Robert L. Penick: “The Empty Poet”

The Empty Poet

He started a poem about how difficult it was to start a poem. Then he gave it up. No one should ever write a poem about writing poetry. It’s like masturbating a corpse. So he looked out the window of the McDonald’s restaurant and searched for a worthy topic. In the next two tables a family was having a reunion with hamburgers and French fries. They talked of Medicare and computer printers and birthdays. This distracted the Poet to no end. He was looking for profundity. Next door, the grandfather urged his wife to finish her coffee. “It’ll put hair on your chest. Then we’ll put you in the circus, make some money.” Grampa will be eighty years old in August, but doesn’t feel it. “Eighty is the new seventy,” the Poet thinks, then scribbles that thought into his notebook.

Outside the window, a young Hispanic man runs a weed trimmer around the perimeter of a small tree. The reaper knocking down life. But wait! The grass isn’t dead, just shortened, so the simile is false. Where have all his grand perceptions gone? Did they ever exist? The Poet blames Facebook and his noisy smartphone for his lack of depth.

Returning home, he will turn on the television and click through countless channels, stopping occasionally to gape at an explosion or an exemplary pair of breasts. Around nightfall it crosses his mind he should adopt a cat from the local shelter. Ten minutes later that notion is forgotten.

As he prepares for bed, a lonely thought wanders into his head:

What becomes of unthought ideas?

Where do they go?


Robert L. Penick‘s work has appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and The California Quarterly. He lives in Louisville, KY, USA, with his free-range box turtle, Sheldon, and edits Ristau, a tiny literary annual. More of his writing can be found at

1 thought on “Robert L. Penick: “The Empty Poet”

  1. At first blush, it seems to falter. Then the lesson comes clear. Don’t let ideas get absorbed into the meaningless of distraction.


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