michael king

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

crumpled up.

in the vase, there,
a letter, my best explanation,
penmanship drowned in a
ring of coffee, all dried up
now, all but lost to
the careless air

stories of the time you
said that without thinking
and i knew it was true,
splinter of glass pierces
my wanting palms, the
way the world changed color
and wouldn’t turn back

remember when that
vase held flowers, bright
and hopeful against the
windowpane, our mirror
in bunches, doomed and
beaming, leaving behind
a dusty vessel

keeper of stories, i
won’t crumple up what
was beautiful just to
make today feel lighter,
learn to carry what matters
ahead, keep you in
polaroids, developing,
captions in poetry on
the sunlit shelf

sunday post: picking back up.

I moved to New York City in summer 2018, and I arrived with a laundry list of things to track down. Knife block, reading chair, barber shop, gym, general sense of direction. Life was a fresh page in the open air. I got to write in whatever direction I wanted.

Those early, hopeful days were exhausting and invigorating. One evening, I walked home from The Container Store with two fifty-pound shelves, my arms shaking as I weaved in and out of everybody going everywhere. I arrived home and sprawled myself across the rug, groaning and laughing. What was I doing?

They were lonely days, too. Packing up and starting a new life in your late twenties means sorting out community all over again. I read books in gay bars, wandered the park, met boys for dates, banking on the hopes of stumbling into somebody who felt like home. It was, for some time, a wash.

I began a ritual: On Sunday afternoons, I slung my messenger bag over my shoulder, bid my apartment adieu, and wandered to the closest coffee shop. There, every week, I would write –– write whatever came out, words jumbling out of my fingertips, heart spilling meaning out onto the coffee-stained table.

I called these Sunday posts, and I shared them every week. If it matters to you, I’ve told presentation audiences several dozen times, give it time, energy, and space. Each week, I gave writing the room, and my spirit flourished at the opportunity to commune with itself.

As my first New York winter melted and gave way to spring, I joined a kickball league. We played on Sundays, mimosas and vodka sodas as vital bookends, and my Sunday posts became Saturdays and Wednesdays.

In 2020, the world rocked off its axis, screeching the world around us to an eerie halt. With all the time in the world, I placed my fingers to the keyboard, and nothing would come out. The tap felt dry. The meaning was missing.

So here it is, a Sunday in the back half of 2021, and my laptop is cracked open on the bus ride home.

Time. Energy. Space. Meaning.

It is in writing as it is in love and athletics: Picking back up, after a fall, takes courage and clumsy momentum.

Time and time again, I’ve written about learning to run on wobbly ankles, new skin stinging against the open air. I blame this recurrence on two things: my tendency to stumble while running and my need to find meaning from life’s scrapes.

And love. Well, love has too often been a scrape against rough pavement. The abruptness of its endings, the intoxication of the world soaring underfoot while it thrives. Never are we more conscious of the fabric of our lives than when we are healing; everything (every meal, every laugh, every rise from bed) becomes a deliberate act.

Picking this back up is an act of trusting the world to fall into rhythm again. It is a stone cast in the direction of hope, listening intently in the dark for its landing, hoping for some sound ­–– any sound –– that will resonate.

There is so much I hope you will know. There are so many phrases I hope you will etch into that notebook you carry within you. I hope you will trust the magic we saw together, in those days, that it will light something in you on the dark, hard nights. That you will look in the mirror and believe in your beauty, fully and without caveat. I hope I have not erased every good by stepping out into the night and making my way home alone.

I hope and hope and hope. It spills out of my mouth every time I’m not mindful. I hope, and I hope I can keep my hopes from drowning out what’s here and now.

I’m sorry. I wish my words could do more and I wish I had the wherewithal not to dump them out on the floor like they can.

I hope you will keep love letters until they yellow, and then I hope you will keep on keeping them. I hope you will go on believing that nothing dies, that those melodies go on circling several mountains ago, mountains you can visit. Close your eyes, tap your feet. Remember.

I’m sorry. I hope, and I hope, and I’m sorry.

It seems to come as surprise that I do not cry very easily. Perhaps I seem like a crier, a gentle spirit, a man unafraid of his emotions. But, when I feel the floods of anguish rising and crashing against my sternum, something in me holds those tears back.

I cry the most when I write and run. I write and I run on my own. These are facts, and I don’t think they exist by coincidence.

I am terrified of being alone, but I think I am more afraid of being rejected. I wonder, sometimes, if I have made a terrible habit of packing my things and slipping out because I cannot bear the thought of being ushered out. This worry weighs heavily, solid, in the indigo nighttime. In the gold-soaked morning, I find, it is often nowhere to be found.

