michael king

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

book club: ‘the great believers’.

My friend, the Facebook message read, are you ready to have your heart broken again?

And so it was that I received the recommendation for The Great Believers, a novel that coaxed me into loving its characters, then (as promised) broke my heart as it pulled them through the heartbreak and hope of living, and losing their lives, through the AIDS crisis in 80’s Chicago.


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brother, i.

brother, i want to thank you
for taking the time to pin
my boutonnière to my lapel
i know it’s the sort of thing
i could have figured out for
myself, instead of waiting
five minutes before pictures,
but you didn’t say so, you
just smiled, just quietly
pinned them together

i want to thank you
for staying beside me
every time i spilled my life
across the sidewalk, another
failure to get it right, you
grabbed my shoulder, looked
me in the eye, told me
we’d keep on walking, you
and me, pick up what
we could and keep going

thank you for imaginary
games in the backyard,
sound effects and wide
eyes, how you believed
in things unseen, magic
faraway worlds, and
me, how you kept on
believing in me

i want to say i will
carry you with me
every step of the road,
brother, want to
grab your shoulder, look
you in the eye, tell you
it’s you and me

and, trembling fingers, i will
pin this boutonnière to my lapel,
the delicate bringing together,
how i will miss your gentle
hands, try and mimic them
in the mirror, brother,
i will carry us now


2019: the year of putting down roots.


2019 arrived chaotically, waves of rainfall and loosely stitched plans ushering my friends and me into a dimly lit, low-energy bar with only a handful of minutes before the new year. We ordered drinks, grabbed the noisemakers scattered obligatorily across the bar and distributed them among the reluctant tables. Beers in hand, we watched the television set. When only thirty seconds were left, we shouted the countdown, our arms waving back like conductors at the unwilling orchestra.

By sheer force of will, or by nagging pull of tradition, cresciendo the orchestra did. Happy new yearwe proclaimed together. Band of strangers, hunkered down away from the rain, building hopes and beckoning in a year of new chances.

As 2019 loomed, I found myself decidedly unsure of how to think about the year to come. Normally, I feel reflected and ready, setting a vision for myself and embarking. But 2018 was a year of big change –– letting go of an old chapter, moving to New York City, beginning again –– and I wasn’t sure I’d found my bearings.

I need to put down roots, I remember thinking. I needed to start moving through this city like a citizen, somebody who calls it home. The more I reflected on it, the clearer my next steps became: cook more meals at home, find friends, build a community. Paint an orange glow over the miles and miles of slate gray.

In a one-on-one meeting, early in the year, I told my boss about this, and he nodded. “I’ve noticed you spend a lot of your time hosting visitors and flying home,” he told me, “I think it’ll change your life to focus on your roots here.”

And change my life, I did –– by inches at a time.

I started by making my bed every morning, a simple shift toward mindfulness. Per a friend’s recommendation, I checked out the world of Trader Joe’s, and my evenings became opportunities to cook for myself, plate my own nourishment, store the remainder for tomorrow’s lunch.

In the spring, I joined a kickball league for queer folks and met a wild array of inspiring, ridiculous, warm humans. They welcomed me in, and I rediscovered laughter and teary conversations and storied nights out and fragile brunches the morning after. By summer, I marched with them through the streets of my favorite city, Pride flag dancing in waves in the wind behind me. We passed Stonewall Inn, greeted crowds of thousands, laughed and danced and celebrated.

I broke new ground in ways intended and unintended. I bought new furniture, and I wept openly on the train home. I ran miles and miles, under every kind of sky, and I rolled my ankle on a visit to a friend, showing up at his doorstep with scraped palms and a month of healing ahead of me.

I left my twenties behind, let go of everything and everybody that wouldn’t be coming along with me to my thirties, and I felt gratitude that, sometimes, we don’t get to keep the things we think we want.

I look around, glimpse the faces that light up at seeing mine, the hands that reach for mine, the wild thunderclap of the city I get to try and burrow roots into, and I realize I’m living exactly the adventure I’d dreamt.

It was the year of conscious growing, of every mile carved from inches of stubborn hope, the year of believing before seeing, of wide-eyed sincerity wrapping arms around hard-won wisdom, the year of wild laughter, can you believe we’re here and this is real, the year of rediscovering my hands have the habit of reaching for what burns them, of training them to gently let go, the year of laughing with my sister over speakerphone, of learning to speak through the tears instead of choke to silence, the year of fighting to burrow through concrete, of trusting the sunlight to warm the sidewalks, sprawl out and unfurl, the year of dressing my limbs in every color under the sunlit sky, comprised of every last one, the year of believing in the wildest of magic, magic, magic.



i’m going to say this once,
and then i’m going to
say it again, clearer,
clearer again in my
conviction, so you will
believe me ––

whatever it is you’ve got
squirreled away, layers
away from the light, the
thing you carry
on aching shoulders, the
worst of you, the
mess drawer, ugliest
page ripped from the
bindings, hidden away
from the story

set it down
here, on the table,
say it out loud and
bear witness to
the way monsters
cower outside of
the darkness

what a thing it is
to learn, the most
endearing shreds
of our shaking
selves are the
things we conceal


the age of wanting.

