Catch a Falling Knife
By. Nika Cavat
*This poem was inspired by Cavat’s incarcerated female students
She had a baby only two weeks ago
2 pounds, 6 sticks of butter, a sack of flour
a bowl of apples, a bag of caramel sugar, 2 pounds of a girl.
She weeps into the bowl of her hands
her breasts full, her womb, a spent sack
her baby, no bigger than a pup...
Child, where does your heart fly while you sleep?
What colored sand do you eat and
what water do you sculpt your dreams from?
How does such a tiny baby sound as she
swallows her mother’s sorrow --
What of the smallness inside such smallness –
what giant lies sleeping inside of you,
what deep oceans, what unfathomable nebulas
flash behind your translucent eyes?
And what does such a brief life feel like
as it passes through you, her name, her skin,
the one, two pulse/punch, faster than sound and
silence together. And who was there
to cup you in the palm of their hands,
child, to catch your pulse as it left your body,
and what solace did you seek as they
saw fit to drag you off to detention hours
after her limp body was pried from your hands?
Who caught and held you as you wept,
who lay beside you until you could fall asleep --
what tendrils of love and devotion protect you
now in your cell, in your sorrow, in the sweat of summer,
in the arc of light that shines from the bright
cathedral of your brain?
You tried to baptize yourself in toilet water and
As guards dragged you away, you cried Mama, Mamita
As though she could hear you through steel and brick.
You have a good twin, the one your own mother chose over you
She set the table precisely, kept her body covered,
and never raised her voice.
You, unbaptized until you were thrown in the Halls
with the mark of Cain on your forehead, charcoal in
your eyes, a leveler at your hips to gauge
the sway as you drew boys to you like metal shavings.
Your mother told lies to the court – she even
wore your clothes to the hearing, taunting you.
Beat you at 6, locked the door and changed her number,
She set you on a circular journey from stranger to stranger
and when you write about what happened, the
story tattooed in your womb where you can still feel
your baby afloat in the fluids of pre-life,
you write in the smudged lines of a broken pencil:
I love her because she is my mother.
Nika Cavat is a poet and teacher who has worked in both documentary and feature films. Born in Rome and raised in both Europe and the United States, she received her graduate training in film, screenwriting and directing from Columbia University. Nika’s critical essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous print and online publications including Poetic Diversity, Oberon Review, 3.1 Venice, Independent School Magazine, amongst many others. Her first book of poetry, The Braille That Is Love was published in 2013. She was a featured poet/presenter in the Santa Barbara Womens’ Literary Festival in March 2015. Cavat has conducted both educational and writing workshops nationally. She is a long-time English teacher at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA, was a volunteer teacher through InsideOut Writers in Central Juvenile Hall in East L.A. and for Safe Place for Youth, a drop-in center for homeless youth in Venice Beach, CA. She is currently writing a memoir on her diverse educational experiences.