asymmetries
Nicola Cayless.
Looking for light in words.





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words are mirrors // but broken // shards that sting and distort

after smelling flowers and thinking I am like nothing else in the world

I imagine a girl.

Perhaps she is shoulder-height,
perhaps she twirls her hair around
her fingers. Perhaps she gazes at strangers
for too long, makes them swallow at emptiness,
makes them feel the hollow in their bones?

She might try her mother’s heels on, stand tall
in front of the oval mirror, imagine saying please, thank-you,
imagine herself as a wife. Imagine herself beneath
a father. Beneath the earth. 

This girl spells her name by the sighs of boys
that she has collected, seashells on her windowsill.
The moans of her vowels, the teeth-clicking,
the tongue-touching. Perhaps she learns her name
by the way men say it. Perhaps she never knew
how to say it at all.

I imagine a girl, but imagine nothing,
everything, everything in the world,
that I am left with empty cupped palms
waiting for the rain to fall.

For what is a girl but smoke from a fire,
a river swallowed by the sea?

a letter to my boyfriend’s younger brother

To Tomás,

Don’t worry.
Adults forget to brush their teeth, too.
We’re also embarrassed by the way
the yellow gleams in our gums, the way
our smiles don’t blind strangers on the street:
they say love is blind, but perhaps more
love is plaque.

I see the way your shoulders fold,
the way you try to pack your body
into the smallest box you can find,
your chest. They might not hear you
at the dinner table, but your voice
is a gentle murmur they would miss,
the way I miss the harbour waves,
the way I miss your brother. 

You are small for your age. You run
behind the bigger men who stride
with peacock-puffed chests throughout
the playground. They cuckaw at the girls
with pigtails, ignore the ones who had
their hair cropped too close by their mothers.
Your shoelaces flap behind you, chicks
trying to fly. Don’t worry. You’ll unfold
your wings and meet the sky. 

Dear Tomás,
you are small, and your cheeks are red.
The world towers above you sometimes,
and it does for me too. But perhaps
if I act more like the twelve-year-old you
and you take my nineteen-year old hand,
we’ll step out into the air,
and fly.

I am such a little thing, though
there are snowstorms in my mouth.

When I open that maw, there is
white travelling down my throat.

My insides are covered with
the sky’s sleepstuff, its forgotten skin.

❝ Always learn poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they’ll make your soul impervious to the world’s soft decay.

— White Oleander, Janet Finch

are you done yet

I think
the only way
to explain last night

is that we were choking
on words as we tried
to speak them,

or maybe that
somewhere in our bodies
they took the wrong turning
in the blood and went down
to our toes,

perhaps it was
that I spoke a language
you couldn’t understand
and vice versa,

because when you spoke,
all I heard was, “it’s you,
it’s you, it’s you,”

but you weren’t saying that
at all, so maybe
what really happened 

is that your love
was a different shape
than mine.

stealing winter

With leaving,
I am stealing winter.

There is talk of snow
on windowsills,
ice on roads;

black ice, hidden
until after we have
crashed. They look
to the grey skies

and count clouds.
Perhaps they can
divine from the sky
whether it will snow

again. But I am taking
the cold in my heart,
and I won’t see snow
again.

My cat is having a super fun time with my roommates while I’m away…
calling you three times and hanging up four

It is three in the afternoon, which means
I am thinking about you
thinking about me.

Because there are knots all over my back
and I think that maybe each one is a time
I woke up and you hadn’t thought of me
                                                               all day,
                                                               maybe.

I would ask but there are more important things,
like tea on the stove, like walking the dog, buying gas,
thinking of the ‘bigger things’ which are really just
trivialities with egos.

And while I make dinner, you ask how I am,
but I’m too busy tying knots in my tongue
to answer.

this began as a letter to you, but now it’s a letter about what I wish you were thinking

It is snowing outside and I am thinking
how nice it would be if my insides
were as white as the world.

You could walk along my bones
and leave footsteps. Like bread crumbs.
Like morsels of love that I could follow
when I am scared. 

Instead if you walk inside of me,
you’ll tread blood into the carpets,
and that’s a mark we’ll never get out.
I don’t want you to be mad at me
for staining everything we’ve built
with the broken parts of me.

Last night you whispered,
you know you can tell me anything.

I wonder if that means I can tell you
about how I would touch your mouth
with my hands until you swallowed them,
just so I could be touching you
all the time.