Nicola Cayless.
Looking for light in words.

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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.”

Milena walks.

She is walking home from the café where she has just seen her friend, a tanned girl, caramel girl, who speaks of Spain as if she has lived there all her life. Milena left after an hour, feeling inadequate and small, compared to the girl who flits across the world like a wren. 

As Milena walks through the back streets she has known since she was eight, she watches suburbia breathe. It is a hot day. The sun is not obscured by any clouds, any omens of restless nights and aching joints. The pavement is warmed beneath her feet. Sweat gathers across her forehead. She walks home slowly.

While she passes the little brick houses, and the elaborate mansions with full-length glass walls, tempting passers-by to look inside and envy the wealth of the owner, she looks at leaves and grass. She touches the leaves of the low hanging branches that sit quietly beside the pathway home. She feels for holes where grubs have chewed through green, or for the brown spots that show the sickness within. She looks down at her feet as she walks, and tries to spot the yellowing patches of grass that seem to gasp for thirst—another sound in the symphony of the inner western suburbs.

Milena feels a gust of wind and is grateful for some movement in the stillness. The bricks of the houses are stacked evenly on top of each other, to create a box to house those who can afford to pay for mortar. They hold no concept of movement. They have nowhere to go but where they are. The bricks have no regard for the processes of time.

Milena is torn between two men. One is like the bricks. He is steady, and unmoving. He is unchanging. He will not be budged by any but the fiercest storm, the most hurtful words. The other is like the wind. He is a breath of fresh air, but Milena cannot touch him, cannot hold him. He moves too quickly to be loved by the slow-walking Milena, though she is attracted above all to his quick feet and nimble fingers, by the limbs that hold promises of tomorrow.

Milena walks, and her neck is sunburnt. She feels the sting of the sun, a warning that Milena should stay within brick boxes, and not fall in love with the intangible wind. Milena walks slowly and thinks herself in circles.

Nearly home, she stops at the front of a neighbour’s house. He has a rose bush, though only the outermost flowers have survived. All those who bloomed in the middle wilted to black crumbling echoes of a rose. But within the paradoxical rose bush, Milena sees two fairy wrens. A male, with his brilliant blue plumage and his quick, purposeful steps, and a female, small, demure, brown, quiet. She too walks slowly, edging along the branches.

As Milena watches, she sees the male suddenly take to the air, disappearing into the branches of a nearby tree. The movement of the female stops. She twitches her head from side to side to look for her partner. She whistles her plaintive tune and waits for a reply. But it is only when the crows who watch from the trees next door caw their ominous warning that the male finally remembers his love. He sings for her, and she, relieved, flies into the safety of his wings.

Milena has reached her house. She looks at the door, with cobwebs and the remains of a wasp nest in one corner. She looks at the blue paint, trying to hide the bricks beneath, trying to pretend to be smooth and whole, not complex, not of many parts. The bricks are what hold Milena up each day. The bricks give her strength, shelter, comfort. 

But the wind is what gives her the urge to fly.

He called me a cloud, and tried to guess the shapes
my hips would make when they moved with his.

My thighs were dusted across the sheets,
spread out upon the silk, like teardrops in the air
and condensation on a mirror. The curl of my toes
when I cried out his name looked, he thought, like

sunflowers opening their faces to the sun,
stunned by the brilliance of light. I told him
the light that shocked me was the feel of him
opening up my ribcage from the inside:

the way the Holy Ghost settles inside the ventricles
of the hopeless desperate unbelievers. 


To the night,
you are oxygen.
You are hidden in every shadow and every whisper,
in every faked orgasm and every dying breath.

To me,
you are carbon monoxide.
I first found you lurking in the backseat, twisting seatbelts
and pinching skin, crying out a hymn
of lost innocence and newfound illumination.

You followed me home,
tucked away in the shine of silver,
listed amongst the drugs in the pantry,
the most deadly, ‘keep out of reach of virgins’. 
The counsellor called you self destruction, but I called you

I drank you. You were vanilla vodka
and sweet unconsciousness. You were
the slipping catch in my friend’s bedroom door,
and the biting kisses stolen from dreaming lips.
You were the bleeding fingertips and the cracked mirror
the next morning.

You have been broken noses and teenage angst
these past four years. You have been scars and pumped stomachs.
You have been tightness and blood tests, and uncomfortable truths,
diagnoses, acronyms, silence and pitying looks.

All this while,
the night has breathed you,
and I have shuddered beneath covers
wishing for the man who makes me shiver
in truth.

And though the night will ever need you,
I no longer look for you in the smirks of strangers
and the mouths of beer bottles. I have come to understand
that you will forever be hiding in corners, but I need not
be swallowed by the shadows set upon me
by the sadistic night, and the cold, unfeeling

Motifs & meaning & malaise & misunderstandings.

There are literature professors who will tell you that within every literary work, there lies a fountain of motifs. Everything symbolises and comes to mean something else. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, photographs, spas and alcohol tumble through the texts and find their meanings in the origin of something else. In A Room of One’s Own, oil, light and libraries all illuminate the truth: which is that they are not themselves but rather the other. The careless brushing of fingertips between the hero and the heroine in any one novel can come to mean anything the author should wish: consciously or subconsciously.

But if we come to look at novels as the motif for existence within the reader’s every day life, then we may look for motifs of meaning within a mundane existence that we all partake in. The front door comes to symbolise beginnings, endings, adventure. Rumpled bedsheets, intimacy, ecstasy, passion. Bitten fingernails become anxiety personified. In everything that we see, touch, taste, feel, there is another meaning.

But if everything has the potential to become a motif, can we then trust the stability and the truth of anything at all? To be in love would not, then, be a cornerstone of our lives: rather, making love to someone and being bound to them in mind and soul would simply come to represent a concept, an idea—perhaps that of absolute trust, or rather, being imprisoned in flesh. The romances and intimacies of our lives would eventually become nothing more than symbolism of universal truths to our descendants.

And if everything is a motif, a symbol that shudders endlessly through our time here on this world, then perhaps we cannot truly believe in anything. Everything tactile come become something strange. And if everything is something strange, than those somethings can come to mean another. Our day-to-day existence becomes a complicated tango of meanings and understanding, and just when we have grasped the message behind the bouquet of flowers, or the clock ticking on the bedside table, then the world shifts and morphs and everything is unknown once again.

Everything is a motif, as the literature professors would have us believe. But if everything is a motif, then nothing can be trusted, nothing can be known, and everything will come to mean nothing.

"I have never understood why we must always make love in the moonlight."

"It’s because your collarbones catch the light, pooling like raindrops. It’s because you look like cream spilt by a kitten. It’s because you feel like dreams and silk. It’s because in the dark you shine brighter than ever. It’s because I can taste the stardust in your wrists."

"And in the sun? What then? What am I to you when I am scorched and burnt by the daytime?"

"It’s then that you feel like fire, that passion rises in you like a tsunami, and I am drowned by pheromones  It’s in the warmth of the afternoon that you laze, languorous and heated, seductive in your knowledge of caramel skin and tanned shoulders. It’s in the sunlight that my finger burn every time I touch your ribs, and I can hardly stand the fire running through my veins."

"You only love me when I am demure, curves and milk and feminine. Is that so?"

"Yes. Or perhaps it’s that I love the sun too much, but I’ll burst into ashes if I get too close."

"I don’t understand."

"I’m just afraid that loving you will tear me apart."

"It will. Even beneath the moonlight."