michael king

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

a time & place.

remember when
i pulled you into the hollow
of my fractured ribcage,
we practiced
breathing, what a
thing to
believe in forevers
without blinking

i scribbled the future,
paragraphs in permanent marker,
showed you and
saw you

time was a makeshift line
of polaroid stories, arranged
with tender hands across
the hardwood floor, before
the wind, human hurricane,
time coming loose like
fibers from the floorboards

to call more than one place home
is always to be aching for somewhere,
sitting in an airplane seat,
craving the earth and everyone on it,
ginger ale and crackers,
untethered and wanting

i am sorry for everything i have
missed and will miss, sorry for the
way my voice breaks, sorry i am so
often there when i am here,
i am here, even when i’m there

we once believed there was a
time and place –– for us, for
the aching and healing, the
births and deaths of our
highest hopes, regrets on
the shelf, out of reach, we
were believers, then, we

eddie.

talking quantum physics and
human stories on the hardwood floor,
i am struck by the brightness
of your eyes, intertwined
with gentleness, you
are a tangle of compassion
and critical thinking, brush strokes
against synapses illuminated, there
is music in the way the planets align

what are we, if not creators,
lovers and thinkers, carriers of
every story we’ve survived and
every story we hope survives us?

you are the outstretched hand, welcoming,
ushering everything forward, better,
forget the broken pavement behind us,
miles ahead there is more for us, if we
understand there is magic to believing
in magic, hope in holding reality
in these shaking, aching palms, you
are withness, bearing witness
to our wildest becoming

you are warm conversation into the
early hours, glass empty on the
table but inspiration overflowing,
a story unraveling and coming together
in the exact same exhale.

let it.

oh, wide-eyed lover,
someday you may just learn
to let a
smile across the dimly lit bar
be a grin, let the
song that played the first time
his lips met yours
be music, let the
things he whispers in blue early hours
be words

perhaps, tender poet,
you can rest
your pen, let the
folded up shirt he left behind
be a hoodie, let the
villains who left scars in their wake
be men, let a
wound, somatic, on your open sternum
be healed

or, bright-hued painter,
you may just keep on
embellishing, let the
lunch under overcast skies
be an adventure, let the
hand finding yours while sleeping
be a love song, let the
hard days that didn’t break you
be a story.

stammer.

what is there to say
here, now,
the road behind us
littered with
crumpled up notions
of who we could be
in each other’s
best light

i type, backspace,
type again, and pause,
stammering fingertips,
clumsy now in my knowing
you, what is there to
say, now, about all that

and there is rhythm,
i wonder if you feel it,
the song of a muscle
long left unused, remember
this tempo, dancing
for the makeshift
moment, do you
feel

time falling over us,
ominous blanket, crossed
out calendar days
stretching apart between
us, scar tissue bleeding dry
the soil underfoot

i know better now
than to believe my words
can convince fragments back
together, know better
yet i still try to tell you
something beautiful,
revolutionary, handprint
on your sternum, i was here

write this down.

coq au vin and steak frites,
one of each, swap your
plate with mine, catch
our breath from running
through chilled streets,
laughing, what about this
place, pear martini, stories
of theme parks, what about
this

my handwriting is
feverish, graphite dusting
the margins, i want to forget
nothing, cannot permit
the blurring of a single
whisker, somehow this time
i am sure it’s important

i have never been one to
run down a road i haven’t
yet vetted, and yet
i am running, chasing
you through city streets
under lamplight, what about
this place, you ask me, my
eyes settling on you, what
about this

kshhhh.

the calendar year shattered and
spilled in splinters across
the floor, and we
were so broken by the
brokenness we very
nearly missed the
way breaking makes room
for new worlds

you are unlike anyone
i’ve ever allowed myself
to imagine,
unprecedented, and
i can’t quit wondering
whether our eyes would have
found each other in
the unbroken age

i’m drinking gin and
watching someone sigh and
set his story on the lamplit tile,
my god, the worlds we
carry, and i’m seeing you,
pupils dilated, and
i’m remembering how
addictive it is to be seen,
sober and chasing you
through subway stations,
i feel drunk and unafraid
of the hangover

sweep things free from
the coffee table, make some
room for your sweating
back, i want to watch you
in this moment, paint
your picture over
every old, broken plan

glass of wine at my lips
as the new world unfurls,
the here, now, the
everything, catching
light in wild fragments.

again, again.

what is growing
if not learning to trust
our broken fragments to
come back together
in the case we lose our
footing in the following
of our wildest whims

nobody keeps themselves safe
by trying to glance ahead,
pages flipping, skimming
paragraphs for clues, the
writing’s never on the wall
’til it is, ’til it
stares us down in
scarlet ink

won’t save my skin
by holding my breath, can’t
taste the truth and shroud
myself away at the
same time, sing to myself
softly, i may not know
where this road will
carry me, but these
palms are known in the
art of reassembling
a shattered self

reckless gardener.

