michael king

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

happy endings.

here we are, another
makeshift night, another haphazard
occasion, drinking something,
watching something, talking over
everything, and you tell me
there is something

and, as a boy, i never quite grasped it,
the power to soak up all a day’s fun
without losing myself to grief
that another sun set after all,
sobbing in my grandma’s arms
over no more bread for the ducks,
and she whispered, oh honey,
i know it

in that first year of college, i
felt time passing beneath my feet,
looked at the world around me and
felt it shifting, told my roommate
how fast it would all go, the people
we loved wouldn’t
always be here, and we
went to sleep to the sound of one another
crying from across the room

thirty-three, and my heart still shatters
at the end of every good thing,
hug you goodbye and sob on the couch,
and grief, to know it’s a shadow
left behind by yesterday’s wild joy
does not make it easy to hold,
but still my palms clasp onto it tightly,
grateful for the indigo ache,

promises.

promise i am pretty in the
right light, just tilt your head
westward and squint, do you
see it, do you, will you
keep your eyes on me
another ten seconds

if i’m honest, you’re a promise
i broke to myself, and
something new entirely, fresh
vines stretching over the
aching bones of yesterday,
blossoming in spite of
everything, everything
we lost in those rainless days

all the times i got it wrong
born from the fear i would
get it wrong, frozen in the
hopes the sharks would
get bored and go, razor cuts
against the walls of somebody
else’s world, and i promise
i’ll get things wrong
and i’ll do it by trying

for a monday.

set the heavy down, let the
sadness breathe for a weekend,
we don’t need to be
on those streets, i’d rather
wander ’round for the moment

leave it for a monday, watch it
sit and wait, ever present,
just tip the glass back, go on,
shake your ass fast, happy
you won’t shatter ’til you’re pausing

promises in pencil, crumpled paper
balls for the hallway, tear ’em
to confetti, no one sees you
ache when you’re laughing louder
than the karaoke replay

another shard of glass, swept ’em
but you know you missed one
somehow, and you know now,
deep down, you never need to
say you were right, when you’ve
already whispered it in your mind

just drink a breath down, let the silence
ground you in quiet, some feelings
come and go, and the real ones
know to stay in their waiting

monday post: things stack up.

My phone’s always pulling me back to pictures of my yesterdays. Two years ago, it reminds me, I was a lion-maned man watching the world from his windowsill. Four, much younger-looking and anxiously anticipating a move to the city. Six, madly in love with a man I didn’t yet know was packing his things. It’s a joy, the nostalgia, and it isn’t. Every old grief has kept its sharper edges somehow.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, keeping all these stories in this knapsack. I am, in some senses, a carrier of all my fallen selves. A keeper of all my failed romances, my broken pathways, my swollen wanting bruises. There are the happy memories, too, but I’ve long since learned that heartbreak and triumph usually inhabit the same room.

When I talk about the times my world has crumbled, my voice verges on breaking. I am fine, I know it, but the hurt still rises up, a tide in waiting. My eyes are saltwater, my hands oars shaking on the rippling surface.

Is this what it costs, I wonder, to be a storyteller? My arms and shoulders ache from the weight of all the tomes I’ve stowed along with me. But, oh, the spectrum of color I feel when I feel someone take a story of mine in their palms and hold it close.

_\../

Walk with me through the city and you’ll discover I’ve got a story on every street corner. I can’t help myself sometimes; I need you to know all the pages I’m carrying around with me. It’s an invitation, on my end, a welcome into a richly curated interior world.

I’m showing you the photos I’ve hung that make this life feel like home.

There’s the bar where my best friend lost his wallet, and the coffeeshop where I had the most ill-advised date. I used to go to this gym, and then to this bodega that used to serve smoothies. I used to run here in the mornings, I tell you, and I hope you realize it means my spirit was stitched back together along these pathways.

I’ll tell you some of them more than once, and some more yet. I’m sharing some meaning, some glimpse, and I’m aching for you to see it alongside me.

\../_

In a few ways, I am still the child that won’t hear ‘no’ without an explanation. I am the boy who hates when it’s time to head home from the park, heartbroken at the blistering grief that all good things end. I am the son who ignores his parents’ counsel that a Band-Aid won’t cure an earache, stretching the sticky edges across the borders of his ear.

And I am the thirteen-year-old who doesn’t know why his heart is picking up from the boy who just passed him in the hallway. An anxious early teen wearing the same three shirts in rotation because his body is comfortable in them. A high school Freshman finding no tears at the loss of his grandfather, until nights later, when everyone else is finally asleep.

