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About this poet

Melissa Range was born and raised in East Tennessee. She received a BA from the University of Tennessee–Knoxville in 1995, an MFA from Old Dominion University in 1998, and an MTS from Emory University in 2005. She is the author of Scriptorium (Beacon Press, 2016), selected for the National Poetry Series by Tracy K. Smith, and Horse and Rider (Texas Tech University Press, 2010). She has received awards and fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rona Jaffe Foundation, among others. She currently teaches at Lawrence University and lives in Wisconsin.

Negative Theology

I get the call about my grandmother. Maybe it is nothing.
A dark spot on a screen: someone says, “Pray that it is nothing.”

On the surgeon’s gurney, swaddled in blue—
she’s lost how much blood? Like you, she weighs nothing.

Pseudo-Denys says to cast off all images, all qualities of you.
So the sculptor chips marble away into nothing.

The preacher speaks over my grandmother,
half her colon gone, where? He lays hands on nothing.

Unlight, Undark, Unfather, Unson,
Unholy of Unholies—all your names stray into nothing.

In the ICU, she vomits everything but the ice.
Unknowing I know her, a body on its way to nothing.

The star points on the monitor collapse to a line,
Ray of Divine Darkness, ray searing all light to nothing.

Cast off all images, even those that seem flesh, seem true.
“Jesus paid it all,” says the preacher. Did he pay it for nothing?

Unmother, Unlover, Undoer, Undone—
like you, she won’t have a name. Two can play at nothing.

My mother calls my name, asks me to pray.
When you’ve got nothing to say, better to say nothing.

Excerpted from Scriptorium: Poems by Melissa Range (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with Permission from Beacon Press. 

Excerpted from Scriptorium: Poems by Melissa Range (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with Permission from Beacon Press. 

Melissa Range

Melissa Range

Melissa Range is the author of Scriptorium (Beacon Press, 2016), selected for the National Poetry Series by Tracy K. Smith, and Horse and Rider (Texas Tech University Press, 2010). She lives in Wisconsin.

by this poet

poem

Before the stepwork and the fretwork,
before the first wet spiral leaves the brush,
before the plucking of the geese’s quills,
before the breaking of a thousand leads,

before the curving limbs and wings
of hounds, cats, and cormorants
knot into letters, before the letters knot

poem

Called crimson, called vermilion—“little worm”
in both the Persian and the Latin, red
eggs for the carmine dye, the insect’s brood
crushed stillborn from her dried body, a-swarm
in a bath of oak ash lye and alum to form
the pigment the Germans called Saint John’s Blood—
the saint who

poem

And not just those disciples
whom he loved, and not just
his mother; for all creation

was his mother, if he shared
his cells with worms and ferns
and whales, silt and spiderweb,

with the very walls of his crypt.
Of all creation, only he slept,
the rest awake and rapt with