Michael Lee // "Shelters"

the phone rings she is 17 18 years old maybe by the sound of her voice but I can't tell between her sobs she asks if we have any beds open there's no room I say apologizing in as many ways as I can we'll only saying I'm sorry we're full I'm a youth counselor at a homeless shelter in Minneapolis and between cookie meals conducting poetry workshops and the obvious positions of accounts that there is always a climbing orchestra of phones some days I have turned away as many as 20 teens today it's just one but I wonder if she can hear me break I close my eyes pull the phone from my ear I hold it above me like a showerhead I can feel the weight on her breath I let every word slide out when I was young I poured water into the receiver hoping you would leak out of someone's face 200 miles away I know just enough about fluids to believe water can move that way and the first time she calls as the holding above my head I wonder why her sobs don't drip through the phone I listen to her gasping for breath as the room she calls from begins to fill with water the city's runoff has been spreading water has been running through gutters and sidewalk cracks forcing its way beneath bridges and other park benches this city is overflowing in water will not stop moving until it finds a place to sleep his kids are packed in alleyways and bus stations crushed in the ghost by the shipwreck of a city those inspectors walking the streets until dawn blanketed but the last ounce of pride do you know probably the ocean is as a youth worker it isn't my bones to save the world but of the silence of a phone call when both of us are too afraid to hang up I'm reminded of yourself heavy it is of just how weak I am I hope they notice it's the same person they call I'm at the shelter every night I hope they understand that means I'm sitting in an office that my bed at home is empty I've developed my own language telling them to move like water may give directions made entirely of apologies I pray they notice I say I'm sorry differently each time I'm sorry cross the river to the West Bank I'm sorry we're full head down Franklin Avenue past a whole market I'm sorry there no more bets take a left hand Clinton I'm sorry please keep calling take a right on 24th I'm sorry I'm just there's nothing more I can do 24:11 the blue house the white door despair he's out in the floormat my friend who is a last door on the left there's at least one pillow in the city the lay ahead I don't want you to find it each phone call it's like watching someone else's life flash before your eyes I'm half youth counselor half executioner this phone is an accent every clique wear it for gunfire the down tone a flatline the best I can do is pretend that this phone since in my hand is not an anchor the best I can do is remember the first time I don't into the ocean understood on the human irises always felt infinite the best I can do is pray that this phone never stops ringing because the days do come what I don't have to apologize well there's a bed open when I can feel somebody else's weight lifted and they're finally given the chance to swim

27 thoughts on “Michael Lee // "Shelters"

  1. I realized that I held my breath at some point during this poem and finally exhaled at the end.

  2. Oh god I should've known better than to watch this right now. It's 2am and I'm sobbing in my bed:,( I need to go watch kitten videos now

  3. I should know better by now than to listen to your words without knowing I will weep openly. Thank you for your sacrifice. I was part of the orchestra.

  4. I ran away at 17. I couldn't take the abuse any more. It left me with brain injuries, PTSD and mutilated genitals. I've been periodically homeless my whole life. I'm 59 now. I live in a parking lot, in a broken down travel trailer with a leaking roof and frozen pipes. I have no running water. The slum lord gets half my $700/mo social security disability payment.

  5. Man, this dude gives me chills every time but this time I felt almost breathless too. Michael Lee's words are a force to be reckoned with. Incredible.

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