New York City has just begun its season-long surrender to the cold, and we’re all figuring out how to move through it. My pace is quicker, long strides like scissor chops along the sidewalk, heavy exhale at the orange hand crosswalk. I bury my face in my scarf, lift my shoulders and peer out from my coat.

A love song fills my ears, and, though my mouth is hidden from view, my lips pull back into a grin. Two voices lift to falsetto, dancing together to forever, and my eyes close in romantic affirmation.

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let me tell you this,
there’s a reason you
are always telling stories,
laughter rising and
scattering across the
room like lamplight

these pictures you
paint, hands in the
air as you brush
hope across the
concrete walls, are
defiant color over
the long-drawn gray

they add up, in
the end, all the
story after story
after story, into
the big one, the
everything together,
the one we all need,
miraculous spark.


roses in hand.

i show up to my wars
with roses, wide-eyed
sincerity the only
weapon i can seem
to carry, just

mind your hands,
i will pare away
no thorns
for reckless fingertips


days of healing.

The moment I realize I’m hurt, I move into bargaining mode. I’ll take the rest of the week off of running, I say, hobbling my way onto the sidewalk, palms screaming red, and then I’ll be right back to it. It never works, but my first instinct every time is to persuade. To coax my healing into a hurry.

Twist my ankle, and I start walking on it just ‘to strengthen it a bit.’

Wake up trembling, feverish, and I start a regimen of orange juice and Friends episodes. “Only one day,” I assure myself.

Break my heart, and I bite my lower lip, choke back tears, swallow hard questions, and try to assemble my shattered pieces into a convincing self. “No one can break a whole person,” I write, my fragments spilling across the keys.

Healing is apathetic to my timelines, so I ache impatiently in an empty room, a whispered question echoing, Why am I so gentle with others and severe with myself?

More often than not, I’ve got a bag on my person. Strapped over my right shoulder, sloping diagonally my torso, resting against my hip, held securely by my left palm. Contents vary, depending on the occasion, but usually I carry these: books, the one I’m reading and the one I’m excited about; felt-tip pens, a handful at first but eventually an army, until I realize my office jar looks empty; a notebook, pages littered intermittently with ideas and lists and doodles; a piece of mail, something I probably meant to do something with; a candy wrapper, defeated and forgotten, color and sheen relinquished miles ago.

I carry it with me on the train, trips to the coffee shop, journeys across the city to meet friends. The bag rarely sees much use, actually. I only crack it open once I remember I’ve brought it with me. When I’m stepping out, though, and I see it waiting on my chair, I muse, what if I need it later?

I do the same thing with memories. Walking around my early thirties, I remember the time I was fifteen and a friend and I were Saturday Night Live cheerleaders, the auditorium roaring its approval. Hugging friends at the bar on a late Saturday night, I recall the night in undergrad when Colleen twisted her ankle, that groggy morning after, how I insisted (laughing so hard I was crying) she had whipped her earrings off onto the shelf. Pulling open the door to a first date, I think of the first time another man kissed me, the way I pulled away, not yet convinced I had the nerve to want out loud.

There’s not a single important person in the pages behind me I don’t somehow keep in the ledgers. I’ve wrestled my heart away from false futures, gotten it moving again, hoping, dreaming, but it still finds a way to pull me back. Run my palms across old chapters.

Remember him, it tugs, remember the game you played, face to face, you singing a note and him trying to stay with you you as you sang, the absurdity of it, the way the singing and laughter blurred together, the moment you let yourself want forever.

I remember.

Three days on my couch, and here’s what I can tell you: Healing is not a comfortable state. It is slow, and insistent, and lonely.

A few weeks ago, I asked a friend the following: If you got injured, and you had the option to be ‘put under’ for the whole healing process, would you? He’s a writer, a profound thinker and feeler, so he said ‘no.’ He said I wouldn’t, either. That healing ‘mattered too much.’

Sometimes I’m not sure. I get so frustrated by the setbacks, the interruptions to routine, the barriers to doing all that I want to do. He’s probably right, I know. So much of my compassion comes from my hurting, and so much of my sincerity comes from my recovery.

So I write it down. Take the time to healit matters, pin it to my bag, on top, carry it across my shoulders. A reminder for the days I forget to be gentle.


sketching myself.

I wake up, each morning, with a heart at the intersection of a thousand new ideas and a thousand old pains. I am forever caught between the bounding ahead and the holding onto everything that came before.

