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Joel Peckham

The Last 25

On Trying to Record a Cover of 25 Miles by Edwin Starr
Still Life with Guitar by Juan Gris

Just because I love the song.  The riff. And the way Starr sings it, hammering the beat like a spike into concrete. This is not jazz or rock or funk.  Though he put a lot of brass behind it. And eventually a group of girls in short skirts would dance around him as he smiled for the cameras. And its not quite R&B. Not quite singing really. Somewhere between a growl and a keening and a cry of pain that is also frustration. That is the sound of waiting. And refusing to wait no matter the consequences.  This is about love.  And it’s not.  Sex but not at all. It’s about the hurting. About walking so long so far, the souls of his boots have nearly melted off behind him. And somehow deep into the groove, I’m thinking, what the fuck to do I know about walking, not because I want to, not for the exercise, but because there is no other way to get where I’m going.  And he’s not talking about 25 miles anyway, but the last 25, the final leg of the journey. After three days of walking the one long road from Nashville to Jackson. By now his feet aren’t hurting, they’re numb, they’re bleeding. And his heels are liquid, warm and swimming in his socks.  And he’s sung that new Lou Johnson record so many times in his head, he’s almost come to hate it—which is close to when you’ve made it yours.  When it’s begun to change:  “Put yourself in my place, feel what I feel inside. It’s heartaches that I face. I’m so unsatisfied.” Until he hears the fever chill of pickup trucks come growling up behind him and then the hiss of a half-can of beer that missed his head by inches, exploding at 50 miles an hour against the tree three feet away in a spray of suds and leaves and laughter.  And he’s trying to make it to the city limits before the cool of darkness, walking his way through all the sundown towns in Tennessee on his way to a woman who will call him baby, and maybe soak his tired feet, the warm water clouding pink as dawn.  There’s a lot you can learn from singing someone else’s song. I lean into it, give it everything I’ve got, trying to convince myself I know enough of longing to almost pull it off.


About the writer/performer:
Joel Peckham has published seven books of poetry and nonfiction, most recently Bone Music and Body Memory. Individual poems and essays have appeared recently in or are forthcoming Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, The Sugar House Review, Cave Wall, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Sun, and many others. Peckham is currently editing an anthology of ecstatic poetry for New Rivers Press, titled Wild Gods: The Ecstatic in American Poetry and Prose. He is a musician and a singer.

Image: Still Life with Guitar by Juan Gris (1887-1927). Oil on canvas. 26 x 39.5 inches. 1913. Public domain.

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