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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Melanie McCabe

History of the Body

What was the body before we named it?

When the skin's pale plane across our ribs was as thin
as rice paper, barely restraining the industry
of the heart and lungs. When the gawky legs
were a means, a transport, and sometimes wholly
animal, translating easily into a canter, into stalk
and pounce. When the throat could whinny or growl.

What mattered then was engine, and not what held it.

Through tar-hot summers, in and out of weeds or the red
clay along the train tracks, there was no body separate
from the self. It was simply the border, the quick sketch,
the outline that made us visible. We lived inside it
as we lived inside our names. At night in our baths,
the body obliged us with gills, with shimmer and fins.

It was only later that it became an accessory. And later still,

a blemish to conceal. There were mirrors everywhere and we
fell into them. There were other eyes and we learned we could
see through them better than through our own. We outgrew
stick figures. Our clay rounded, became other, like a thrown pot.
We ran only to avoid arriving late -climbed merely to look down,
to feel relief that we were not on the bottom.

We move toward eviction, toward learning if the self

can live unhoused. Naked. If we can go on without edges,
or if there will be nothing to learn- if there will remain only
a clean slate that will be clean always, a slate we cannot imagine,
much less write on. But for now, dream something to keep knowing
at bay. Dream that we diffuse like the scent of gardenias after rain-

sweet, unbound, no longer part of the blossoms that held us.

Garden in Rain

Were we ever here in rain, my shoulders beading droplets,
the Ellipse staccato with tiny white explosions?

The mossy bricks that lead me in are slippery, dangerous.
I circle the fountain, searching, and come back

to where I start; you are everywhere and nowhere.
I go as deep as I can down the steep paths, even though

the rain pelts harder, though the wind gusts and carries
the pang of roses. My face is slick with storm, my clothes

so wet I am naked. Maybe something will happen to me
again. If I go farther into the garden, maybe something

will happen. Wisteria vines in the arbor twine over
me, salivating rain. At the pool to the east, below

the Fountain Terrace, I watch two lovers lean into
each other's mouths, and I ache with that bloom, unable

to turn away. Years ago, when we opened into our
clasped bodies, limbs and tongues hot in the hot day,

did some passing woman envy us as much as I now
envy them? I am invisible here, a ghost that can slip

through the arch of tossing silver maples, through
the stands of upright Irish yews. The humid air beats

with bluebells, gardenias and lantana- scents so much
older than this day. It is more than you that I have lost.

Under Wisteria

In the arbor under wisteria, a peace that belies
the vine- a cool green pact with a devil.

Furtive, its shoots slither overnight, a strangle
of twist and creep, but here in this asylum

from heat, a truce between cutter and cut.
Pendulous blooms spill over the roof, a purple

fountain; what is parched enters and comes away
slaked. The shade sequesters and the voices

are kept beyond it. But the gardener here
keeps a vigil; weekly the vines must be pruned

or riot wins: shoots and runners all amok,
a lush maw opening and closing. And closing.

In the arbor, the vigor of the vine is restrained,
held at blade edge, but always breathing,

waiting for a blink, a lapse, a slumber. Who
comes here for quiet hears also those lungs,

root-hidden. Who comes here for stillness
steals it between one pulse beat and the next.

Window Dressing

Pulse has no more say. There are only grooves and fittings,
and so she twists and bends the body to do her bidding
a while longer - blows air into the painted mouth

and wedges deep in the coiled ear a few desires to keep
the hinged whole oiled, poised for that thing that will surely
happen next, if only she can wait long enough. She is

window-ready, hands aloft, just as though there were really
someone to fit beneath the curved fingers, nails lacquered
red to throb blood-thoughts through all that white. Yes, she will

have this dance, then another and another. Before the glass,
a buzzing dark the only sentry, juncture and coupling do not
yet fail. For now, even the tricked-out soul swivels and obeys.