Image from Flickr via André Hofmeister

wake up mornings with blues in my head. The riffs shimmer under woolly sleep. I struggle out of bed, pad barefoot against the floorboards. I pee. I shower. And under hot water, hunt the dream that sowed them there. And part of me can’t help but wonder if it’s these early hours, half-awake, with the gain turned down, that the Delta rhythms are brought out into the fore: the John Lee Hookers and the Willie McTells and the Skip Jameses. I think of Stagger Lee and Louis Collins and poor sweet Frankie in her red kimono with her loaded .44; and in my skull space shake loose the thousand keening voices that plead against this capricious world—and in that, for me, there is a joy and a love, because after all, what else but love can change the color of your world, can excite the nerves of your very fingers with its charge? I sit up straight; I comb my hair; and with my breath in my chest, I listen. In a single turn of phrase, the world is shrunken down, exploded, laid bare on your lap. And there are times this love, like all love, makes me feel stupid and ridiculous—giving a piece of my heart to a man born a lifetime ago a thousand miles away. I know what I look like. I know the sound of my voice. I know that a four-story walk-up is not a shotgun shack and the BQE is not the crossroads and that the Key to the Highway was never really mine. And more than that I know where the world has been generous in my life and where it has visited others with cruelty and indifference. So mine, like all fools’, is a precarious position in that borderland between longing and not belonging. I walk up the lanes of morning traffic and through my earbuds, Muddy keens that his home is in the Delta and for me, overhead, a Manhattan-bound F shakes and shambles out the station.

Bill Cheng

Cheng was born and raised in Queens, New York. He received his B.A. in English from Baruch College in 2005, taking courses in their Sidney Harman Visiting Writer Program. In 2010, he completed his MFA in Creative Writing at Hunter College, studying fiction under Colum McCann, Peter Carey, and Nathan Englander. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. Cheng’s debut novel, Southern Cross the Dog, was published in May 2013 by Amistad Press/Harper Collins, and was longlisted for PEN Open Book Award in 2014. He is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, 2015.

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