- Shell White, and Tyrian Purple, and Ultramarine
The monk grinds bleach from mollusk-carapace, pestles his basket of beach-combed sea-crumbs so limed hides might beam brighter for the Lamb. Before he paints incipit, interlace, he blenches before the page as if it were the face that he might hope to glimpse in prayer, numb within the blizzard of love that strikes dumb the heart, shell-shocked before the story’s grace. Eyeful of Snow, Dazzling Blank— I believed you once the union of all light and pled the searing of my eyes. Then I blinked. My wool-puller, my white-hot blind spot, I’m washed up, shelled out, your thankless monk, or else the page you’d scour, whitewash, illuminate. [End Page 160]
Because a parchment plain and pale as sails can’t avail gold ink, and because raw silk for empresses must not be the shade of chalk, the murex-fishers bait their wicker creels with cockles, catch and crush the spiny snails, then cut the glands out for two drops of milk— black as clotted blood, expelled when the whelks balk— to make the putrid dye worth more than pearls. Fisher of Men, king of the purple page, before you died, gore matted in your hair, men flogged you, wound you in a purple rag. Ascended, enthroned in Caesar’s attire, your mantle now redeems you with his wage: twelve thousand deaths upon the shores of Tyre. [End Page 161]
Beyond the blue scum sea, miners assault lazurite and pyrite, a blue-gold beam, pry from limestone caverns the lapis seam for the shade that painters’ patrons so exalt to hem the Virgin’s mantle, foam the Vault where she’s fixed like a lodestar or a gem. Mixed with wax and turpentine, by the dram this powdered stone costs more than gold or salt. Stella Maris, Blue-Eyed Lady of the Whale- Road, God tore your veil into the seas that hide Leviathan’s blue fluke and flail, the skies that hold the sailor’s compass made of ice-trussed stars. You’re vessel of the swell, and all the deep will be your swaddling clothes. [End Page 162]
Melissa Range’s first book of poems, Horse and Rider (Texas Tech University Press), won the 2010 Walt McDonald Prize in Poetry. Range is the recipient of fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poems have recently appeared in 32 Poems, Image, and Subtropics, and have been anthologized in Best American Spiritual Writing. Originally from East Tennessee, she’s finishing up her Ph.D. in English at the University of Missouri.