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Blind Willie

For a beating that he gave
his woman for cheating
on him, she in turn threw

lye into his son’s face
who’d just begun playing
a cigar-box guitar at the age

of seven—a tin cup strung
around his neck as he
learned to master regular

chords and open D for slide—
his future as a preacher
preserved in a gruff voice

shaking with fierce vibrato
pressed into a stack of
78s—a race-records

artist on the Columbia label
whose second release
was “Dark Was the Night”

and “It’s Nobody’s Fault
But Mine.” Forget the father:
it’s all about abysmal shouts

and groans that only a son
could make—an unidentified
female singer joining him

at a session in New Orleans—
his house later gutted by fire
as he slept in the charred

dampness of old newspapers,
never again to sing “Jesus
Make Up My Dying Bed”—

Chuck Berry, Beethoven
and Willie aboard the Voyager
as it sails through outer space.


The Key

I was given a key.
It was not made of 24 karat gold.
It was not meant to be worn
around my neck. More like a blank
from the corner hardware store
waiting to be cut before I turned seven,
the year the training wheels
came off my bike—first key to a first lock
that needed no ring, only a dream
to bring it back. Do you remember
the first three numbers you ever had to commit
to memory in order to unlock your bike
or locker at school, clockwise, counter-
clockwise, then back
again, the slip of paper that became
the first official secret you’d eventually
forget? Last night I dreamed
a flock of sheep had an app
on their phones enabling them to count
how many times I leapt naked from one world
into the next. It was the first time
in my life that I no longer needed to feel
special when I awoke.


Timothy Liu is the author of ten books of poems, including the forthcoming Don’t Go Back To Sleep (Saturnalia Books, 2014) and Let It Ride (Staton Hill, 2015). A novel, Kingdom Come, is also forthcoming from Talisman House. Liu lives in Manhattan with his husband.