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"Heavy" by Shaun Anthony McMichael





You carried it kinda heavy though, old Johnny

confided on my last day of a 3-year gig


slinging word-songs and making zines with youth without

housing or certain tomorrows. Old John


who on titanium hips, stayed light, all spirit

as he sailed alongside these kids, anchored


in addiction while in my youth, I plodded on, bewildered

by the teens, each morning bearing


new banners of brilliance

and blood. Heavy.




I lifted Grandma’s spare oxygen tank easily

in my little hands, though she’d warned


it’d be heavy. I was glad. Strong

for the first time and good thing


for she was gasping into the light

of a spring morning. I’m out,


she said. Hurry! And I lugged the tank to her

to clip hose into valve,


into nostrils. She cranked the nozzle. And we waited

to the soundtrack of silence, time


slipping away. Still no air. Call

911, she whispered. This tank’s empty.


It would have been too heavy for you to lift full,

the paramedic said, torpedoing


a new tank into the carrier by Grandma’s bedside

along with the weight


of work, the dire need to task death away

and the probability of acting in error.




In seeped oxygen to keep Grandma alive for six more months

of scrapbooking, showing me


how disparate images could unite into a whole—

sobering you, clobbering you with wonder.

The magazine clippings’ sheen lit by spring sun

were so light, so separate


from the heaviness of the tank, my future

work, and my heart.




Old John’s tossed-off remark about my work left me the way

Grandma did as she was carted out by paramedics,


the way the youth did. Light as sparrows, they moved on

leaving me gasping


for breath, anchored by their greatest lines and memories,

a different kind of addiction.


Since 2007, Shaun Anthony McMichael 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 90 of his poems, short stories, and reviews have appeared in literary magazines, online, and in print, including the forthcoming short story collection The Wild Familiar (Fall, 2024; CJ Press). He lives in Seattle with his wife and son. Visit him at his website

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