Timothy Liu


2 poems

No Man’s Land

Others smear war paint
across his face, my

hands made for deeper

pleasures—hidden pistons
driving the body back

& forth across borders

that blur—no walls
keeping us from places

no one else has reached.


A Pilgrimage

No one knows when
Jeroen van Aken

was born. None

of his signed works
are dated although

there’s proof he died

in 's-Hertogenbosch
in 1516 where he 

seems to have spent

most of his life as
Hieronymus Bosch

and this is all

I have to go on
as I take my stroll

across Central Park

on a Sunday afternoon
in 2018 all the way

to Gallery 641

at the Met Museum
in order to adore his

Adoration of the Magi

perhaps the only
real Bosch to be

spotted in this city—

angels with gold leaf
on their wings holding

up a green curtain

on a scene that looks
entirely staged—

Joseph hunched over,

barely able to
prop himself up

on a crutch, Mary

sleepy-eyed, no one
in the frame

(not even the Ox)

looking at the naked
flesh of an infant

standing straight up

in his mother’s lap
with outspread arms

about to take flight

if god were a bird
building a nest

in the tower’s exposed

crags rather than being
bound by gravity

like everyone else—

a tiny couple dancing
in the background

where rolling pastoral hills

are dotted with sheep
reminding us all

that we are nothing

more than a wayward
flock in search

of someone to gather us

in—the posed
tranquility of this scene

quite a disappointment

compared to what
Bosch is best

known for—angst-ridden

tableaus of the flesh
scorched and flayed

in the next gallery over

where a crowd
has gather around a sign

mounted to the wall—

Christ’s Descent
into Hell

to a mere “follower

of Bosch” who for some
is as good as all

get out for unlike

Moses or Abraham,
at least we know

Bosch and his followers

lived!—that across
the Great Lawn

I can behold an actual

copy, and when security
happens to be turned

the other way, even touch

the two oak planks
grained horizontally,

held in place

with three dowels
near the center

of a panel exposed

in an X-radiograph—
an earliest possible creation 

date of 1491

indicated by

analysis—its long lost

twin sequestered
in a private collection

in Milan—smoky flames

rising up
from the lower right

corner suggesting a fire

originally present
in the slightly less squarer

New York version

has been cropped
out—none of this visible

to the untrained eyes

of pilgrims for centuries
who happened by

this apparent fake

not to mention
how many times

it was packed up

and shipped off
to many distant cities

(Dallas, Iowa City,

Bloomington, Houston)
willing to pass it off

for the real thing

before I was born,
insensitive past

cleanings abrading

the delicate skin
of the uppermost

layers that render

this particular hell
more translucent

in the sky above

the ship’s riggings
and that gaping mouth

impossible to ignore

as I behold
a group of teenagers

holding up their cellphones

to take selfies
of their pilgrimage

posted instantly

for the rest of the world
to like or comment

on—hardly matters

who or when
this thing was painted—

only that we’re here.


Timothy Liu’s latest book is Luminous Debris: New & Selected Legerdemain (1992-2017). A reader of occult esoterica, he lives in Manhattan and Woodstock, NY. www.timothyliu.net