Nicola Cayless.
Looking for light in words.

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The Seine II

"The Seine will keep flowing, my love. You can look away."

I could not. I had never felt my blood pound as it did then, had never felt so in synchronisation with anything else in my life. Not even when we held hands and lay on our backs, in the park back home, and tried to see the constellations through cloud cover and smog. I felt his hand, calloused from guitar and stained yellow at the fingertips, rest lightly against my shoulderblade. I did not move. I knew that if I turned away, if I looked into his gentle misunderstanding eyes, the Seine would stop—and I would stop pulsing, too.

I had eighty euros left in my traveller’s pouch, and I think he had perhaps a hundred and twenty. I remembered hearing him swear as I alighted the train in Paris, finally, in Paris. I think he wanted to buy himself some food (they didn’t serve you in the economy carriage—you had to pay for first class if you wanted to drink French hot chocolate before you crossed the border) but I wasn’t listening. I never seemed to listen all that much anymore. I would have to get a job. A job in country where I did not speak the language.

Or perhaps I would melt away into the Seine, instead.

It was warm, summer in this strange land. I wondered if Hemingway had sat where I sat now, or Cole Porter, or Picasso with his women. Back home it was winter, and the first snow would be falling soon, I supposed. I didn’t know. I’d been away for a little over a month. I’d been carrying with me my backpack and my traveller’s pouch and the man who loved me more than Paris. I did not understand that. I did not understand how anybody could love anything more than Paris. 

The park bench I sat on was splintered and rough, perhaps from too many tourists, or travellers like me. The Seine flowed in the canal beneath me, and behind me, just to the left and back a few blocks was the Notre Dame. If I had had the courage to look away from the murky grey current, I would have seen the gothic steeples rising into the blue sky, a rare blue sky in the city of grey and memory. All along the pathway we had strolled down were red poppies, their content expressionless faces turned up towards the sun, as if praising the warmth in an eternal silent choir. I would dearly like to be a poppy, I thought. I would dearly like to just photosynthesise. If I were a poppy, I would not have to have his hand on my shoulder.

I felt the bench shudder a little, disturbed as he sat beside me. I heard his trousers tear, and a brief muttering of curses while he fussed over the new hole in his pants. I would have to fix that, tonight in the hostel dorm we were sharing with eight other travellers. None of us talked to each other. They lied when they said you met people you would fall  in love with in Paris. Perhaps if I did not have him here with me, I would meet a young writer who smoked on his balcony and lived off baguettes and hot tea. Perhaps I was simply too romantic. Perhaps I had read too many books.

"It’s beautiful, isn’t it?" he murmured, and finally, finally, he looked at the Seine too. But I do not think he ever really saw it the way I saw it. There was no intake of breath, no fluttering of fingers for something to hold, no gentle scintillation of eyes to look over this dream. Still, I could not speak, and I could tell he was getting restless. Ever since we had arrived in Paris, I had been unbearably silent. I know it tormented him. Back at home, in our dingy little apartment with the terrible telephone connection I would try to call my parents on every month, I couldn’t stand the silence. I would be screeching or reciting poetry or singing Ella Fitzgerald to the moon. But in Paris I was quiet. He could not tell that the city spoke for me.

"I just feel so eternal," he sighed, looking up at the willows that shaded us. It sounded like something from a bad teen novel. "And I swear in that moment, we were infinite," or something like that. And then, like gossamer webs spreading across autumn leaves, his fingers began to inch towards mine. I could not see them, my gaze fixed on the Seine as it was, but I could feel them. The girl I was before I arrived in Paris could sense the man I used to love (if I knew love ‘til now), and could know what he would say, what he would do. He would hold my hand, now, and kiss my cheek and sit in silence for a moment or two (pretending desperately to be content with quiet), before jumping up and suggesting Picasso’s gallery and a croissant. 

And his fingers were bare moments away, now, and I took in the Seine, and I breathed in the Seine, and I held the Seine inside my heart so that I would remember this feeling of eternity, this feeling of connection forever and ever and ever amen. I would praise the Seine to the moon, two seconds now, and I would whisper Paris to the stars, one second, and I would fly fly fly escape and he touched me.

And I withered; broke.

And the Seine stopped flowing.

And he left Paris alone.

And I was lost in the Notre Dame, longing for the Seine inside me.

die lücke before the two things meet

Goose feather down &
hot mochas (we gave up chocolate
when we were fourteen, the coffee lends us
sophistication and jittery kneecaps).

Chicken soup in bed,
with crumbs scattered over fabric hills,
nestled in valley caverns where my
thigh marries my torso to become my hip. 

And you are frightened in the snow—
but listen, how the wind whistles on
and carries secrets from the fireplace,
tucked away in breezeworn cloud pockets. 

The silence after the storm passes:
this is when Spring slinks in,
and our joints will cease to ache.

I know very little about myself and this universe, but right now, in this moment, I know that I love you and that I do not want to be insignificant beneath the sky.


I breathe in lavender while I sleep.

Lavender is a flower that lives and dies as any of us, that blossoms under the sun and has her precious pollen stolen by hungry bees.

Lavender loves the summer, despises the winter, but stays throughout the years.

Sometimes she wilts, sometimes the cold gets to her and she hides her face from the world, turning into herself and rotting from the inside out, but she’ll always still be there come dewy autumn morning.

She grows in clusters, surrounded by mauve and forest green and bumble bees and sunlight, but she stands tall and solitary. There has never been a lavender that has grown two to a stalk. For you see, though her roots be tangled, and her body surrounded by those so seemingly identical, she is alone, and she weathers the chills of season change alone.

I snip bouquets of lavender and place them in a vase beside my bed. I hope that as I sleep, she will lend me the secret of her perseverance.

(Show me how to weather the winter.)

press your poison lips to mine

Spiderbite kisses raise red marks
across the lips of their victims,
they say. I know, because I saw
Mary three doors down
stumble in at an hour
when only owls 

I saw poison stains
along her neck, collarbone
and full butterfly lips.
Beneath the cool white moonlight,
I clutched my snowskin tight
around my Heidiskeleton.

Spiderbite kisses have raised
no bloodmarks

Some people have organs covered
in the dust of past lovers and fathers,
who loved the way their armchair molded
to their considerable weight, more than they loved
their willowdaughters. My insides, though,
are snowwhite purewhite
fairtytale white.

From my little girl’s bedroom,
I watch the world crumble
in the nuclear rays of media,
magazines and summerheat madness.
My windowpanes are smudged
with butterfly lips longing
for spiderbite kisses.

I long for bloodred.
(Perhaps hell is white.) 

isa, isa lei

I. Tagane breathes in photochemical smog & ocean air at once. He tastes factories & sea salt & kava & asphalt on the tip of his tongue. His mind swirls with potentialities & unrealities, this mixture of flavours that make even the most resilient men gag. Tagane cannot stomach the spice & sweet that rests in the pit of his stomach, making him squeamish on tropical waters, queasy on long car rides. Tagane travels in an instant between deserts & beaches, losing himself somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. He sees himself drown, screams unheard as his mouth fills up with the same salty ocean water he was relying on to keep him afloat. Tagane wonders who he is. Tagane does not know.

II. Tagane meets a girl whose skin has never seen the sun. Tagane looks at his caramel flesh, & does not understand this notion of disparity. He stretches out a hand, & asks her to explore coral reefs & busy restaurant strips with her. She says yes, tells him her name. It is Yalewa. Tagane smiles, because her name does not really matter. She is beautiful regardless, even though she is too pale, almost translucent. Tagane sees that her flesh is tearing apart at the joints, her elbows & hips. Yalewa sees him looking & apologises, blushing. She is honest. She tells him that she has been falling apart for years. Tagane says nothing; instead, taking her hand & diving into the crystal blue water with her. 

III. Tagane tells Yalewa one night that he must stop swimming with her. Yalewa is watching the stars when he says this. She does not take her gaze from the dark sky as he speaks. He tells her of his own breaking flesh, that he had covered up with excuses & fear. Yalewa nods. She is thinking while he is speaking. Tagane tells her all the words he knows. Every word he has ever held within his heart has been spilled. There is silence while Tagane melts away. Yalewa breathes for a while, & thinks. After a while, she takes his hand in the cool night, & nods at him. They do not swim together any more, but she still holds his hand & watches the stars.

IV. Tagane waits for the pain he thought he deserved. He feels it, but the hurt is numb & distant, the way the bustling city streets can barely be seen when he walks over rock pools. Tagane can see Yalewa walking through shopping malls & village centres on rainy days. Tagane longs to swim with her again, but thinks he must wait. He knows he must wait. Yalewa waits, too. Yalewa gathers flowers on hillsides each day. Yalewa breathes for him. He disappears. He can feel the rumbling in the earth, as the tectonic plates approach with an ominous finality. Yalewa watches him run away, & she sits on his porch. She waits for him to come back, when the earthquake is over. Tagane runs away.

V. Tagane finds himself in the mountains, but not alone. He is without Yalewa, though. He is glad of this. Here, in the mountains, there is a small village, where the rust coloured men do not speak, & the fire-bronzed women screech & click in distaste. Tagane knows he is not welcome here, but they give him room to sleep in a broken down hut. When it rains, as it often does in this small corner of the world, moisture leaks through a hole in the roof, landing directly on the pile of straw they told him was a bed. Tagane works hard in the mountains. For a month & a day, he cracks firewood with a rustic axe, shirtless under the burning sun. He tries not to miss Yalewa. He does anyway. 

VI. Tagane is told by the village witchdoctor that God sometimes walks on the highest peak; three days walk from the village. Tagane leaves with three loaves of bread & one skin of water. He arrives at the peak in three & a half days. He sits at the tallest point of this world, & waits for God. God does not come. Tagane thinks of Yalewa & cries. He cries of his own will, because he wishes for catharsis. Catharsis does not come. Tagane waits two days, & walks back down to the village. The villagers smile meaningfully at him as he treads sturdily back to his broken hut.

VII. Tagane raises his axe to crack more firewood, but he stops his swing before he hits the wood. He asks for more bread & water. Tagane runs back to his home, where the city & the ocean meet, & Yalewa waits. When he returns, he sees her sitting on his porch. She smiles at him. Tagane smiles back. She cocks her head to one side, her eyes sparkling a question. She wants to know if she found what he was looking for.

VIII. Tagane shakes his head ever so slightly. Yalewa’s brow furrows, a nervous question creasing her skin. She ages a decade in worry.

IX. Tagane breathes silently, letting Yalewa know that he did not find God. That he did not find catharsis. Up there in the mountains, Tagane learnt only one thing.

X. Tagane learnt that he must keep walking.

You’re impossible to not be in love with, you know that?”


Before the beginning,
there was nothing but the gentle lullaby of nonexistence.
(un)sound rippled across (un)space,
and hearts had knives twisted within them

or they would have, if there were
hearts to hear

All that existed was nothing,
though not nothing, for nothing is something
and everything is something. It was the native land of paradox.
To understand that which breathes in the dead of (un)night
and to face the abyss, Nietzsche and bold, is entirely

Before the beginning,
there was no poetry.

Words have become entrenched into human bones,
as essential to heartbeat as plasma and blood,
but in the (un)dark before, there was only
a silent music that beat out of time.

There was a twitch in the symphony:
the god above god whose fingers jerked
because it was (un)time now for (time) to begin.

And begin it did.

A flick, there.
A flicker, now.
A flash, here.

Begin, blinking blindness, begin.
Recognise yourself, the Created God said with Words we had not yet Designed,
and thus, it did.

It saw that it was good.
It saw that it was evil.
It saw that it was beyond.

With eyes that could not receive,
it saw itself and was blinded—
it saw itself and then


(time) begot (birth)
(time) begot (beginning)

I see myself, now. I see. 

from a singularity

and then the cosmos happened
but you know that part; you’ve
breathed that act, with stardust
in your lungs and an empty moon
inside your heart. you’ve heard it
all before in a manner that makes
your gentle mind spin, a humble
break before the story ends and
it’s interval before act two. you’re
already waiting for the toilet break,
but we haven’t finished yet, darling.
feel your mind flicker in response
to the actor’s words and the stage-
master’s craft. can you feel your 
heart snap and crackle? you are 
but played upon by the big bang
which happened yesterday / a 
thousand billion years ago / now.
you are the subjective knower and
you are the objective known. entrap.
expand & circle ‘round the garden
thrice, collapse & wander ‘round the
exploding dwarf star-now, now, now.

My poetry collection is finally, finally finished.