Nicola Cayless.
Looking for light in words.

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I don’t know how I am lonely when just outside my room there are two sprawling trees with their leaves that brush against my windows, when there’s a dog barking loudly at eleven at night in the neighbourhood, when my parents are sleeping off their drink just down the hall. I don’t know how I am lonely when everything seems to be alive, and even if it’s not, then it once was, and even if it wasn’t, then all it takes is our imagination to make it so. Imagine if my comforter could talk to me, could wrap itself around me when I’m sad, could sing me to sleep when I’m all dehydrated and my cheeks are wet. Imagine if the lights could dim themselves, knowing when I needed silence and darkness because sometimes it’s when we’re stumbling over discarded memories that we find what we didn’t know we were looking for. If books could talk, do you think that their pages would agree with the way their author touched them, do you think that the words written would be the best way to imagine whoever is inside the story? I have a bookcase filled to the brim with books by my bed and I’ve only read maybe ten of the hundred there, and I like to pretend I know what it is to fall in love with stories. But the point is that there are thousands of people not just in my room but in my head, in my wrists, in my fingertips, on my tongue and underneath my breasts. The world will dissect me and there’ll be all these silent sleeping people inside my chest because they didn’t ever learn to talk when my heart was quiet. We only learn to talk from our parents, by imitating the weird and funny shapes their mouths make, by contorting our faces until they twist and a rumbling comes out of our throat and for the first time people understand what we want but never who we are. I can’t be a writer if the people inside me can’t talk, can’t tell me where they’ve been and who they’ve seen and the time they made love to the girl in the lingerie shop while her supervisor was busy sneaking cups of brandy from the kitchen. I don’t know, I don’t know, I can feel them weighing down my breath but even so I’m lonely and I just want to escape into the night, but I know if I leave the trees outside my door that I’ll feel guilty. And besides, there’s a boy who sleeps when I wake and who dreams, I like to think, of my bed and my skin, because I dream of his smile and his wit, and soon he’ll stumble into our bed and everything will be okay. I’ll still feel lonely but at least I won’t need words anymore, because he’ll understand me from the way our fingers touch when I pass him a mug, or when I sigh his name in my sleep, or when I bite down on his lip and scream beneath him. It’s okay. I’ll be lonely but so will he and the people inside me will be silent because I’ll make my own stories with someone who will love me for not making any sense at all.

the camphor laurel grows by the cathedral

with the arms that are branches
and the smile that is thin and cracked,
hold your arms around her waist.

If you squeeze tight
you will both

In the bus stop there are two people
making love
and one person
and the sun does not reach the corners
where the shadows are.

From across the street
you watch them
because the wrinkles on her hands make you sad.
If you hold her tight tight tight
her skin might stretch smooth
like bubblegum

It is December
and this moment
is the end of your life.
we will make and remake ourselves.
We will wake up
and her skin will be smooth
and your eyes will shine
and you will be
making love,
and crying. 

i like kissing this and that of you;
A letter to the End of the World.

Dear Universe,

If you may, please hold yourself
inside yourself. Don’t let the nebulas
and the comets and the clouds of stardust
go wandering outside in the dead of the night.
Keep your hand on their shoulders. Murmur their names
in Arumenic, English, Latin, the language of zero gravity.

In this galaxy, it is warm with the kisses of starlight.
To know that I am but one shining girl in a world
that turns while staying still beneath my feet:
as breathtaking as your first kiss
behind the school bike rack,
running late for dinner.

You see, I am happy being small,
being just me & loving just you.

I ask that you console the stars
and keep their light from shining too far
and too dimly. Keep yourself within.

Love. Love. Love. 

The words that lift my arms in a hallelujah to language are abandon, ache, adieu.

I write of fragile girls with fragile hearts,
with porcelain for skin, cracked before their time.
I write boys with sparrows for hearts,
beating in a flutter: longing to take flight.

Women with skin of steel
may be stronger than the Grecian Gods,
but I cannot understand their red irises,
nor how their pupils show the screaming mouths
of the men who last touched them.

Iron eyes & people who cannot make love
are strangers from the other side of the barren desert.
There, they drink mud and chew on pebbles,
and I shudder to think of the blood from their molars. 

You see, it is the soft things that my dreams are of:
haunted by flowing skirts, and lips red of Eve’s apple. 

The rainforest.

I began to count the days like old weeping rings
in the bark of an old weeping oak. Those were the days
when we drank cool water from the oases in a single leaf.

When our hearts shattered against the rocks, the heavens wept for us,
our tears clinging to our eyelids, begging to stay with our warm skin.
I used to scratch the days onto my chest, with a red-clay rock,
to remember the times that your ankles danced over the dew
and I laughed.

With the earth on my skin, I could breathe.

Your lips were as warm as a lizard on the rock.
Your eyes were as cold as night, when the stars came alive,
and we longed for the sky beyond the canopy.

It is torture to know that the world turns,
but the trees will keep us prisoner. 

And when my heart cracks,
you will find petals inside.
They were shed from the heavens
when you joined the sky.

You will be the most beautiful sun
of them all. I will count the stars for you. 

the roots of this oak poet.

Once, words would cut like broken beer bottles.
Poems became razors. Tear-stained paper:
a metaphor.  The blood stained the bathtub pink.

To remember was the way
my lungs would wither.
The poet: gasping for hope,
the mirror cracking, and cracking. 
Seven years bad luck. 

There was a time when, with anthologies in hand,
I would recite obituaries like sonnets.
Their names, sung in four / four,
became heroes to the part of me
that wished to be a ghost.

With anthologies in hand,
I wanted to be small.

But did you know?

Poems bloom,
like sunflowers in the dawn.
That is what is hidden behind your white candy teeth,
sugar sweet with promises: the sun, rising from your throat,
your voice warming my cheeks (still wet).

Instead of black death & vodka,
I drink your smiles. ‘I love you’
becomes my morphine. And the nights
are not so cold: it is summer here,
a summer to be touched, held
and made love to.

Anthologies become tomorrow.
The bathtub is bleached anew.
And poems:

poems are the way
our lips can touch
when the sun sets,
and we sleep.

touch: noun.

An act of bringing a part of one’s body, typically one’s hand, into contact with someone or something: "her touch on his shoulder."’

This skeleton aches
with the burden of things unsaid.

These fingers burn:
your remembered skin,
longed for.

And perhaps //
in the ventricles of
a young & lust heart //
I will find the key
to loving you.

For I loved the
night, and loathed
the Sun:

and learnt that your name
was an endless curse
that parched the tongue
who spoke it.

syn.: contact - feeling

Thoughts: death and candlelight.

The pebble has long disappeared but still the ripples spread.

What does it mean
if the wine bottle is empty
but the cork is still in,
and nobody wore lipstick to the party?

It means that the dead girl sleeps under the bridge.

She is the one skipping stones
like she skipped veins. One, two, three,
and sink. 

“Happy in life,
peaceful in death.”

I remember the screaming
in the bathroom, and the smudged mascara
on her palms. In New York she wandered ‘round SoHo
and lost herself in fire escapes. 

“Silent in life,
happy in death.”

If I light two candles and whisper her name,
will a third be lit from her grave?

My tombstone will read:

“Lived thinking
of the girl under the bridge
and never once pondering
crossing it.”