Unrealized Potential

After L’Arlesienne by Van Gogh


The crumpled pages of the open book seem

ready to take flight from the mossy table

like a paper kite from a meadow,

but the brown-skinned woman,

not old, but old enough to know,

whose tired but sensitive hands

have thumbed them into perpetual

memory, does not look down

at the familiar pages, but off

into mustard-lit space, not

at the kite skipping along the ground,

but at the sky it’s aimed for,

not at the inadequate words

but at the ideas they might

have expressed, were such

things possible at all. Her

other book, the red one,

lies there closed; of it,

she’s had enough already,

its story ignoring hers.


Note: My result from a workshop session on ekphrastic poetry led by Mark Wagenaar and Mary Moore.

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Life Lessons from Old Possum

Note: This is an audience-participation poem. All you need to play is a little bit of life experience.

I’ve created a fictional character called Old Possum. Like many fictional animals, he has the characteristics of an actual possum, but also the ability to perceive and express wisdom that might be applicable to humans as well. Old Possum has lots of wise sayings.

Possums don’t normally live long, so a old one deserves some respect. Old Possum has seen everything, and eaten most things.

I’ve started a poem that introduces him and gives a starter list of sayings, little life lessons, but I need more, and that’s where you come in.

The start and end of the poem are below. Please use the comments to add more sayings. They should start with “Old Possum says” and be three or four lines long. Let’s see how much life wisdom we can accumulate!

Old Possum

grizzled and fat

survivor of flood and fire

winter and drought

sits on a fence post


cleaning his teeth and claws


Old Possum says

sometimes you fare better

to stay in your tree


Old Possum says

when you’re getting’ fed

don’t be bad-mouthin’ the food


Old Possum says

when you see an old possum

you know it’s a smart possum


Old Possum says

better to keep your eyes up

and your nose down


Old Possum says

don’t be kickin’ shit

where you don’t want shit kicked


Old Possum says

sometimes you’re better off

to roll over and play dead,

‘specially if you stink.


Old Possum says

if you pick up a hot coal

put the damn thing down


Old Possum says

you don’t have to build

a den to live in it


Old Possum says

it don’t always come to you,

sometimes you got to hunt for it


Old Possum says

you get the biggest yield

if you work both sides of the fence


Old Possum says

always look both ways

and then don’t cross the road


Old Possum says

everybody makes mistakes

but some you can’t make but once



Old Possum says….



Old Possum

having said his piece

bares his teeth

flexes his tail

takes one last sniff

of the night air

and then jumps down

off the post

and ambles off

into the woods

to find a good

sleeping tree.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper