I 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’s debut novel Southern Cross the Dog was published in May 2013 by Amistad Press/Harper Collins.