I’ve written since I was young, told stories since the moment words found me. Writing is simultaneously an act of letting go and keeping hold. I rearrange words until I think I’ve really said it, the closest thing to what I’m carrying around with me, and then I can be sure I haven’t missed anything.

And yet I go on missing everything and everybody. Building ahead and wondering at the people who didn’t come forward with me. Spilling words across the floorboards and racing to tidy them up. I cry when I write, and I hope, and I’m sorry, and I go on hoping you will know.

long walk home.

the city is a museum, haunted, and
every exhibit is your face, and yours, and
me, memories grafted by a hundred thorns,
new skin against the open air, i
tremble with feeling after
feeling, the after, and
why were you so easy to learn

shut my eyes on the train, tilt
my head, and it plays like
a DVD scratched, looping
stammered speech and
trembling lips, anger and
bruising, shut this off

there are a hundred things i want
you to know, but only
one of them matters, not
the flowers i planted in your name,
nor the way i hate every fucking thing
i’m going to miss, just that
i’m going, and
i know it, i know it, i know,
but i go on rambling anyway

there are rivers wrung down
my colorless face, lift my
gaze to find a woman watching,
teary, she nods and i do,
community amidst the roar of
forward motion

home is a lonely finish line,
the soft gold glow, and i
collapse to a rest, love by
attrition, cracked wide open
for the sake of tomorrow,
and you linger alongside me,
so very hard to unlearn

hard feelings.

fuck, my cry fills the living
room, shard of glass in the rug,
glare it down, rake my palms over
and over and over and
toss it into the trash to
die alongside a kleenex with
a single kiss of blood

the next morning there are
two, and then four, and
then i am piling them up, jagged
pieces on the countertop, wonder aloud
can i make a whole of all these
sharp edges?

realizations arrive like the weather
but my feelings are a climate shifting,
slow to act, slow to wrench these damn fists
apart, let go of the rhythm of
dying things, but
once the blood collides with white cotton
it will not go unremembered

no more sad poetry, i chide
these hands, and there i am,
rolling out the rug, musical clatter
of my broken edges spilling
across the cradling floor

jailbreak.

boardwalk beneath the knowing moon,
left the party in our wake and
we don’t look back, count the
blue-lit planks as we swap
stories like trading cards, holographic
detail, holding each of our
outstretched histories, and
here we are

there is so much noise here, did you
know a group of expectations is
called a commotion, and
suddenly there is quiet, steady splashes
of water licking at the edges of
borders manmade, yearning out loud
to kiss that old, broken shore

in my hands, on this bench, i
twist the truth out in plain
sight, and you see without
blinking, singing about the
threads of fate in a moment
we both know to be singular, somehow,
the rarest, most exclusive
party of the evening

there is flourishing in the
breaking apart, joy in the absence
of artifice, all that we let go
to make room for what might
bear fruit, truths immemorial
and newborn, here in whispers

violett.

backwards hat and sideways smile,
always laughing at the inside joke
you just started putting together,
a treasure trove of misplaced trivia,
galaxy indigo and gold

heavy is the heart that wears
itself too seriously, you lift a glass
to the hard-earned magic of
finding levity in the broken places,
hands still committed to holding
every feeling in hard-edged honesty

sorry i’m running late, you say, it’s just
i bumped into an idea i hadn’t before considered
and my palms wouldn’t rest until they
pushed magic out into this dreary
realm, and i’m here now

twist of phrase, eyes like breaking dams,
at once ironic and sincere, devotee to
mischief for the sake of mischief,
wandering bard, singing from the depths
of crushing dives, indigo, indigo,
and here now

steven.

so many song lyrics fell off the page,
spilled themselves into bright wild color,
the moment you wandered into the room

some bundle of months ago
all my poetry was lonely and wanting
even the most hopeful stanzas
stained with ache
’til the gray came to pause, glowing idea:
the next man to place flowers in my
open palms, already out there somewhere

lion stretched out beneath the gold-flecked sky,
can you fathom the fields of flowers you’ve left
planted in the wake of your touch, do you
notice the way i exhale poetry
after every inhale of you, the
soles of your feet against my outstretched leg,
hold my shoulders steady while you
sleep on the long train ride home

you are the spark of wild freedom
against the dimly lit dance floor, the
full body laughter echoing golden
ripples into the living room,
passion and purpose, the
flowers handed sweetly over
after the gentle kiss hello

i am writing, hands moving feverishly,
the fight to capture every inch of this,
snapshots of a life under sunlight,
flourishing, flourishing,
tectonic shifts frozen to this
young, free, breathless moment in time

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