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

 

 

 

 

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

Their Eyes Meet in the Movie Line

The second time, he catches the gaze,

unsurprised since he’s courting attention,

but just anxious enough about the scope

of his success to do a quick side check

to make sure he’s still with his friends.

Wearing an open-sided black T-shirt,

the lip-studded punk in the movie line

shows just enough skin, a flash of ab,

the slightest hint of nipple, to tantalize

his watcher with curiosity about what else

is pierced, about the rest of the tattoos

the trailers of dark ink preview at his

collarbone and waist. He’s a skinny kid

with a mess of hair, not good-looking,

but he exudes that late-adolescent

mash-up of swagger and self-doubt,

that seductive vulnerability, that draws

the observer’s eyes back to him.

There’s a kind of longing in the look,

but the teenager has no need

to worry; it’s not his flesh the adult

desires, but his spirit, the edginess

of invincible youth, when so much

of life is still in future tense rather

than the not-so-perfect past.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

 

Rain Dance

Outside, distant thunder applauds the performance

of  rain dancing on the pavement strewn with magenta vinca blossoms.

In here, the clock, tripped up by a power blip during the night,

flashes a time that is not now, and therefore, by my groggy-headed logic,

this moment is timeless and must be savored,

so I snuggle into my nest of pillows for a Sunday-morning lie-in,

happy that the sheets on now are the soft jersey ones,

glad that I started the dishwasher, its hum-swoosh-and rattle cycle

oddly comforting–domestic, mundane, familiar.

The Radio One presenter starts every sentence with “Basi’ly”

and plays a Sam Smith ballad that’s sad in a good way,

especially when his voice climbs for the trademark high notes

in the bittersweet chorus, and though I’m lying here  inbed,

arms wrapped around nothing but a pillow, I’m lying

to myself, and in the lie, I’m dancing with the rain–

a slow dance, a last dance, but dancing all the same.

 

Copyright 2018

T. Allen Culpepper

Bean Train

The coffee roaster
looks like a locomotive,
the old-school steam kind,
green-sided and silver-stacked;
stationary, off the rails,
it’s time stopped halfway
across the Great Plains,
the Pacific coast
no longer even a dream.
But now it cures the magic beans
that jolt zombies back to life
and fire imaginations,
energy transferred from plant
by machine to hipster kind.

Copyright 2018
T. Allen Culpepper

Carpe Dickem

In the season of procrastination and allergies

I’m lingering over a post-luncheon coffee,

and with nothing else of interest in the offing,

my gaze wanders around at the guys.

Clichés are forthcoming here, no doubt,

but one can be, I think, allowed, along

with photographs of the first daffodils,

pink azalea buds, and random sprouts,

in spring one poetic bout with passing

time, fleeting youth, seizing days, not missing out.

 

Let’s set a scene then, and off we’ll go:

two college boys on a coffee date

at a popular local watering-hole,

one whiter than white, the other mixed race,

both cute, young, bearded, in T-shirts,

and those trendy lightweight short-shorts

that cling like boxers to the interesting parts;

the white one’s been to his stylist

for the haircut du jour, long on top,

buzzed back and sides, hairy legs, and on

his feet, leather high-tops, the other dude,

smoother, sporting white canvas sneaks.

They occupy the corner café table,

sitting, talking, laughing too loud at whispered

jokes; two queer blokes, not really drinking

their mostly decorative cafés-au-lait,

so gay in every sense and so very young!

 

One glance at them, and my thoughts are

flung back to when I was their age

of similar bent but in such different days,

and I wonder how things might have ended

if I’d had that kind of beginning

and hadn’t gone off to college in eighty-one,

when AIDS was new and running rampant.

 

Happy for what they have now right here,

but a bit resentful maybe of past fears

and attitudes that made it hard for me

to take what to them must seem freer.

Not that I haven’t had myself a life,

but finding my path did take a while,

and I missed some chances along the way;

I’m thinking, for example, of Eben at the lake

that day we took a ride after class:

He was clearly fishing and I liked the bait,

but only nibbled when I could have swallowed

hook, line, and sinker as we wallowed

in the grass. We stayed friendly but

of course he never made another pass,

and then, well nothing, except that the memory

has suddenly surfaced these thirty years hence.

 

I’m not the kind to interrupt the chat

of strangers when they’re on a date,

but if by some quirk of fate, I were not

invisible to the eyes of youth and they

were to turn to the old dude and ask

for words of wisdom about love,

and life, and lust and such, I’d say,

if you’re into him, then have a go at it.

Time is ticking and youth won’t last,

so make a move and find your groove–

go ahead and seize the dick.

 

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

Sideview

He’s in front of me at the red light

in a not-new black Korean sports car,

with the driver’s window open, and I

can clearly see his face in the sideview

mirror, early 20s, his light skin

still unlined, good-looking, with hair

and beard both cut short and neatly

edged.

 

From the flexing of his jaw he must

be eating something, his breakfast,

while he waits for the green. I can’t

see what, but from the motion of his

arm, I’m thinking he’s tearing off bits

of a pastry that’s wrapped in crinkly

paper.

 

I don’t know him, probably won’t see

him again; since he’s headed off to

the side of campus opposite mine, we

probably move in different circles,

and anyway, it’s all nothing, this morning

encounter.

 

And yet there’s something extraordinary

about the brief reflection, this unplanned

observation of an ordinary private moment

in a stranger’s life, one of so many

miraculous moments that rise up daily, only

to fall like trees in the forest, unseen, unheard,

and unremarked if no one happens

to pass.

 

Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper