Skip to content


By Robert L. Penick

It’s three A.M. and Tommy Womack is on Youtube, being a genius that few have ever heard. Outside the window, the rain is tapping its way down the downspout like a blind man’s cane. You bought a lottery ticket yesterday evening, a sure sign you’ve again given up hope and are passively waiting for the giant, eternal boot of mortality to come down on your noggin and bring your quiet little farce to an end. Still, ninety million dollars would let you choose your own denouement, and this world provides a broad menu of ways to burn.

You restart the Womack song and fumble with your guitar. The song begins on a series of arpeggios, slow, sweet, and mournful but, for the life of you, you can’t find the chord. Not quite a D, not an A minor. This is the first time you’ve dragged out your guitar in fifteen years and you’re not sure it’s in proper tune. The octaves match up and you turn to mutilating a Rolling Stones ballad that used to remind you of your first wife. She was never pretty, you realize now, and you were never handsome, or talented, or brave. Strumming through “Blitzkrieg Bop”, you feel more than old. You are irrelevant, a coupon for a product that no longer exists.

Drop the internet. Turn on the laptop’s cheesy sound recorder and lay down a rhythm. J.J. Cale, but butchered, the way Howlin’ Wolf would play after having a stroke. You loop it, play it back for the next hour while bending the strings and playing licks that would make George Thorogood hang himself. The little E string breaks like a ricochet and you plow onward, marking the boundaries of your grief.

It doesn’t have to sound good, because bad is how you feel.


About the Author

The poetry and prose of Robert L. Penick have appeared in well over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American ReviewPlainsongs, and Oxford Magazine. His latest chapbook is Exit, Stage Left, by Slipstream Press.  The Art of Mercy: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming from Hohm Press, and more of his work can be found at

%d bloggers like this: