckled at the antics of a pair of corgis;

I wondered if Virginia Woolf had dogs,

and, if so, how they coped with loss.

Over in Soho pretty boys sat on the lawn,

gossiping and drinking beer from cans;

the mood was about the same, though the denim

was slashed more artfully and the humor a bit more arch:

With the aid of a paper mask, someone had dressed

the statue of Charles the Second in Meghan drag.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

 

 

Wake

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

A Sad Display

The icicle lights still hanging from the eaves

of the house across the street in the middle

of May, the dumpsters still at the curb down

the block three days after garbage collection,

the paving stones for a terrace still in piles

two doors down make it clear enough I’m

not the only one who’s overwhelmed and

going down, but sometimes I still feel like

I’m in this game alone, afraid to tell friends

or admit to myself that I’m hung over and sad

on a beautiful spring day, not for the first

time, and probably should go to rehab

or something, except that doesn’t sound

like it would be much fun. And anyway,

maybe it’s not the disease, but only the

symptom of something, loneliness maybe,

the deep and desperate kind that you,

well, I, feel, sometimes even when I’m with

a friend, but mainly late at night when

I can’t sleep or on a Sunday afternoon

when the fear and dread sneak in.

But now, the guilt and self-deprecation

that make me pour another glass of wine

and crawl back into bed to hide

from reality under the covers and promise

myself that I’ll reform, though it’s unlikely.

Out the window, the wind ruffles the green

weeds under the clear blue sky and reminds

me that life renews, with me or without,

and somehow, oddly, that brings comfort.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Palm Sunday, 2017

The palm fronds that will become ash,

left long, flap wildly in the wind, or,

folded into browning T’s, lie pinned

against shirt fronts in the usual haphazard

procession behind the red-shrouded

cross borne by a gentleman crucifer

of a certain age, a banner hoisted

by a girl taking flight, the hymn parts

as usual out of sync, out of tune,

nearly inaudible; and, inside, the longest

gospel of the year deflates the mood

to gloom in this season of rapid change,

in weather, in emotions that rise and crash,

azalea blossoms and thunderstorms, new

loves and old anxieties, the death that

precedes life that precedes death,

the eternal question remaining where

the chain will break, the cycle end at last.

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper