Melanie McCabe

Five Poems

Volume 15:2
Spring 2014

In a Handbasket

River cane would make a snug ride, or maybe
the black rushes of a Gullah sweetgrass,
but if I am going, (and it seems as though

I might,) I’d like to choose my own conveyance.
Pine needle or willow, cattail or bamboo—
(if I went in a basket of bamboo, I could soothe

myself by chanting, softly, Bamboo, bamboo,
bamboo, for surely hell would seem
less sinister with that charm of b’s on

my tongue.) I thought at first, no matter
the method—whether coiled or twined, woven
or plaited—but it seems now that coils

would be a coward’s way. Too easy
to burrow down and not look out on mayhem.
Better the burden of a weave with holes

for peering through—a wicker transport.
Certainly not the blindfold offered by those
Nantucket baskets with their scrimshawed lids;

I won’t go quaking in shadow beneath a pretty
cover of etched ivory or bone. I should know
where I am going. Color is incidental. No need

for the stark white and black the Hopis wove
from sun-bleached yucca, the dark seed pods
of Devil’s Claw. No pigments, dyes or paints,

for I prefer the earth tones of Indonesian vines,
or the bulrush grasses of the low country.
If I need a comfort on my way, give me

that scent of rattan that wafts from every
emporium of the Far East, or the clean balm
that lingers where dunes bar the sea.

Let this final going be the one act in my life
to which I give ample and deliberate thought.
Let me dally a long time, choosing.


Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel

The grand is tipped on its side. Octaves old enough
to be ivory ascend into air that is empty of dancers.
The lid is missing, looted for some vagrant’s fire:
African cherry or maybe East Indian rosewood, crackling
into ash to thaw fingers. Treble strings, then bass, then
soundboard, tilt toward the ballroom’s carved dome.
All else is blue rubble, dulled gold, glass shards made
glitter by the streetlamp through arched windows.

How do I stop from imagining the couples clinging,
twirling beneath the chain that once held a chandelier?
How do I ignore the woman who surely leaned in sequins
here across the glossy wood to shape notes that rose
and broke against mirrored light? Even in the stilled
shambles, something beautiful remains. Of all the images
of this aching city, this is the one I keep coming back to,
the one that I send to you instead of words.



The wind that bends the pin oak to the bedroom glass,
that pries my porch roof jagged from the torn flashing
to betray how little stands between me and rain, will be

your wind tomorrow. Moving east in gales, it’s bound
to whip up whitecaps on your Atlantic; to lash the flags
along the boardwalk till they clang, metal grommets

and snap-locks against metal poles; to tangle the kites
aloft beside the Henlopen. The bench we sat on will be
spackled in salt. Dune grasses will buckle and succumb.

That wind will have to suffice, will have to be my envoy.
If it whines against the eaves that cover your sleep, agitates
the composure of Silver Lake and the inlet, my bidding

will be done. If it whistles in window cracks as you drive
Route 1 past the Great Marsh Preserve, or cries down
Broadill Road until you reach the end, and then, draws in

a ragged breath to let it out against your ear, the dumb pulse
of your throat, there will be no need for me to break my word
or utter one. There will be nothing new that I could add.


Shannon Riley, "Suburban Glow," oil on canvas, 2014.

Shannon Riley, “Suburban Glow,” oil on canvas, 2014.

The Way Back

If ever I live as a bird, my bet is on corvine.

Why cavil whether raven, jackdaw, jay, when
we both know, at feathered heart, I am

crow, clearly. Black envoy railing against
a white day. Wire-walker, bider, skulker on

the edges of a murder. Or magpie, maybe,
but only because of an eye for shine, this knack

of knowing my face in a glass. Perch-and-wait
are already my custom; I need learn only

flight, the itch and flex at the scapulae where
wings will sprout, then beat and tether me

to air instead of earth. It is true I counted this
morning two finches, three hawks, five crows

and sparrow after sparrow while I paused to watch
sunlight shake on a wet rosebush; it is true

I have been listening to this narrow world, and know
the way trees full of hidden callings make one

long to answer, though I tend more to caw
and squawk than song. No accident, I think then,

these bird dreams, this brooding, now, with no one near
I love, my arms empty and good for nothing,

and the only way back to you an open, unwritten sky.


What’s Waiting

I know what I will come home to: a quiet unlike
the quiet we have lived in for so long on our separate floors,
a quiet as deep as a well no one would dream of throwing
a penny into, a silence that cannot be interrupted by
the clinking of dishes and silver, by water moving
through walls, by the footsteps and key turnings
that passed for a marriage.

The bedroom will be bigger, the rug bluer in new
rectangles revealed by what you are taking:
dresser, night stand, wicker chest. Your office, which
held nothing of mine, will be an emptiness waiting
to be remade or left to spiders. I have lost track of all
that you brought with you, things I have held
for so long as my own that I have forgotten

they are not, but you will take pains to remember.
I will come home to a house now wholly mine—
plaster and brick complicit in the deed of hiding me.
This is the way tissue is reabsorbed by a body.   This is how
footprints are swallowed by new snow on old.   I have been
true to this house.  It is a comfort to know, at last, that I
have held on to something that does not want to let me go.


Melanie McCabe is a high school English and creative writing teacher in Arlington, VA. She is the author of two books, What the Neighbors Know (FutureCycle Press, 2014), and History of the Body (David Robert Books, 2012). Her work has appeared in Poetry Daily, Best New Poets 2010, The Georgia Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Shenandoah. McCabe's work has also been included in two Bedford-St. Martin's college textbooks.