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

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




If I Die Before I Finish…

The novelist P. D. James, when asked,

on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday,

if she would write another murder mystery,

said that she might, but might not,

because she hated the idea of dying

in the middle of a book, because

“someone else would finish it,

and it’d be awful.”


A poet, particularly one much less skilled

than James, more inclined to brevity,

and well shy of ninety, has, perhaps,

less reason for worry, but still,

I know exactly what she means.

People are always trying to finish

my sentences for me when I speak,

and most of them can’t even

get that right.


I’ll probably write a few more poems,

but maybe it would be best not to attempt

an epic.


Note: James was quoted in The Guardian.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

Missing Muse

Hello, I’d like to report a missing muse.

That’s right, muse: m-u-s-e.

Well, you know, they…they make poetry happen.

A runaway?  I don’t know really…maybe…

but she’s probably a bit old for that.


How do I know she’s missing?

Well, aside from the obvious…

That nothing makes poetry happen,

apologies to Auden.

What?  Oh, no one; I assure you he’s not involved.


She and I usually hang out regularly,

at least once a month or so,

and she texts me a lot, only not lately.

And she hasn’t posted on Facebook

in I don’t know how long.


The last time I saw her?

Well, I haven’t ever seen her exactly…

No, I don’t have a history of mental problems,

well, not terribly serious ones anyway…

A photo?  Well, no, she’s a bit camera shy, actually.


Describe her?  Well, she’s, she’s…

What? Amusing?  No, that’s not quite it…

Oh, wait, I get it; that’s clever, but no…

More like inspirational, I guess you’d say.

Physical appearance?  Well…

That’s right, I wouldn’t know.


Yes, yes, I know I’m not giving you

much useful information to go on.

But please, I really need your help.

She’s been gone for a while now,

and I miss her.  I’m just not

very productive without her.


Thanks so much. I appreciate that.

Yes, please do call if you get any leads.

Thanks again. Good-bye.

Hope to hear from you soon.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper