Nicola Cayless.
Looking for light in words.

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my body is a wonderland

There are days you will wake up, crack
the knuckles of your hand, tear apart your fingers,
look for something inside the hollows.

Those are the days the Sun rains fire.
Your skin boils, bubbles, bursts, falls away
in strips of meat, your body in desperate contempt
for your loneliness. You will search
from pancreas to capillaries, looking for a feeling
you cannot name.

And when your body refuses to tell you secrets,
when language stalls and falls away
in a guttural stutter, you will look
beneath bar stools, the aisles of supermarkets,
the mouths of beer bottles. 

Those are the days that the emptiness of bone
will be vile to you, a rat crawling, flesh decaying.
All those crevices. So much to fill them with.

If only you knew
what it was.


Varicose love is an ugly thing.
Builds quietly beneath the surface,
a city of tunnels, rotten subways stations.
Beneath the skin,
the rumblings, the hint,
the veins tearing apart: tectonic & volcanic.
A disaster to erupt, blossom, flower buds.

Varicose love aches.
Becoming doctors’ waiting rooms, stretch mark
medication (does nothing but crush & crack
vanity). Mirrors, mini skirts, men
all surveying with clipboard-gazes
knowing that your varicose love
is a heartbeat away from an aneurysm. 

In Which I Mutilate A Spiritual Symbol to Ease My Own Heartache

I left a bucket beneath your bed
to catch stray tears as they fell, raindrops
in this tiny world.
And I would bathe in them
like someone desperate, ready
to be whole, be better, be anything
but this.

But the Ganges stopped healing pilgrims long ago:
too many who didn’t believe in brushing hands,
and gentle glances. I’m nothing
but a tourist sailing down the river,
and I don’t know which way is up:
I never knew what the floods did to your shores.

Tired fathers and sons salvage their crops after the monsoon,
and here I am, still sticking out my dry tongue,
and hoping you will fall.

A Farewell to the Little Poet Girl.

Dear Paris,
I’m sorry.

Woody Allen warned me I would love you,
with two and a half aching minutes of moments captured:
Parisians drinking coffee with no milk, no sugar.
Rain on the cobblestone streets, gushing through gutters.
Lovers touching lips over stone bridges, ancient, nouveau

I had dreamt, the good little Poet Girl,
captured by cliches and ensnared by the writings
of the Greats in an Age that no longer means a thing
to us with the smart phones and instant coffee.
I promise you, Paris, my once-love: I tried.
I ached for swirling skirts, billowing scarves,
melted chocolate over crepes, and I found them.

But I found new locks on old buildings, too:
polystyrene made in the image of marble,
dreaming of grandeur, achieving only imitation.
I carried a Moleskine with me everywhere
(Hemingway commanded me to, you see)
but there were only broken stories and the same pretty words:
meaningless, tired, overused.

Paris, I am sorry.
I know that to stand on the observation deck
of the Eiffel Tower by night, with the city lit by fireflies,
and a lover by your side is one of life’s great joys.

But to kiss him here,
in his pyjama shorts and with coffee breath,
in a kitchen messy and scattered,
is more beautiful than all the cathedrals
you can offer me.

when the livin’ is easy

The old house across the way,
cracked wood, cracked spines inside,
plays the gramophone constantly.

Merry-go-round hymns float gently
on summer breezes: slowly.
They dance on sunbeams,
gliding through the open window.

Fairy dust hangs in the light
and waits to touch a hopeful heart.

I am warmed by carousel laughter
and piano notes. Here, trapped:
confined to this armchair:

I watch June sail by.


The cock crows in the afternoon,   confused
with the way that time meanders slowly today,
riverruns tomorrow.

Dawn can take place when
we want it to: illumination and banishment of dark:
why wait for time to do it for us?

Curled up like a foetus waiting patiently
in    his mother’s womb    for the moment of
to begin, I sit here. I am waiting for the birth
of understanding,

unfolding, refolding, consuming, resuming.

When it comes, I will crow
for dawn is nigh, and the world
needs to know:

I am awake.

How To Write A Poem: Revised

I said to you:
breathe, feel, let the words pour out of you
because they already live within your marrow.

I said to you:
poetry comes as easily as a heartbeat,
unthinking, pounding, every quiver of your ventricle
a stanza, every rush of blood to your arteries, a couplet.

I said to you:
you are the Lord of your own life. 
Bring forth light, banish the darkness—
if you wish it, it will Be.

But now,
the revisionary Messiah,
I say to you:
it is not so.

Poetry is a fickle mistress.
She is tantalising, her hips swaying down the street,
bringing waves of longing like a storm to a ship: wood beckons
the end on water. Now and again, a flash of lightning words,
illuminating a landscape untouched, unexplored, 
beautiful without understanding. But the thunder rolls,
and we are deafened. These words, these lines,
these little rhymes and rhythms that we clutch to us
like blankets to a child: they dissipate, light smothered by darkness.

Poetry is as a storm: she comes as suddenly as she goes,
and Heaven above, she will leave you with nothing if she can.
And Poetry, that woman with the Devil inside of her,
will make sure that you mean nothing until
you have captured the words and wrung them to the page.

Oh, but the lack of pretty sentiments and
heartfelt metaphors in this may not fulfil you.
I warn you, though, you hopefuls with flowers in your hair:

To write a poem,
be ready for war.

a contemplation on devotion

To be filled:

endlessly, again & again.
Overflowing, a fountain
of heartache, desire.
Words erupt like lava
from lips, soft as petals:

these words are beautiful.
Simply said, elegantly whispered,
unassuming as snow. 

They are as paper before ink.

It is only once we think
that they start to sting:
spider bites, bee stings,
a mosquito sucking blood
as a lover may suckle on your breasts.

I do not need to be filled with warm coffee,
with soups, salads & sustenance,
with your tongue & your fingers.
I do not need to be fulfilled by anything
save your gaze:

a moonbeam that shatters my freckled skin.

I simply crave your words of adoration,
and your sleepy, contented smile.

All About Nightmares

Sometimes the dark creeps up on you.

Like the sun setting brilliantly,
the world is full of pink and red and yellow,
and a bursting fiery orange: the colours of life.
Every cloud is tinted, and your skin
is warmed by beauty. You forget about the end.
You breathe in the moment and glory in the light.
Lungs full of life, you sigh, unafraid of losing

And then night falls.
Suddenly you’re standing in a field
where the ground is wet and muddy,
and worms stick to your feet, dust and compost
and everything rotten staining your skin the color of
the end. Sometimes the night can be beautiful,
with the stars and the moon and gentle caresses,
but tonight you are afraid of the dark: a child again,
the Bogeyman under the bed. And everything around you
is black. All of a sudden, you’re left with nothing but memory.

Memory of a dying sun,
and the dark that came before.

You wake up. Screaming.

These Women

There are women out there
who walks with accents,
who limp with a rising crescendo,
their shoulders burdened by 
verbs and nouns and
can you please repeat that?

Around corners
lurk squinted eyes,
probing questions as pointed
as a six-inch needle:
injected right into the heart & soul
of their womanhood.

They’ll end up check-out chicks
in their late fifties, their dark black hair
streaked with lines of bitter years.
They’re the women who wear masks
to cover their gnarled smiles and cracked lips,
applying acetate and polymers to your
nails more perfect than life.
They’re the women you barely glance at:
the women who travelled miles and miles
to invade your suburban paradise,
for just a chance to breathe more freely.

I do not know these women
like their husbands do, the quiet men
with sad eyes and a knowledge that they are the only ones
who see their worth. Nor like their children do,
with perfect English and dark brown eyes,
their skin stained all colours of the rainbow.
I do not know these women.

But they walk, silently,
through our lives, and we use them
as stepping stones
to a brighter, easier future.