plant your kiss against
my jawline and
there grows a poem
on the way someone’s face
never quite looks the same
as it does at 1:31 a.m., eyes
locked in indigo lighting,
what a privilege to witness
you firsthand, i can’t,
for the life of me,
pull my eyes away

and there, in the place
where your head met
my sternum, a poem for
the way my wildest,
brightest plans pale so
abruptly the moment they
are stood beside what is
real and unimagined

when i tell you that
you make me feel poetry,
i mean to say that
there are wildflowers
stretching themselves across
my wanting limbs, reaching,
with the rest of me, for you

streetlight glow.

what a thing, waking
to see your shoulder blades
in silhouette
your dark hair a tangle
the rise and fall
knowing, for the moment,
we’ve chosen
this, here, now

cluster of daisies
in an empty espolón
bottle, tee shirts and
socks strewn haphazardly
across the hardwood
floor, bearing witness

if it’s true, like they say,
that God doesn’t want this
for two boys, then why
did he hand us these
wee hours, simple truths
in honest light, why
does your hand remember
its way to mine while
you sleep?

what a time.

I have the bad habit of holding my breath to get through painful things. At the doctor’s office, in a routine blood draw, my nurses often ask if I’m okay. Breathe, they remind me. Gentle eye contact, reassuring pat on the shoulders.

It’s like, if I can sit just still enough, the wave of hurt might pass me right by. Sometimes, by the time I realize I’ve stopped breathing, my lungs can’t help but gasp for air.

Over longer periods, the holding my breath gets (thankfully) less literal. After I realized I was gay, but before I was ready to tell anybody, holding my breath looked like ceasing building any concrete plans for the future. I stopped hoping for things, halted writing any plans, because the future felt suddenly out of reach.

That time lasted years, stacks and stacks of months where I was just scraping for hope in the present day, and, when I finally said those words – to myself, to my friends, to loved ones – I felt like my lungs finally freed up a bit of room.

It’s been a year of holding my breath, friends, of trying to wait out the grief of all my broken plans, but my sternum aches for honest air, and I haven’t saved a single person, myself included, by standing perfectly still.

No matter what the world feels like, time has resumed its quiet continuity, ushering all of us onward. We have lost jobs, packed our belongings in boxes, set them out in new spaces. There have been positive pregnancy tests, tearful hugs of grieving, tumors found in the bodies of our bravest, steadiest heroes.

So this is me, showing up, taking the deepest, if shakiest, breath I can muster. This is me declaring that surviving a pandemic is not the limit of my creative reach.

So often I am preoccupied by the people who belong in my past chapters. Loved ones who have died, lovers who have left, friends whose laughter I haven’t heard in years. It is jarring to me, the realization that I cannot bring them to today’s pages. The best I can do is keep their stories, taxonomies of our times together, nestled in the eaves of my being. Ask any of my friends: I overflow with stories.

Sometimes, in the midst of telling a friend the story of the time I was kissed in an empty storefront, I glance into my beer and furrow my brow. ‘I’m sorry,’ I chuckle, ‘I forget why I was telling you that.’

‘Because you remembered it,’ he offers, graciously, ‘and you wanted me to remember it too.’

Every time somebody goes, I feel a grief I know will echo throughout the rest of my lifetime. Time demands we give up so damn much to see what waits ahead, and dragging our feet only muddies the journey. The world feels, at times, indifferent to our grieving.

And yet there are skies that bring us hope on heavy mornings, cacti that blossom on the windowsill in light of the January snow. Living may be a hard damn scrape, but it stitches us back together all the same.

Above perhaps all things, I don’t want to regret. I don’t want to wish I’d been gentler, wonder what might’ve happened had I found the courage to speak. I am terrified of leaving my I-love-yous left unspoken, of leaving behind more scars than stories in my wake.

In my story, I have gotten it wrong. I have failed, on occasion with colossal emphasis. I have hurt people I have tried to love, and I have placed my time and energy in the wrong directions.

To dwell too heavily in the past, raking myself against my history’s hard edges in an effort to absolve myself, is to waste today.

In the same vein, to hold my breath and close my eyes in wait of better days is to miss the wonder of what’s happening right around me.

Pandemic or no, I inhabit a world, today, that will, come tomorrow, never again be within reach. It’s up to me to show up to it, to carry yesterday’s tomes and tomorrow’s hopes along with me into my living. There are love letters to be written, laughs to be shared, stories to be etched into the greater tale.

And so here I am.