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 picked brittle locusts for food,
whose blood became the germ of a crimson storm.
Christ of the pierced thorax and worm-red cloak,
I read your death was once for all, but it’s not true:
your kings and bishops command a book,
a beheading, blood for blood, the perfect hue;
thus I, the worm, the Baptist, and the scarlet oak
see all things on God’s earth must die for you.
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.