michael king

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

i go on writing you letters.

has it dawned on you, too,
that i’ve got no idea
what song you hum to yourself
as you get yourself ready
in the mornings, study
your face in the mirror,
pull into sleeves those
arms i used to think of as
home?

three days ago, i tried
to sketch the floor plan
of the house where i grew up,
my throat in a tangle as i
fought to remember the
color of the kitchen tile

i read that our bones
replace themselves every
ten years, time washing
like the tide against the
names i meant
to etch forever,
you were never here

and still i go on
writing you letters, hoping
you have let go of your
loneliest notions, hum
a song in your honor
on my walk to the
coffee shop, trace your
name with my fingertips
to see if they
remember the way.

the first fire.

all our bodies
are flint and steel,
our lives a series of collisions,
falls, near-misses, and
when we scrape against
the rocks, we are
mesmerized by the lights

sparks thrown by
the big, banal things,
sex and death and
love and heartbreak, and
somehow, despite every evidence,
we are sure we are the first
we know it in our limbs
we have discovered
fire

falling, familiar.

i am at odds with my body,
another wobbly walk home,
fresh blood stinging against
the open air, i am a
somatic wound shivering
in the wind

and how do i finish my poetry
on a night like this, what
is my voice but another
wailing failure to sing hope
through these closing walls, my
throat a vinyl scratched
and skipping, stammering
this will be, this will be fi, this
will b, be fine, this will, this

in the shower, i survey my
wounds and realize i wish
i didn’t have so much experience
bandaging them on my
own

i fall the same way
every time, even the
people i have just begun
to know shake their heads,
again?and i don’t know
what to tell them, except

i learned to sprint on
shaky ankles, and no
pavement’s made a
strong enough case for
slowing down just yet

this heart is so stubborn,
blood glistening through
the flesh freshly broken,
loving nothing more,
nothing, than the kind of
love that demands
running, reckless,
over the jagged slap
of broken ground

poetry

book club: ‘the perks of being a wallflower’.

If I’m honest, The Perks of Being a Wallflower sat on my shelf for years before I finally decided it was time to read it. The film arrived in 2012 and moved me profoundly, and I knew I’d need a little distance before delving into the book.

This summer, on an evening I decided to venture out to a picnic table on campus and read, I took Perks with me. I’m glad that I did.

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hoodie.

this hoodie has a history,
i wanted to tell him
as i dropped it in
his waiting palms

stolen from my sister
on the morning of the
Thanksgiving run,
some old boyfriend’s, but suddenly,
she must’ve known, mine

green stain from the
night my friends and i
tried painting my room,
my first lover and i
whispering i love you
at bedtime, smiling
in secret

grad school uniform,
late-night drinks and
later-night writing,
those wild, short months,
one last adolescence

given, for months, to somebody
who never intended to
stay, who slipped out of
my life like he owed
no explanation, but
who took the time to
fold it, hide it gently
on the closet floor
before he left,
found and held close
that fragile morning

for once, i
held onto my histories,
let a hoodie be, for the moment,
a hoodie, warm against
the artificial air

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book club: ‘the heart’s invisible furies’.

“Want to read in the park?” my friend asked me, and my yes was emphatic. I rolled up my favorite blanket, tucked it away in my bag, and ordered a coffee for pickup on the way. About twenty blocks into my walk, it dawned on me: I’d left my book behind in my apartment. Sighing, I texted my friend, “I forgot my book. Got anything for me to read?”

As he descended down the steps of his apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen, his face had a wry grin. “Have you read this?” he asked, handing me The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I shook my head, and he smiled. “It’s so sad, but so funny, in this specifically Irish way. You are going to love it.”

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The Heart’s Invisible Furies opens in a church building in a small village in Ireland. There, a teenaged girl is being publicly rebuked for her pregnancy, after which she arrives home to find her belongings outside the front door. Head held high, shaking her head at the unfairness of her world, she boards a bus to Dublin, where a chance encounter with a stranger changes everything.

“Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.”

