Shaun Anthony McMichael

boy playing with toy trucks

Shaun Anthony McMichael is the editor of two collections of poetry by youth affected by trauma, mental illness, and instability: The Shadow Beside Me (2020) and The Story of My Heart (2021). He has taught writing to students from around the world, in classrooms, juvenile detention halls, mental health treatment centers, and homeless youth drop-ins throughout the Seattle area. Over 55 of his short stories, poems, essays, author interviews, and book reviews have appeared in literary magazines, online, and in print. He lives with his wife and son in West Seattle. Follow him on Instagram (@samcmichael), LinkedIn (@shaunmcmichael), and Twitter (@McmichaelShaun).

Little Man Can’t Lift a Thing

Little man can’t lift a thing
without somebody offering help.

Bodies sense unease–
any quivering in the carry

and seek to right things
back to equilibrium–

a thing little man has never
known, wanting, and not wanting

help. Wanting because it’s heavy,
not wanting because receiving implies

his weakness, which all can see
but he can sometimes forget about

when he remembers his first words:
Truck—a Tonka dumper

and Big Man–a plastic figurine
with arms that couldn’t bend

except in Little’s mind. They could
wrangle the truck into making and unmaking

mountains, which he now makes out of molehills
because he can flatten those

without somebody offering help. Maybe one day
Little could find a balance

inside—from which instead of receiving,
instead of begrudging, he could ask

and in the lift together, he would find
the real mountain

Big Man

Why did Lord Capulet allow Paris
to marry Juliet early?
What changed
his mind? It was an inquiry, a weighted ring
I tossed out to my students, my swimmers
in the pool of language. That morning,
they’d paddled deftly through my course,
their hands bladed brain extensions.
So I thew them something they’d have to dive for,
plunge deep to find the subterranean
channel where their worlds and the text converged,
a place deeper than I could go. Not only did I not know
the answer, I wasn’t sure one could be found.
A hand went up, a diver emerged. Amir,
always amiable to blab, never too keen to read.
Amir, failing his other classes, his English letters
wanting to curl and combine Arabesquely. Amir,
the first out the door, the last to turn in his assignments.
Maybe because Capulet know he need a big man now.
Because Romeo killed Tybalt.
Amir knew
he’d wrought a ring of rhodium, refined
in the fires of his life. His family hoping
he would be their big man despite
all signs of a slow start, his clownish insouciance
a cover for his fear that he couldn’t
find his namesake’s prince, interned
in the depths of his youth.
The sound of Amir’s idea peeled, its vibrations
breaking open a canyon in me—a void
I was grateful for, a word-robber, a breath-taker.
We winded ones left like acolytes
trained to a silent gong, the students
and the two big men on campus, Amir and me.