Sonnet for an unnameable emotion

Far easier to say what it is not! 
It is not fear, nor apprehension bleak;
Anxiety is likewise term unsought;
Too negative those words all sound to speak.
Pain fills the gap between what is and what
Is wanted. I am open, free of need,
Held unattached to any outcome but
Still hopeful for the sprouting of the seed.
If staring at the edge of the unknown
Is standing on a cliff debating depth,
Uncertainty of fate I hold alone
As company to take that plunging step.
I feel as though I'm screaming without breath,
Embracing change as life, and stasis, death.
-Elena Nola

Perhaps

I want to matter most to someone
She confessed
Shyly and a little sadly

All I could do was
Tell that lost little girl
Inside myself

You matter most to me
Perhaps, someday,
It will even be enough
-Elena Nola

Come Down Loneliness Like a Friend

You never used to come alone
Your ways all mingled up with theirs
A wild, wicked trio, bad boys one and all
Loneliness, Abandonment, Despair

You’d crash in unannounced
And leave my house in shambles
You’d take and take and take
Take and never give
You’d take my time and steal my peace
Destroy hard-built contentment
Palm my hope and thief my joy
And leave me colorless and crying

I have learned to lock my doors
Against the ones would hurt me
As I have learned to keep an eye
On what my visitors encroach
Perhaps, you, too, have grown and changed
Cut ties with dark companions
Learned to knock and learned to go
When the hour grows too late

So come down, loneliness, like a friend
Bring news of what I’m missing
Put an arm around my shoulder
While you tell me where you’ve been
Help me remember how to yearn
And long for something more
Give knowledge for the time you take
Change nothing but awareness
And kiss me gently on the cheek
When soft you take your leave
-Elena Nola

Nirvana Bourbon

Another perfume poem. This one was published in the spring 2020 edition of Thimble Literary Magazine, volume 2.4.

“Nirvana Bourbon”

The smell of the glue I used to repair my shattered self
Isn’t the carcinogenic burn of polymers, but vanilla
Not the pods, but the extract, boozy and opaque
Sharply alcoholic but too thick to be a cocktail
A tarrish smear between broken edges
The scent pervasive because I used a lot of resin
Not from overapplication—there were just so many pieces

The drying fumes were many things to my mosaic soul
Warmth and beauty, the comfort of familiar
The solace of tradition and the escape from memory
Deliciousness, exoticness, expensiveness, permissiveness
I used them all to tether mind to body, heart to chest
For a time I was more glue than woman, more dead than living
The channels of adhesive no substitute for veins
I hovered in the cloud above my curing skin
Taking refuge in vanilla, and hiding in the lie
That if I could still find beauty, then I must be all right
-Elena Nola

Like Roses in November

I am slowly writing toward a collection of poems about the interplay of the scent, comfort, and beauty of perfume as a sensory anchor for me during some of the hardest years of my life. This poem is one of them. It was published in the "Autumn" 2019 edition of Songs of Eretz. 

“Like Roses in November”

There's a certain kind of sadness
To roses in November 
Flowers blooming in a world 
That otherwise is dying
The color more intense 
For its contrast to the brown
The living edged with danger
With winter coming on
For what will freezing nights inflict
On saturated branches?
The beauty melancholy-cast
For it will not last the month
The end of all its glory,
Already past its prime 
But still it dominates the landscape,
All its rivals now outshone
Today it yet is beauty
The future not yet come
-Elena Nola

Roses and Thorns

Four interlocking poems, published in 2019 at Mammouth Poetry which has an “all or nothing” acceptance policy. You can go read them over there (always appreciated, along with the rest of the issue) or continue below.

This set of poems was written in late 2017, and the imagery of their metaphor has become firmly embedded in my personal cosmology and symbolism.

“Roses and Thorns”

A poetic sequence

I
Born on a bed of roses
Amidst sheets of petals
Into the embrace of thorns.
When piercing barbs are omnipresent,
They do not feel like pain;
They feel like home.
“Look at the beauty,” they say,
And point to the blooms.
Such softness.
Such fragrance.
Such color –
Vibrant riots of life –
And it is, indeed,
Beautiful.
That is life in the briar patch:
Unrecognized pain, and a profusion of wonder.
Is it any wonder, then,
That no one sees the blood?

II
“Those thorns become you,”
Come the insidious whispers
As the vines wrap around
Wrist, or
Thigh, or
Throat,
Black lace over moonlit skin,
Natural as midnight shadows,
And just as prone to lies.
The pretty patterns never show
The pricks and scrapes of thorns,
The praiseful words dismissing
The pain and sense of fear
As the vines sink under
Skin, or
Flesh, or
Vein,
Tattoos under gothic parchment,
Embedded horror as concealed
As sin or tarnished name.
The pulsing tracery of veins
Never seems macabre;
The twisting vines concealed
By smooth and youthful skin
As the thorns push into
Nerves, or
Blood, or
Bone.
Bruises beneath silver satin,
Blooming heirloom roses,
Petals made of blood.
The thriving lines of green wood
Twine around the limbs
And furl their leaves on bone
As the thorns
Become
You.

III
A slash of parting skin,
A welling pearl of red –
No. Not a jewel.
A rosebud.
As the vein opens wider,
The flower unfurls
En futuro rapiditas,
Taking only moments
To burst in scarlet blossom,
Beauty blooming out of anguish,
So striking and so shocking,
No one sees the damage.
No wonder it attracted
A lover of the dark
Who placed the color masterfully.
Death by a thousand cuts,
A mosaic of red roses
Making art from torment.
The saddest figure ever drawn
Of a woman wrapped in garlands:
Every petal paid with pain
And no observer ever wiser.

IV
Skin so soft and softly pale,
Cream lit by winter’s pallid sun,
Barely more than white.
But in the blinding summer blaze
The truth can’t be unseen;
It bears a maze of pearly blight –
Scars in shapes of roses.
A garden can be traced across
The canvas of her flesh.
There a vine and here a thorn,
Blooms and buds and crossing bowers,
A bounty of those ghostly flowers.
A ghastly tale told without words
But only in their absence.
Rosebush embedded under skin,
Excised by pulling it from bones.
Up through muscle, out through nerves,
A desperate screaming purge.
How great the pain inside herself
To suffer that extraction?
How long did healing take to render
Gaping slashes into welts
And welts to moonlit tracings
Of pain that once but is no more?
Her skin is lovely, soft and smooth,
Flawless at first glance,
But lovelier by far when eye discerns
What lies beneath to glimpse
The horror in her past.
Born into a bed of roses,
Its seeds left in her soul.
She walks outside its confines now;
Nothing lives in her, but her.
She is but what she appears:
A dark and pale beauty
With roses in her hair.

-Elena Nola

The Alchemist

This poem is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. It’s a perfect form Petrarchan sonnet, and a poem that was adapted into that form from free-verse after I realized I had written 15 lines in something approaching iambic pentameter and with a very obvious question/answer.

It was originally published in Riddled with Arrows issue 2.3, Objects and Artifacts, in November 2018.

“The Alchemist”

No pointed hat nor sweeping robe required,
Nor lonely lamp-lit tower stabbing sky.
No pedant’s cant, archaic chant to ply,
Nor pestles filled with mortared coal expired.
The iron discipline of midnight fires
And winding dark roads walked alone, though, aye;
Unflinching yen to face the truth of why,
And burning will to manifest desires.
All I need for alchemy is my quill
And paper blank. I dip it in my vein
Of sorrow, let my sadness over-spill,
Transmuting into words my darkest pain.
A minor compensation for my ills,
To pages, not my soul, leave thusly stained.

-Elena Nola

“You Are the Commodity, Your Time Is the Coin”

Or, “It’s OK to Simply Be Sometimes”

Everyone in the world keeps asking me for my attention
My time for their words, idea, perspective
My focus on what they made
Because they hope to change me
Some days I feel willing to be changed

But lately all I want is to heed the call of the dew on the garden
Still in shadow from the rising sun
To sit with the birdsong
And the warming cloak of silence
And let myself stay exactly as I am
-Elena Nola

The Tarot Tree in Riddled with Arrows 2.2!

I am very pleased to share that my first online publication was with Riddled with Arrows, a journal of meta-writing and meta-poetry that is just lovely and fun for people who like writing and writing about writing (and maybe even writing about writing about writing…it’s writing all the way down!). For those of you who know anything about my undergraduate program, Plan II at UT Austin, you know meta is like…Our Thing. Or, at least, it was, 15 years ago. I assume it still is, because, some things don’t change.

Anyway.

I’ve also always been drawn to poetry and writing that acknowledges itself as such. I would never want it to be the only thing I read, and certainly not the only thing I write…but I am supremely self-referential and have to keep a conscious throttle on not inserting myself into everything, not demolishing the frame that holds the picture as if it is truth. Look through my eyes becomes impossible if authorial self is present, if a reminder that this imaginary object is imaginary is inserted. So often I remove such lines when they sneak in, or choose not to write from that angle, and when I find something I cannot not write from that angle, I wonder who would ever want to read it besides me? It is pretentious, is it not, to talk about one’s work within the work?

But sometimes there is a value in calling a spade a spade. Some things cannot be said obliquely, but only with direct acknowledgment of medium. And thus, my contribution to Riddled with Arrows Issue 2.2 “The Invisible World”.

Updated 2021 to include the text of my poem here, but I encourage you to go read it and/or the full issue over there!

* * *

“The Tarot Tree”

One picture might be worth a thousand words,
But what of things that eyes alone can’t see?
The staggering display of tree surfeit with fructed life—
The Empress in complacent bounty sits
Her red and gold and green, and peace,
O’erlaying limbs of taupe and umber fountaining.
An incandescent cloak of purest green
Like water’s spray, translucent in the sun,
The streaming gold behind it limning leaves with halos bright.
No image ever could quite capture
Both figure and suggested form.
The lines could never strike you thus
Across all time and space.
But words can hold both tree and queen
Entwined into one aspect new,
For words reveal what image can’t:
In words appears the mind.

-Elena Nola