The narrator in The Heart’s Invisible Furies is Cyril Avery, the child produced from the text’s early pages. His story is shared in chapters, each taking places seven years following the prior chapter. As the first chapter ends, Cyril’s mother in labor and bringing him into the world, the second chapter picks up, and we meet Cyril’s adoptive parents. There’s a jarring effect to this; at the beginning of each chapter, I found myself wondering what became of some of the characters I’d just fallen in love with.

As Cyril’s story moves forward, however, old characters weave themselves back in the narrative in surprising ways. As he discovers himself, a child adopted by wealthy, if unconventional, parents, he grapples with the journey of being ill-fit for the rigid world around him.

“It was a difficult time to be Irish, a difficult time to be twenty-one years of age and a difficult time to be a man who was attracted to other men. To be all three simultaneously required a level of subterfuge and guile that felt contrary to my nature.”

At its core, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an examination of a life –– the way in which people appear, strangers at first and then vital sources of joy and pain, and are lost to us. In this story, there is violence, grief, failure, abandonment, an also there is humor, longing, love, and beginning anew. Humanity is under the narrator’s microscope, always explored with a bit of comical irreverence.

“But for all that we had, for all the luxury to which we were accustomed, we were both denied love, and this deficiency would be scorched into our futures lives like an ill-considered tattoo inscribed on the buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”

After I posted a picture of the park on a night reading, I heard from several people who’d read this text before me. They each acknowledged that they’d loved it, and I trusted it would stick with me long after I finished it. The Heart’s Invisible Furies offers a gentle window unto all of us, our humanity, our cruelty toward the people we deem outsiders, our cruelty toward the people we are trying to love, and the ways in which we keep going after enduring grief. Told over seventy years, Cyril’s story features so much beginning again, and again, and again.

stubborn color.

remember the time
i told you everything
at that pizza hut,
the way the waitress
saw us crying and
kept checking to
make sure the
food was all right?

seems so silly, today,
how big everything
seemed, the worry
that, if i told you,
something might
change color, and
we’d never get the
picture right again

you looked at me,
then, and told me
nothing inside you
scares me, and
the waitress brought
two more cups of soda
to stop our tears

well, just know, today,
every atom of you is
home to me, all the
color is set all the way down,
and nothing,
nothing, nothing
inside you scares me

Hand

up in smoke.

all the anger
gave way to
something much
softer, as it
goes, even the
hottest of fires
eventually tires
itself out

sifting through the
ash, my palms
discovered that
the best of you
survived, memory a
salient scrape

and i thought of
telling you, calling you
up to say the love
outlasted the anguish, 

but i let the
intention loose

we are not those
boys anymore,
building and
breaking apart in
coffee shops, they are
long since gone

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what ifs.

what if i told you
your name is
the missing word
on a hundred
crumpled-up love letters
in the corner of
my living room

what if i read you
a list of the small things
you do
that birth quiet tidal waves
against my sternum

what if i shared the
story, up to now,
filling in the spaces
i left empty so as
not to ask for
too much

what if i promised
i want nothing in return,
no need for even a
response, i just need
these feelings to
know honest air

what if those
promises were just
new lies, new
ways of painting
myself safe

what if everything
crumbled, my palms
acquainting again
with the roughly paved
road of being the one
who loved somebody
more

what if i kept
holding my breath, just
for now, while my
mind argues with
my heart, pointing at
the past, gesticulating
wildly, we have
tread these rocks
before

what if you’re
waiting, aware in
some quiet way,
flowers already bunched
in your shaking palms

Three Houses

i want to say.

i want to say,
in the hard and harrowing
days, i wrote my finest
poetry, found words
for the wordless nights, kept
hope in the loneliest echo

i wish i didn’t cry
on the nights i drink with
you, but at least
i can say i am crying
because i can’t believe
you’d join me here
on the concrete

and i want to say
thank you, to
everybody, our eyes
meeting so you
feel my sincerity, i
have kept every
story of you
from the years
already yellowing
on windowsills, i
remember all your
youngest days.

poetry