I am the twenty-two year old falling in love with his best friend. I am the twenty-five year old shattering his own life and stubbornly finding his feet again. The man at twenty-seven, getting the word ‘BRAVE’ etched across his arm, reminding him to always try and do the brave thing.

All these selves are lost to time, perhaps, or maybe the people we become are cumulative. Maybe I am a walking, breathing village of younger selves. Maybe they coexist, in some way, in a stack or a circle, finding communion with one another and granting each other grace.

philip.

here i am, dad, it’s
another morning after, i’m
here in some world
without you in it, the
stories scattered in
a mess of polaroids
across the sun-worn rug

here i am, five or six,
my best tee-ball swing, can
hear your voice cheering
when i look this one over, and
there you are with the
lobster ice cream, eyes
bulging wide, a story you
kept right on telling
and telling

so many of these are
flowers, dad, and the
sun through tree branches,
and they might not seem
like stories, but we both
know that they are, the
quiet hum of good things,
i can just hear you singing

the sun carves a line
across the hardwood as
it drops, and i miss it,
the warmth of knowing
you’d never miss
anything, and i know
you’re not here, and every
story we wrote is its own
eternity i will carry around with
me, and here i am,
and here we are.

train home.

in case you were wondering,
the night i saw you i
rode the train home with my
shirt on inside-out
and the rest of me
was inside-out too

if i loved you, i’ll love you forever,
which is heavy and happy
in the same slap, and
i was drunk and sorrowful
slumped in an aged orange chair
wondered where we put all
the love when somebody
moves without leaving
a forwarding address

a woman beside me wrote a
note in her cellphone: i’m not lisa,
the importance of being myself,
and i thought there are stories
everywhere, and sometimes it’s
so much to carry, and she looks
a bit like a lisa, and

i considered the woman at the
coffeeshop, scraping a scratch-off
lottery ticket with the child
she is paid to take care of,
and does she know she is
teaching him something about
luck, and why does it all
make me ache and exhale?

ozone.

i broke a six-year silence
the night i told you i loved you,
watched you dance in the rippling
glow, felt you like a memory returning,
oh, i thought, this, and
‘i love you’ scattered loose
from the shelf, the spines of
all the other books tingling,
knowing

that a story is merely
a series of truths from the
shadow, couldn’t unlearn you
after the second I knew

told you softly and clearly,
arm around you in the
groggy aftermath, and
startled at the sound
of your breaking voice

and there we were
straddling the before
and the after
another page gives way
and away and away

Photo by Emily on Pexels.com

interlude.

a child will be born on the day the
world ends, and you and i won’t
have the wherewithal to cry

so much is cut short, and
things go right on beginning,
hope an obstinate usher,
wishing down to the bone

geraniums in november, anger is sincerity in a
funhouse mirror, i am treading the fury,
smiling at strangers while i wait for
an iced coffee, wounds open to wind,
planting flowers, right now?

go right on living, get your
kicks, break my ribs and keep
building, i’m just angry at the
bruises ruining my instagram afternoon,
clipped stems in tap water, petals too
fucking stupid not to crane toward the light.

check-in.

watch the news and what’s new, can’t seem to
catch my breath before another blow, does
a lung have muscle memory? and do mine
have any recollection of what it is to feel
full? make a note in the margins, future reference,
every lifetime carries a final full breath, and
i will almost certainly take mine for granted

if you scan these stanzas searching for your
face, i have to warn you, i wrote them in
search of myself, a map etched in
a maze’s murkiest corner, night glow hopes
of where i am and where the story might just go

fresh out of blank pages, scribble meaning
into old newspaper, fingertips bruised, wanting
beyond want to believe i can
say something you will carry within you
long after i’ve said it, pull back and squint
at the letters looped over letters, the blur,
wondering what, if anything, stays

sad songs in the lonely glow of a
hotel room in some unnamed city, writing
in some anonymous voice, aching for
meaning, aching for everything, and
this heart is a hoarder, filled to the brim
with every old, yellowed story

commandments.

this is my body, break it for you,
break it for both of us, til
our cups runneth over,
we drink from it and know
it is good, thou shalt
break it again

we were boys in pulpits, once,
words of condemnation
placed in our hands, scrap
of bread soaked in blood,
you are broken and will be
broken again, run away
from your wanting heart

and, o, were we to wander again
through ornate wooden doors,
shards of stained glass
bound together, and tell them
what we know, would they
hear us, let our people go,
breaking voices, thou shalt
let our people go