michael king

stack of stained pages, redacted love letters, spilling ink, pressing it into tomorrow

a list of loves.

a love that wanders in and
rearranges all the furniture,
places plants along the
windowsill, stretching toward
the sweet ache of sunlight,
makes a home of these
empty arms, the
new beginning of finishing touches

a thousand crumpled-up loves
on the floorboards, the love that felt
like a hurricane chase, wind-swept
hair and heaving lungs, the
love that felt like shaking
in the rain, shared umbrella, can
we make a world of our own, loves that
whisked me along city streets,
loves softly scribbled on
coffeeshop napkins, loves
sung on drunk night walks home

a summer in wine-soaked
sentiment, images rising from the
bright orange blur, the clink of
glasses against nighttime melodies,
a kiss, like a dance, and our
eyes widened, do you feel it too,
a tangle of arms finding each
other in the dreaming hours,
this, here and now, the story
exhaling and stretching itself
across these open palms

Cozy bed with pillows and knitted sweater near bedside table with mug on books in hotel room

ideas, running.

bare my shoulders beneath the wanting sun, footstep
slaps against the concrete walkway, i am missing
your lips on my outstretched neck, cut my inhale
short so as to make room for your name, the
things i have pulled down from the walls
so as to adorn them all with
you, and

please don’t fall in love with your pleasant reflection
in my open eyes, please don’t like me best when i’m
shifting shapes, or break into a smile only in the
moments i give chase, my collarbones catch the
sweat in small rivers, pooling on top of my
suntanned skin, i need to believe you’ll
still love me in the January gray

i wish we untangled as naturally as we tangle, wish
the knots didn’t have a knack for finding themselves
once our fingers wander away, i wish i’d unlearn, once
and for all, that my love is too heavy, pretending on the
couch to rest my full body weight against yours
and you whisper, why are your elbows shaking?

catch my reflection in an abandoned storefront and
i am surprised at the golden slope of my shoulders, eyes
open and wanting, i am mouthing along to the melody,
believer in holding the love we deserve in our
fate-etched palms, what distance can
we carry one another, and
how do we train fists to let go

pride.

we were all there once, fire
burning in our bellies,
sealing ourselves shut at
the windowsills,
choking back smoke and
calling it air, as though
we might change our shapes
by lying about our names

someone tells me
i kiss like i’m hungry, and
i wonder if it’s because i
believed for so long i’d go
starving, decided some
passions would stay
out of my reach, do i
kiss every time like it
might be my final meal

peel myself back from your body
for the moment, take you in,
here we are, wanting and taking
in the light of day, teach me
how to whoa in the bedroom mirror,
laugh between kisses because
we still can’t believe we grew up to
be seen quite like this

you will not have missed pride
if you don’t get the tickets, cannot
forget what you paid to be
standing here now, all our
bodies are prisms pieced together
in the shattered aftermath, spilling
color by nature of our existences,
climbing the concrete walls

bloodletting.

before you tell me, i
want you to know i know better
than to believe in this bleeding
to heal me, learned this the
hardest damn way, a
hundred cut cloths run red,
i know, i know, i know,
and my hands go wandering
to old wounds anyway

still pick at the scab that
stretched over your absence,
whisper languages buried, throat
still catches when i tell the story
of the torn up tickets, stop
saving meaningless things, dangle
my aching soles over the
edges of things i thought
would go on carrying me

most days, the stories seem
weightless, as natural in
my arms as a lover’s head resting,
but then my shoulders shake,
forehead damp as i let swell
the worry: am i so busy carrying
yesterdays i am dropping
my todays to the cracks
in the asphalt

were mine a mind of
the sciences, i wouldn’t dream
of peeling steel edges against
the shell of my wanting skin,
yet always i am mining, mining,
mining for meaning in the
wounds picked up along the way

knowing.

how soon is too soon,
futile question, unanswered,
heartbeat runaway, how
is it possible you
already feel familiar,
wander into this living room
and sink right into the
couch pillows

i want to know everything,
pace the library, where
in your chapters did
your heart first break,
what lessons were given
to you as bruises, can
i run my hands over
the length of your
spine, will you settle
with me in the
sunny corners, sweet
brown eyes, whisper
to me the secrets of
the universe

the wide wild geography
stretching between us, i
babble foolishly, trying to
say everything in sixty
seconds, hoping, believing
i am not just inventing
another chemistry, there’s
your face and
i’m yearning

there is blue in your
being, hushed and brilliant
and teeming with hope,
ivy stretching her way
up that which was once
broken, i have seen it,
small glimpses, i want
to paint all the walls

somehow, this time,
some things just feel
known, a river stream exhaling
as it bends round a fallen
log, knowing, trusting,
rolling gently ahead.

if i’m honest.

if i’m honest, i didn’t want this,
tried to dress this heart up
like the others, train these
hands to write the story
right, deepen my
voice, practice my walk,
tried to long after
the things i was promised
were meant for me

and, if i’m honest, i lost it,
fell to ribbons after ages of
bundling, held my
unraveled threads and
learned to breathe in
unfiltered air, practiced
trusting the color
of my heartbeat, threadbare

i owe love letters to
the hands that ushered me
forward, the first boy to
see me and pull me
closer, love like ivy
stretching across all
my concrete artifice,
to the friends who handed
me rainbows on the
mornings i could only
forecast flooding

i never did so much
trying as i did before i
let this self be, all the
try, try, try screeching to
silence the moment i
allowed myself aloud,
if i’m honest, a promise

the chapters have
stacked, time seductive
in its blurring of old
bandages, i look across
the swimming pool and
ache with love for a
boy in golden light, ripples,
dance with joy
in wild clothing, look
you in the eye and tell you
my name, if i’m honest,
i want this, i want this.

there is god.

in my coffee, i’ll
tell you, i know there
is god, in the moan
of a lover, fingers dug
desperate against
my shaking back,
oh god, there you
are, stay right here

there is god in the
way we can feel the
temperature change,
the fall of our walls,
letting loose the idea
that we are hard
to love, god in
the way that i saw you
and saw it was good

god in the cigarette
passed between friends
on the long, hardest
nights, god in the
stories that follow our
scarring, and in
music, that song, that
melody rescuing the
room, my god, we
sing along from our bellies

and, god, i swear
you are there in the
stammered damn speeches,
the hardest i ams, the
rainbow of your own
creation, god in the
pressing of lips against
forehead, i am here,
body breaking for you.

crossing, coffee.

white shirt on the
cranberry rug, i am
moved by the way your
eyes hold steady
while you’re listening,
hand over your story
in glimpses, pages
and pages that
lead to a makeshift
picnic on my apartment floor

how do we choose
which fragments of the
road behind us to
show one another, how
do we write a life
over the course of
a single coffee

i don’t know where
your eyes go when
the words dry up, don’t
know a single thing
about the next pages
you or i will write, but
i will sing gratitudes
for the way threads
line up and show
us small pieces of
each other
in the crossing.

mom.

thirteen years old on
a summer afternoon, i grinned
at your suggestion, the
scenic route home, adventure
for mother and son,
passed a murky lake and your
eyes traveled backwards in
time, found the story of the
first boy who made you feel
beautiful, and the notion
cracked my mind open:

in my own mother, worlds i didn’t
know, an entire life before
i drew a single breath

what did you think i
would be on the first day
i wept in your palms, did
you imagine i would
soar and stumble the
way i have, were you
prepared for the times
my words would have
sharp edges, the days
my eyes would
become broken dams?

on the day i realized
the world was going to
screech to a halt, my
first thought was how
to get home to your reach,
thirty years old and running
to the first arms that
ever caught me

i am always carrying you,
into each beginning, into
the moments my hands
shake, into the nights i
am unsure i know
which way to walk, into
the conversations where
my voice is on the
verge of breaking

you are a thousand things
to me and one, all at
once, layered and simple,
too big to be held by words
and a single, clear feeling,
blossoming yellow in
the constant hope

in the time since.

