from the editors

current issue

past issues



Follow UCityReview on Twitter



Melanie McCabe

The Idea of Heaven

You Knew a Woman


The Idea of Heaven

I don’t believe in it

except when alone, walking
straight into an orange sun
as it eases itself out of the sky
and down into the trees,

as it taints the clouds
with the coral of its passing.
If a gull should cross
that scene, its wings

closing and closing,
and if rays of that sun’s falling
should stretch out to me
like hands extended, like

beckoning, then I will open
my hard heart a little and say
your name, as though, if you still
exist anywhere, it must be here

in this periwinkle tint
of cumulus, in this silhouette
of feather and bone soaring
across light. I call it gull

but it could be any winged thing.
It is not there as bird, after all,
but as emissary. Unfettered
from logic, I confer upon it

your soul—a rumpled, unopened thing
I had not thought fit to unfold,
much less release into the wild.
What I say to the sky might

be thought a prayer, yet I do not
talk to any god, but rather, to you. 
No one overhears me unless
I am mistaken about all of it.

I lift up my myth on the chance
of being wrong, to this heaven
that looks like beauty,
burning. That looks like

the sort of heaven you
would have dreamed, the story
you would have told, if you
had been given the chance.

Return to list of poems

You Knew a Woman

                        (After Roethke)

Because I am contained here, you will not
find me. Your eyes will see what holds me,
but not what is held. I may walk past you now

as an unglazed clay pot, a cardboard box
with movable legs that might astonish you
if you knew how they once danced,

a man’s hands damp against the hollow
of my back, his touch the guide that helped me
find the rhythm. That beat is still in the floorboards,

but the feet learn restraint, shun the unseemly.
The shapes a squat container may contain
are superfluous, a cargo of stones, a hold

freighted with drag. I live alone here,
lonely in my bones. I do not sway, but plod.
And it is I—not you—who must measure time by this.

Return to list of poems


I would still, someday, like to be fathomed, my measure taken
to a sea floor rippling with the luminescent nameless.
Plumbed, I might also long to be combed and delved.

Even at the surface, I have yearned to be stirred and phosphoresced,
cells switched on by passage through of swimmer or craft.
I crave an agitation that my light might be cajoled.

A myth, I might yet be proven true-- an Atlantis rising to rub
her belly against Morocco’s sleeping spine, revealed, possessed
at last by a flag whipping the air of the border I forgot to guard.

Return to list of poems

Melanie McCabe’s nonfiction book, His Other Life: Searching For My Father, His First Wife, and Tennessee Williams, won the University of New Orleans Press Lab Prize, and was published in 2016. She is an English and creative writing teacher in Arlington, Virginia. Her poetry collection, What The Neighbors Know, was published by FutureCycle Press in 2014, and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Library of Virginia’s Literary Awards competition. Her first collection, History of the Body, was published by David Robert Books in 2012.  Her poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. Work is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review. Her work has also appeared on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and in Best New Poets 2010.  Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Shenandoah, Cumberland River Review, Sweet, Barely South Review, and Forge Literary Magazine. 

Return to list of poems

copyright 2010-2019 ucity review