michael king

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

book club: ‘the great believers’.

My friend, the Facebook message read, are you ready to have your heart broken again?

And so it was that I received the recommendation for The Great Believers, a novel that coaxed me into loving its characters, then (as promised) broke my heart as it pulled them through the heartbreak and hope of living, and losing their lives, through the AIDS crisis in 80’s Chicago.

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brother, i.

brother, i want to thank you
for taking the time to pin
my boutonnière to my lapel
i know it’s the sort of thing
i could have figured out for
myself, instead of waiting
five minutes before pictures,
but you didn’t say so, you
just smiled, just quietly
pinned them together

i want to thank you
for staying beside me
every time i spilled my life
across the sidewalk, another
failure to get it right, you
grabbed my shoulder, looked
me in the eye, told me
we’d keep on walking, you
and me, pick up what
we could and keep going

thank you for imaginary
games in the backyard,
sound effects and wide
eyes, how you believed
in things unseen, magic
faraway worlds, and
me, how you kept on
believing in me

i want to say i will
carry you with me
every step of the road,
brother, want to
grab your shoulder, look
you in the eye, tell you
it’s you and me

and, trembling fingers, i will
pin this boutonnière to my lapel,
the delicate bringing together,
how i will miss your gentle
hands, try and mimic them
in the mirror, brother,
i will carry us now

poetry

2019: the year of putting down roots.

2019rev

2019 arrived chaotically, waves of rainfall and loosely stitched plans ushering my friends and me into a dimly lit, low-energy bar with only a handful of minutes before the new year. We ordered drinks, grabbed the noisemakers scattered obligatorily across the bar and distributed them among the reluctant tables. Beers in hand, we watched the television set. When only thirty seconds were left, we shouted the countdown, our arms waving back like conductors at the unwilling orchestra.

By sheer force of will, or by nagging pull of tradition, cresciendo the orchestra did. Happy new yearwe proclaimed together. Band of strangers, hunkered down away from the rain, building hopes and beckoning in a year of new chances.

As 2019 loomed, I found myself decidedly unsure of how to think about the year to come. Normally, I feel reflected and ready, setting a vision for myself and embarking. But 2018 was a year of big change –– letting go of an old chapter, moving to New York City, beginning again –– and I wasn’t sure I’d found my bearings.

I need to put down roots, I remember thinking. I needed to start moving through this city like a citizen, somebody who calls it home. The more I reflected on it, the clearer my next steps became: cook more meals at home, find friends, build a community. Paint an orange glow over the miles and miles of slate gray.

In a one-on-one meeting, early in the year, I told my boss about this, and he nodded. “I’ve noticed you spend a lot of your time hosting visitors and flying home,” he told me, “I think it’ll change your life to focus on your roots here.”

And change my life, I did –– by inches at a time.

I started by making my bed every morning, a simple shift toward mindfulness. Per a friend’s recommendation, I checked out the world of Trader Joe’s, and my evenings became opportunities to cook for myself, plate my own nourishment, store the remainder for tomorrow’s lunch.

In the spring, I joined a kickball league for queer folks and met a wild array of inspiring, ridiculous, warm humans. They welcomed me in, and I rediscovered laughter and teary conversations and storied nights out and fragile brunches the morning after. By summer, I marched with them through the streets of my favorite city, Pride flag dancing in waves in the wind behind me. We passed Stonewall Inn, greeted crowds of thousands, laughed and danced and celebrated.

I broke new ground in ways intended and unintended. I bought new furniture, and I wept openly on the train home. I ran miles and miles, under every kind of sky, and I rolled my ankle on a visit to a friend, showing up at his doorstep with scraped palms and a month of healing ahead of me.

I left my twenties behind, let go of everything and everybody that wouldn’t be coming along with me to my thirties, and I felt gratitude that, sometimes, we don’t get to keep the things we think we want.

I look around, glimpse the faces that light up at seeing mine, the hands that reach for mine, the wild thunderclap of the city I get to try and burrow roots into, and I realize I’m living exactly the adventure I’d dreamt.

It was the year of conscious growing, of every mile carved from inches of stubborn hope, the year of believing before seeing, of wide-eyed sincerity wrapping arms around hard-won wisdom, the year of wild laughter, can you believe we’re here and this is real, the year of rediscovering my hands have the habit of reaching for what burns them, of training them to gently let go, the year of laughing with my sister over speakerphone, of learning to speak through the tears instead of choke to silence, the year of fighting to burrow through concrete, of trusting the sunlight to warm the sidewalks, sprawl out and unfurl, the year of dressing my limbs in every color under the sunlit sky, comprised of every last one, the year of believing in the wildest of magic, magic, magic.

 

tabletop.

i’m going to say this once,
and then i’m going to
say it again, clearer,
clearer again in my
conviction, so you will
believe me ––

whatever it is you’ve got
squirreled away, layers
away from the light, the
thing you carry
on aching shoulders, the
worst of you, the
mess drawer, ugliest
page ripped from the
bindings, hidden away
from the story

set it down
here, on the table,
say it out loud and
bear witness to
the way monsters
cower outside of
the darkness

what a thing it is
to learn, the most
endearing shreds
of our shaking
selves are the
things we conceal

poetry

the age of wanting.

New York City has just begun its season-long surrender to the cold, and we’re all figuring out how to move through it. My pace is quicker, long strides like scissor chops along the sidewalk, heavy exhale at the orange hand crosswalk. I bury my face in my scarf, lift my shoulders and peer out from my coat.

A love song fills my ears, and, though my mouth is hidden from view, my lips pull back into a grin. Two voices lift to falsetto, dancing together to forever, and my eyes close in romantic affirmation.

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austin.

let me tell you this,
there’s a reason you
are always telling stories,
laughter rising and
scattering across the
room like lamplight

these pictures you
paint, hands in the
air as you brush
hope across the
concrete walls, are
defiant color over
the long-drawn gray

they add up, in
the end, all the
story after story
after story, into
the big one, the
everything together,
the one we all need,
miraculous spark.

poetry

roses in hand.

i show up to my wars
with roses, wide-eyed
sincerity the only
weapon i can seem
to carry, just

mind your hands,
i will pare away
no thorns
for reckless fingertips

poetry