How Memory Works

I was eating fish and chips

in a not-very-Irish pub

after casting my ballot

against the apocalypse.


The first sip of beer sent

me time-traveling back to

a college-town dive bar

at the dawn of the age

of the Material Girl,

and a passing server

rang a bell that conjured

the specter of a friend

with whom I had an

accidental falling-out

over the embarrassment

of our mutual addictions:

men and drink and that

certain Southern sense

of slow decay toward

inevitable doom that

haunts the twisted halls

of minds that can never

make the thinking stop.


I don’t know which way

she went—the server,

my friend, or Memory

herself—or what drew

us together and pulled

us apart, or what

anything means.


So I just finished

my fish and chips,

and someone brought

me the check.


Copyright 2016

T. Allen Culpepper






Morning Haze

Dark hair wind-blown;

pale skin, clean-shaven.

In inky jeans

and grey peacoat

a bit too heavy

for the weather.

At the counter,

ordering coffee.

When he turns,

Roman nose

in profile.

He looks at odds

with the morning:

dazed brown eyes,

mouth without

discernible expression.

Student probably,

who just woke up

and ventured out,

unsure of the day

and its agenda,

his plan, himself.

But to his credit,

at least he orders

like an adult–

an actual coffee,

not sugary milk.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper


I’m lector at church,

the second lesson,

St. Paul’s epistle

to the Galatians.

That’s good,

no hard words.

First lesson has

too many tongue-

twisting names

except during

Easter season,

when you luck out

and get the Acts.

Years of teaching

and poetry readings

have given me

plenty of practice,

and I like to read,

though not always

to get up in time

for the 9:30 service;

among the things

I’m most thankful for,

the speech therapist

who truly changed

my life when

I went away to college.

Something had

gone awry in

adolescence, my voice

was a squeaky

quaver, not suitable

for the teacher

I was destined

to become.

Now people say

I read well,

and I’m grateful

for the gift.

Standing in the

pulpit, which,


the priest never uses,

looking out at

the congregation

looking up at me

or down at the

leaflets with the

printed lesson,

I can’t help

wondering why

I’m here, how

I’m qualified.

I believe, but

my theology

is too flexible,

my humanity

too human,

too flawed, I

have needs I

wonder why

God gave me

if I’m not to

try to fill them.

I have tried,

and I’ve confessed

and been, I hope,

forgiven, but

I know the process

will require


“And they

glorified God

because of me,”

Paul tells

the Galatians.

I’m not sure

if he’s boasting

or merely stating

facts—if he

were reading

the lesson himself,

would he stress

God or me?

I emphasize

God, hope

I’m at least

a humble,




Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper