michael king

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

Category: Uncategorized

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

broken poetry.

the wifi is broken but i’m writing a poem
and, outside, the snow piles in on itself
like the good intentions that skinned our jawlines
an airport holds its breath and counts the seconds
wanting for home or the closest thing to it

do you believe i am lovely, i ask you,
though i know it, already, i am so hard to love,
i am stubborn, and broken, but i’m writing a poem

what kind of man, you might wonder,
and i grumble the same, stone face in the mirror,

grasping for the surface of yesterday’s certainties,
the lover who discovers he leaves bruises
where he wanders, and he’s wondering,
voice is broken, and he’s writing a poem

there’s really no such thing as wasting
our time, or our love, or our whisky,
because we gave when we were wanting,
keep on wanting, blood spill against
the unstained page, tell the story,
rhythms broken, and i’m writing a poem

beloved.

i am gathered here today
to speak about love, wrote us
a hundred verses and,
wouldn’t you know it, left them
stacked on the seat of a shrieking
train, and isn’t that love,
after all, showing up and
hoping beyond hope we can
get the words right?

and what do i know, except that
a stranger can wander into your
world and change the color of
every old corner, write his name
in songs you’ve sung a thousand
times before discovering what
they mean, make you feel foreign
in your own home, adrift
in your own body?

deep, shaky breath, the
kind of air that rattles in the
brittle doorways, and
i’ll tell you not what i know
but what i am fighting
to learn: love cannot flourish
in a body whose weight we
do not believe anybody can hold,
so tired of finding my
arms trembling after
believing myself held, untie
the knots, again, again,
and hope they don’t tangle
again tomorrow

so here we are
and here i am, voice unfamiliar
to the lover i was yesterday,
wanting and a bit bruised in
the floor-length mirror,
speaking on love and
waiting, waiting, for the echo

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.