I sat down to write tonight, and I’ve done more backspacing than building. When did I get so cautious about stacking words into worlds?

Part of me wonders if I’m still shaking off scar tissue from this goddamn pandemic, from watching the world grind to a halt, all the calendar days shaken loose, falling in defeat to the hardwood floor. Am I hesitant to write because I’m afraid everything will change mid-sentence?

I’ve been able to write in flashes. In an age of trusting only the present, my poetry has flourished. I’ve got poems on the melancholy view of a world through a window, poems on surprise glimpses of love, on the stories that surprised me on a hard damn year, on the moments a man felt unprecedented, on friendships like buoys in the swallowing vast. But to write paragraphs, to sit with the life I’ve been carving out and try to arrange it into something real and solid, has felt beyond reach.

I am still training my hands to be gentle in their carrying of this self. I am an impatient healer, a lifelong devotee to the idea that I can will my way through most anything, and I don’t know what to do with a voice box that chokes where it once knew to say something.

I’ve written this, some version of it, four or five times. They don’t need to know you don’t know what to say, some part of me grumbles, and yet this pours out every time I start wringing. Held hostage, once more, by the the most honest thing growing within me.

I read through old writing tonight. I think I hoped, in doing so, I’d remember my rhythms. Instead, I found myself stretching the stories out beneath the light, squinting in wonder at how time has changed everything and nothing.

A few weeks ago, I shared a conversation with an ex, somebody I hadn’t spoken with in years. We were clumsy in our cadences, tentative in the exchange. How does this go? Eventually, at least partly, we fell into step, exchanging jokes and updates. At some point, he asked me a question in earnest: Did I regret our time together? The answer, simple as an exhale, was no. Our story had its time and place, and we left both of those boys behind to become ourselves, two men messaging one another across geographies.

I study myself in the mirror and search for signs of aging. I am reminded of being a child, my younger sister and I wading out into the ocean and jumping along ocean waves. How certain we were we’d remained in the same spot, our feet lifting and falling onto the same sand, only to turn around and find we’d drifted fifty-one houses away from our family. So it is with time, and so I study my face and strain to see parts of me I am beginning to let go to make room for what’s next.

I am a different lover, thankfully, than I was at 22. And 25. And 29. My understanding of what love is, can be, the shapes it can take, has evolved right along with my story. In so many ways, I am still the same, my heart in love a wellspring of poetry and playlists and gestures big and small, but I have shed a few old habits. No more swallowing what I need or explaining away the hard parts of somebody I’m trying to love. I want to see him, want to show myself, in the honest light. I understand love, now, to be far more flexible than I’d imagined, stretching itself to grow and flourish in whatever container it finds.

We find our reflections a hundred different ways – in old photographs, in new lovers, in the stories we once lived – and we are reminded of time, brushing us tenderly onward underfoot.

Today, a friend and I reminisced about how, the very first time we met, we felt like friends from past lives rediscovering one another. I remember seeing him, introducing myself and driving him to a dinner with a few other people, and realizing, oh, we are going to be friends. Two and a half years later, drunk on the hardwood floor of my first New York apartment, we discovered we’d both felt it. We drank more, laughed like boys, kept telling each other, in different ways, how much we loved each other.

If anything has been a thread through this timeline, it is the love I didn’t plan for. People who wandered into my life, saw me, and decided to stay. There are people who have loved me through every era of my being, through bad haircuts and worse clothing choices, through heartbreaks and triumphs alike. I am bewildered, sometimes, by the fact that I am loved by people who have seen me on my ugliest day, found me in the deepest tangle of shame, stayed with me through the worst thing I’ve ever done.

I am still learning to love the hard parts of myself, still working to believe that I can be seen in the honest light and still so powerfully loved. Time has changed so much and so little. In this way, I hope the ocean around me devotes to its motions, gently guiding my feet, ushering me onward, onward, onward.