In 2016 Gentle Culpepper of Boston, Massachusetts, finished The Blood Runs, an autobiographical account of a life begun in poor neighborhoods of Boston and Los Angeles, continued in Vietnamese jungles, and resumed with battles against drugs, depression, and prejudice in the States. Gentle presents us with many images we would prefer not to encounter, but he delivers them in a uniquely compelling style–at times Biblical, at times literal, but always evocative, lyrical, moving.
I was five when I was born. God bent down on silent knees to mold me from the green Earth. God is blue. I was five, blessed. My name is Gentle.
Nana tells me at birth that I can see things. I was naked. “Gentle, spirits of the air will touch you. You will see and hear them. They will speak of great times and strange places. Do not be afraid. God’s angels will always be near you. You are gifted. You almost died. Your umbilical cord almost strangled you.” Nana tells me strange things. “Gentle, if you burn your hair from the comb it will always grow. Gretchen, the little angel with purple socks, will watch over you. She is your guardian, doesn’t say much. She likes you.”
Mother brings me home in a blue blanket. The house I live in is old; warm it sings kind words to me while the winter winds rock it back and forth. I am conceived in Boston, city of tea. Everyone, friends, uncles, aunts sing songs of glory and hope while blind mice dance in the hallways. God is love. I am five. Daddy drives trucks while mother feeds me oatmeal at the big wooden table. She cooks with an oil stove.
Daddy is torn from the soil early. The same soil our dead fathers lived on. Mother is born on the cross. The young wife bakes pinto beans while casting out demons that feed on the weak, the injured. Mother is the princess child of the huge dark
priest who builds a church with his own hands. She marries the boy who doesn’t know where his wind blows. It will arrive one day. Mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles constantly battle the foul ones that come at night to destroy their young. The sun burns. It is constant, this battle with the deceiver. The devil sits in my chair. He wears a black suit . . ,
The “blood” in Culpepper’s moving account is not just what was spilled in war but that which runs in and sustains families.
Printing of the final products was made possible by generous donations from the Piedmond Area Veterans Council (Farmville, Virginia), the Longwood University Foundation, and generous individuals in the community.