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

 

To Tulsa Then I Came

To Tulsa then I came in the middle of an August heatwave,

driving a car without air-conditioning in temperatures well

over a hundred, traveling the turnpike up from Muscogee,

through a lot of nothing, to connect with the expressway

from Broken Arrow, exiting at Fifteenth and Delaware,

for my first glimpse of the city on the way to TU

to start my doctoral studies after making the stressful decision.

Sweaty I was and exhausted, and the trees all looked strange,

when I arrived without a plan for where to sleep,

agreed to a lease on the first crappy apartment I saw,

and spent the night at a motel on Admiral, the surroundings of which

did not impress me aesthetically or in terms of safety.

So much about the city has changed now, the university

hardly recognizable, the landscape of the Delaware intersection

so much changed, the arts district thriving in once-dead downtown,

even the grocery-store chains all replaced.

But still it remains a place with a history: the road, the music,

the deco facades that oil money and depression labor built,

the infamous riot that the textbooks somehow never mentioned.

And yet, curiously, also a history without a place—

not really located South, or West, or Midwest either,

but in a city unlike the rest of Oklahoma,

itself dissimilar to pretty much anywhere else on earth.

To Tulsa I came and went and came and went and came;

and longer have I stayed than ever I could have imagined

 

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

A Few Meditate on Peace as Nature Makes Her Art

Painter’s dabs of gold,

pale green, orange-red, and brown

shining glossy wet,

as if freshly stroked on canvas

by the artist’s dripping brush:

Tulsa’s Guthrie Green

in cold autumn rain,

backgrounding some six-and-ten

gathered to embrace

the warm soul of peace.

 

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

Rainbow

rainbowjulyleonsignleonchurch

So it might or might not be significant

that I happened to be riding my bike

along the rough stretch of Third Street

also known as Leon Russell Road

and had just passed the old church

where Russell did some recording once

when I saw the rainbow arching

over the street and thought: “Rainbow.

Oh, a rainbow, and a nice one.

But that’s weird because it hasn’t rained.

[Beat.] Oh shit.” And then it rained.

Hard. Big hard drops of blinding rain.

But the day had been miserably hot,

and the big hard drops of blinding rain

were cool, almost cold relatively,

and even though they kind of almost

hurt, it was in a good way, like

being in a needle shower

at a bathhouse in Hot Springs, Arkansas,

a simile which probably won’t make

much sense if you’ve never done that,

but if you have, you’ll know exactly

what I mean. But either way, it doesn’t

matter. All that matters is that the big,

hard drops of blinding rain that

pelted me like a needle shower

were cool and they felt really good,

and there was a rainbow, and the

whole thing might have been

Leon Russell’s fault.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

At the Farmers’ Market on the Fourth of July

By way of preparation, I breakfast on ice cream

and strap a small American flag on a plastic stick

to the handlebars of my bike with a band of Velcro:

I will be cycling to the farmers’ market on the Fourth of July,

dressed for the occasion in a red-and-white T-shirt

over bright blue yoga shorts, accessorized with

the inevitable bandana. We had rain yesterday,

and today hasn’t heated up too much when I start out

at eight-thirty; it’s not a long ride—through Turner Park

and the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood, then south

on St. Louis—badly in need of repair, my pavement-

pounded joints inform me—to avoid the traffic

on Utica and Peoria. When I cross under the expressway

and pass the cone-hatted musician always stationed

just outside the barriers, playing unfamiliar tunes,

I know I have arrived at my destination—the popular

Saturday-morning market in the middle of a street

in the middle of a city in the middle of America,

the Cherry Street (it’s really Fifteenth) Farmers’ Market

in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Parking the bike, detaching the basket,

and exchanging my helmet for a patriotic baseball cap,

I slip into the crowd, taking, as usual, a stroll through

the length of the market, assessing the options,

vegetable and human, before I commit myself to any

purchases, not above, I admit, snapping the occasional

cell-photo of a hot, or just interesting-looking, guy

who might turn up in a poem later, because, hey,

everyone in town is here: the young parents with babies

in strollers or trussed up on the backs of dads

or against the breasts of moms; the families with a kid

and a half; the serious cyclists in tight shorts and tank tops;

the gay boys in their flip-flops and espadrilles;

the women in their floral maxi-dresses; the muscle-men

all pumped up in their flag-adorned T-shirts;

the glittery women of a certain age; the blond-haired

hippie couple, the chic in beads and braids, the handsome

dude bearded and barefoot; the elderly lady

in a sun-hat, walking with a cane and drinking hot coffee

despite the now-blazing sun; the thirty-somethings

with their yoga mats; the dignified middle-aged

Asian woman above-it-all elegant in a long striped

sheath; the preppy kids in big sunglasses;

and the stars of the show—the dogs sniffing everything

out and soaking up the fawning attention of strangers.

And the crowd mills and swarms and circles,

ogling the displays of produce and flowers spread

enticingly under bright white canopies:

the blackberries that will sell out so quickly,

the juicy red tomatoes of every size and variety,

the rich yellow squash, the leafy green carrot tops

hanging from bags and baskets, the purple flowers

at the stall near the west end. And the overheated,

young and old, cooling off with an icy probiotic

pop-on-a-stick from Jared’s ice chest.

And so it’s done: I’ve seen the sights, spent

my money, filled my basket, greeted a few friends,

swum the channel of flag-adorned garments,

dodging prams and skateboards. I linger for a moment,

not quite ready to leave the spectacle behind, but

then I finish my popsicle, lick my sticky fingers, drain

the last bit of water from my cup and toss it in the

trash barrel. I re-attach the now-packed basket,

hang my cap from the handlebars, buckle up my

helmet, unchain the bike, and I’m off,

homeward bound, independently alone

on another Independence Day.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

At the Center of the Universe

On the Boston Avenue pedestrian bridge

over the railroad tracks in downtown Tulsa,

lies the so-called Center of the Universe,

marked by a concrete circle. As a result

of some unexplained phenomenon,

if you stand inside the circle

and speak or shout or sing, your voice

takes on a vibrato or tremolo

quality that only you can hear,

regardless of the direction you face.

It lends its name to a music festival

now in progress, and apparently

also morphs time and space

to produce weird twists of fate.

For example, many bands are playing,

but just one I want to hear tonight–

the Mowglis–were to play at nine-thirty,

but unexpected rescheduling

moved them back to six 0’clock,

so I missed them and was angry.

But then I see a Tweet from them

about a short acoustic set

they’re doing later,  not on stage,

but on the bridge right at the Center.

So I head out to try to catch them,

and craziness ensues–traffic,

parking confusion, misplaced wallet,

general mayhem, lines for wristbands,

then more lines for beer, clock ticking,

but then I arrive and find myself

sitting on a bench with them,

chatting while they wait for their gear,

and then the set, though short, is brilliant,

close-up, intimate; fans of all ages

singing along, clapping, and dancing.

In the moment, it really feels

like some universal center.

 

Copyright  2013

T. Allen Culpepper