On my palms are handwritten mantras, hard-earned lessons from the act of honest living. There was beauty even in the way the pavement cradled me, and you cannot love a person’s selfishness away, and take up space, and you are worthy even on the days you don’t do a single thing right, and sincerity is a revolutionary act, and only the strong remain gentle.

There, in ink visible only to me and the eyes of the ones I trust most, are the names of people I can no longer know. As it turns out, the love persists –– like matter, it cannot be destroyed or erased.

My optimism is persistent, resilient, defiant. To me, everything matters. Keep your lowercase song titles, lazy cynicisms, cool cruelties. I am radical in my hope, self-assured in my loving. If I love something, regardless of rational thinking, every atom of my being shouts a chorus in its name.

I am a writer on the days words won’t come, a lover on lonely mornings, a believer in the face of starless nights. I am wildly inspired by the riddle of myself, and I am bored and tired with the riddle of myself.

The bravest things you ever do, I write, between daydreams, looping gently among the bloodlines of my forearm, will feel a lot like foolishness. 


rainy day.

The downside to being an optimist is that I generally have to step outside to discover it’s raining, and, this morning, I’m fresh out of seconds. Grimacing, I survey the scene and press on. Getting all pissed off won’t make the sun come out, I coax myself, and I’m right: I get pissed, and the rain presides.

New York rain is misty and eternal, falling gently enough that I always believe I might make it a few blocks without getting too wet. By Sixth Avenue, my hair has surrendered, streams of water dancing their way down my forehead. I walk faster, dodge umbrellas and judgmental glances, turn my music up.

I catch my reflection and realize I make the exact same rain face as my mom. I think of home and feel every inch of the eight hundred miles between us.

Finally, I arrive. My jacket is soaked through, my hands are frozen, and the receptionist looks up. “Oh my God,” she says, eyes wide.

“Yeah,” I shrug, “I think it’s about to start raining.”

By the time I make it back home, my clothes are soaked through a second time, and I am decidedly done with the day. I peel off my jacket, hanging it on a hook, toss my damp socks into the hamper, pull on a hoodie and shorts, and frown at my apartment.

I am one man, living on his own, but I will dirty every single dish in my home before I decide to do the dishes. As of now, they all gape at me from the living room, tucked beside the couch, clustered near the TV, a tiny obstacle course of glasses and forks and bowls. With a dramatic sigh, I start taking laps between the living room and kitchen sink.

Warm water and suds have the opposite effect of the rain on my skin, and soon I am energized. I dry the dishes and put them back in the cabinets, wander back in the living room and gather up a week’s worth of discarded socks, belts, T-shirts. I wipe out the bathroom sink, take the trash, sweep the floor, fold up my blankets.

I finish, my world rearranged in a matter of an hour or so, and take it all in for a moment: Why is it I ever let myself believe the mess is too sprawling to be unmade?

I’m on my own, but I’m feeling social, and my phone is the evidence. On Twitter, I’ve made a friend in D.C. who says he’ll show me around when I visit. I’m joking with my sister on Snapchat about my lunch (PB&J and broccoli, she says, is a gross meal.)

I’m playing a video game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and I’m strategizing my way through this story’s final battle. “Good job, Caspar,” I say out loud to a character who managed to dodge a lethal hit. He does it again fifteen seconds later and punches the attacker right off her pegasus. “Coming through like a boss!”

I finish, watch with wide eyes a cutscene of Edelgard and Byleth delivering a final blow to the dragon, and put the Switch to sleep. I stand up, glance back, and discover it’s stopped raining after all.

Embarking outside, gym bag slung over my shoulder, my mind is busy with news headlines: liars aren’t being held accountable, courts are gathered to decide whether queer people are actually people. I open my phone, post to Facebook, post to Twitter. The rain might have subsided, but I’m still trying to push some light back into the world.

Death by a Thousand Cuts plays through my headphones, and I’m convinced Taylor Swift has the blueprint to my heart. Hopefulness, sorrow stretching deep down to the bone, sadness lingering long after the mind has deemed it time to move on.

It plays through one and a half times by the time I arrive.

I get home, grab my coffee cup and computer, and make my way back to the Starbucks across the street. The barista recognizes me, takes my cup and shakes off my payment, and I smile. This big, bad city isn’t so cold after all.

For months, I haven’t been sure what to write. I’ve got twenty-five drafts, beginnings of things I’m trying to say, but something has blocked the pipes. What is it, I wonder, I’m trying to say? I type and type and type, and I’m not sure I’ve got a clue what I mean.

But I’m living it, this story, and I need to stay practiced in telling it truthfully. These are days of wild hope, indeed, but also of despair and rainfall and stubborn steps ahead. Lately, I’m at a loss for exactly what mountain it is I’m hoping to climb.

I don’t know, but I know one day I’ll want to remember the way the world looked here, now, amidst the mundane miracle.