At the Phoenix 4: Summer Sunday Night

At the table by the door,

a couple my age drink iced tea,

dressed as if they’ve come from evening church.

No regulars at the bar tonight;

a novice inquires about the food,

girls in an unnecessary line,

seem uncertain what they want, why they’re here.

Fortified with stronger drink than usual,

I wander into the larger room,

choose a high table by the front windows,

read some poetry—the lights are up tonight.


If it weren’t summer,

the university students would be poring

over stacks of arcane books, teachers

grading endless papers.

But summer’s here, so leisure’s the agenda.

Most are here tonight in groups,

piled on the sofas, huddled

around the larger tables,

playing cards and board games,

drinking coffees, some hot, some iced,

fueling animated chatter.

There was a DJ, but he packed up at ten.

The few singles working on their laptops

have stationed themselves along the periphery,

where the power outlets are; they

have their earbuds in.


Everyone’s in shorts, boat shoes (can’t

believe they’re in style again) or sandals,

except the one kid who’s always put-together:

He wears pressed cargoes, stylish boots,

a casual but well-cut button-down in grey chambray,

his most sartorial virtue being the fact

that he looks as if he doesn’t have to try.

His style puts his friends to shame,

but they don’t seem to mind,

or even notice really. Not sure

what they are playing—there’s a

Scrabble box, but they have

cards and dominoes.


In the library, one older writer’s

hard at work, a younger couple

lounge barefoot on the sofa,

sort of reading, but not really.

A few sip drinks and toy with books.


Back in the main room, the kids

at Jenga balance their tower,

spread cream cheese on bagels,

play with their phones.

The games are fizzling out;

everyone leans back, melts into sofa cushions.

The barkeep, no longer busy,

sweeps up behind the counter,

the kitchen crew takes a break,

collects plates and glasses.


At some secret signal, the crowd

begins its diaspora:

One of the college students from

the big group back by the TV

gets up, says goodnight, and soon

his friends follow suit; the stylish

kid packs up the games,

dismisses his court, and they depart.

The Jenga group have lost interest,

collect their stuff and wander,

checking texts, toward the door.

I’ve finished my bundle of poems,

I suppose it’s getting late.

I deposit my empty glass

in the plastic bin;

only the laptop people remain.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper



At the Phoenix 3: Thursday Afternoon in the Library

After a salad lunch with an old friend—

we speak of baseball stadia and soccer matches

among other unlikely topics—

I retreat to the library

to makes notes in my journal,

work a bit on a report.


It is a place of calm and quiet

this afternoon, only one occupant

besides myself, and she works quietly

on her laptop, the jangle of a bracelet

adding musicality to her keystrokes.


There’s traffic outside, not heavy really,

but a steady stream; a beautiful

white dog sticks his head out

a rear window and yawns.

Only a few feet away, the cars

still seem distant, their mechanical

noises somehow not quite real.


Stained-glass fixtures merely decorative,

the sun provides the lighting; the

cloud-painted sky outside reflects

the figured ceiling inside, the

life-imitating-art cliché, but

the effect is still quite good.


Across the street, Centennial Park

glows green after yesterday’s rain.

A light breeze ruffles the trees.

Beyond them, the pond I can’t see from here.


As my gaze returns indoors, an ugly

blue-velvet armchair in the corner

catches my eye, light and shadow

playing over its worn surfaces

as if it were a key element in

a late-nineteenth-century painting,

the artist having struggled for weeks

to discover the exact shades required,

something between catalina and

forget-me-not for that roughed-up

patch of nap on the corner of the cushion,

something close to topaz for the

slightly soiled spot on the arm.


The empirical research for my report,

heavy in a folder, rests on a solid table,

hard and real, but my thoughts

have wandered into art again.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper




At the Phoenix 1: On a Quiet Tuesday Evening

Upside-down lamps, half-lighted tonight,

dangle over the corner of Sixth and Peoria

like disco balls on a week’s vacation,

cars gliding by seemingly close enough

to touch if glass were a bit more permeable.

The downtown skyline, so close by,

nevertheless remains mostly obscured

from this angle, but its glow keeps it

continually in mind, if not in view.

The crowd tonight is sparse, quiet,

the music low as well, unobtrusive ambience;

I couldn’t even say what’s playing exactly.

From my vantage point on the pink

velvet sofa curving across the room,

I relax, drink a beer, watch the people,

and try to write the essence of the scene.


In front of me, in armchairs by the window,

two young men, both dark-haired, one

with diamond ear studs, the other without,

sit and chat. They seem to have recently

finished a shared platter of food; they

sip iced coffee drinks in tall, frosty glasses.

Friends, boyfriends, roommates? I idly wonder,

as one does.  Long-time friends, I think,

or roommates perhaps. Separate chairs,

table between them; lovers would have

taken the sofa, vacant before I came in.

Not new acquaintances, for sure;

too much at ease, too familiar with each other.

They laugh, trade a phone back and forth,

speak of many things. At one point I hear

a reference to the Lutheran church,

but in what context I cannot determine.


On the other sofa, blue-gray, behind me,

a hetero couple stretch their legs; I forget about

the TV until later; perhaps they are watching it,

idly, inattentively, waiting for something to catch

their interest. They don’t speak much, or move.

To my left, at a table, a group of four friends,

or just acquaintances maybe—they behave

more formally—talk about what sounds

like colleges, classes, careers, serious

matters, but routine; for most, this is not

the night for urgency. Always, though,

one exception: beyond the four,

against the back wall, one young woman

works ardently at her laptop, her phone,

a calculator,  oblivious to her surroundings.

To my right, at one of the tall tables

by the Sixth-Street windows, sit a young man

and woman, these too apparently friends

rather than lovers, judging by the

fragments of conversation I overhear:

“And then she says…and then I go…, so he…”

She’s blond, with a stylish short haircut;

he’s dressed simply but well: perfectly fitting

black T-shirt, white jeans, black sandals

(difficult for guys) that are actually cool:

not too clunky, too sporty, or too girly.

They converse across an empty table,

after espresso cups have been cleared.


Two regulars at the bar, one mostly silently,

quaffs half a draught,  not as frothy

as my Belhaven, wanders out for a cigarette,

returns to finish his beer. The other drinks

something red and slushy, discusses alternative

uses for a window-unit air-conditioner:

coffee table, ottoman, that sort of thing.

The bartender, wiry hair held back with

a bandanna, not rushed, but occupied,

being the only one on duty, half-listens

while he works, makes an occasional

jokey response; I’m listening to fragmented

bits of conversation, drifting off;

the traffic light outside blinks green again,

startles me from my reverie for a moment,

I notice the alien art: the current artist

has a thing for Star Wars, apparently;

I’ve not been sufficiently inspired

to take a closer look; it seems well

done, just not quite my thing.


I hear the door behind me, someone

in, or the smoker headed out again.

I’m sure there must be texts, but oddly,

not one of us receives a call, though

all are holding phones.  A hypothetical

caller with usual “What you doing?

would probably get the same answer

from any of us, “Not much, you?”

And, indeed, the unity of the action

is that there is no action, and yet,

this is stasis, not stagnation; our immediate

world seems right tonight, at peace,

or at least our meds are working.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper