Elegy for the Open Mic Host

In a glass building, on the corner of somewhere I won’t remember, hung a giant smoke-eating machine that loomed over the middle of the room. It looked like a black box recorder from the proportion perspective of ocean floor sand. We were the sand with our cheap, (yet priceless) guitars and handwritten poems and endless supply of Parliament Lights. And the black box didn’t seem to work or we ran it through paces. The room filled up with smoke like that Foyle’s War episode where no one could see anything, but someone swears they heard a gunshot and someone else cries out.


Rob Wolf ran the open mic. He was round and laboring and his nose hair had taken off for parts of the coast. He was unassuming but lacked a sense of personal space. He’d throw you a compliment through the smokey air and you’d turn to see his nose hair and mouth upon you. But I remember the first time I saw him play guitar on stage. He moved like a drunk Kung Fu master and bent the tiny guitar in his sausage fingers to his will. He made it sound sweet and sad and then it was as if a live wire broke inside him and what poured from that guitar was life and death itself. There’s no record of the cafe or that time and no one else will likely tell it. But in our fishbowl part of Jersey, back then, he was the killer whale with the misleading moniker, the king crab clutching the flawless pearl, the giant squid unfurled and every color.

Rogan Kelly is a writer and educator. His poems have been featured or are forthcoming in Bending Genres, The Cortland Review, The Citron Review, Diode, Edison Literary Review, formercactus, Hobo Camp Review, Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit, Mojave River Review and Shrew Literary Zine.

This poem, “Elegy for the Open Mic Host,” appears first in his chapbook, Demolition in the Tropics, published by Seven Kitchens Press.