Helen Losse: Snippets of Holiness (A Chapbook)
Snippets of Holiness
A Chapbook of Collected and New Poems
by Helen Losse
I. Poems from Gathering the Broken Pieces (FootHills Publishing, Kanona, NY, 2004)
I want to eat ambrosia,
dine with the gods. Dance.
Seraphim at the gate, velvet-winged.
“A plea is not a call,” says the tallest angel.
“One should not taste of success too soon.”
“Yes. Wait’s a word to ride the wind,”
says another. “And who will know the
mind of God?”
A celestial chorus in a quick response.
And I, reaching upward, raise uplifted palms.
A spurt of boldness: Each—in its own way.
The voices fade, and things I reach for seem too far.
Then just as silence slices through morning,
heaven’s jagged edge cuts my finger to the bone.
first published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature
The Danger of Pretense
The wind ruffles a blue windsock,
slowly—it gathers the courage
to kill. I do not know
the nameless man, loved by God,
whose wife will die in the storm.
Where is the mercy? The stars
do not console the wounded,
nor the sandman the young.
Why, even the storm invites our trust.
Are we a people
apart from the fury?
Today I walked around a patch of violets,
planted together in the yard,
tranquil, beside the rocky path
where their purple belongs. Perhaps
the flowers felt the peace.
I do not know.
Perhaps there was one, off to the side,
that I did not see.
first published in Domicile
Gathering the Broken Pieces
Life flows free in that place
where droplets glisten, where
released their rains.
fingers a part I cannot touch,
soaking deep to the very root, tenderly,
anointing a once-slavish soul.
After the surrender, life:
a gathering of broken pieces.
Stillness? Is that the home
from which I dare not wander?
Today—light, and the spattering
of a wet fern:
in that place I will bask,
though not yet fully yielded,
radiant, in the spring of
first published in Domicile
II. Poems from Paper Snowflakes (Southern Hum Press, Lafayette, LA, 2006)
republished as Mansion On Memory (Rank Stranger Press, Mount Olive, NC, 2012)
The Mulberry Tree
—for Pam and Michael
I think we’re all children when lightening bugs mate
and surely at home in our Mulberry Tree, those branches
lending us sanctuary—for the best of all reasons:
For the three of us at the back of the yard—together.
And our “other brother,” Mike,
who lived across the street with “Muddy.”
And with “Pokey.” And with Renee. For her.
For her, even in high school, when, converting, she
became Lutheran, and, after that, seldom climbed the tree.
It’s my guess she knew, by that time,
that the berries were filled with small, white bugs.
For our having missed that detail,
perhaps due to their smallness, or to ours.
Or maybe they didn’t frighten us like Ol’ Henry did.
For Ol’ Henry, who pushed his wooden cart through the gravel,
his slow gait giving a fearsome drama to our part of Joplin.
For interruptions in the alley during baseball,
where I was a kicking-wanna-be (after Spahnie). I, who
knew major league statistics better than the guys,
stopped mid-wind-up to untangle my limbs,
while old “Tommy” eased his car slowly past each rock
and past the Mulberry Tree that shaded the rock
that was third base. The Mulberry Tree
gave us hands with juicy berries: berries the color of church-carpet.
For leaving the ground like rockets in stealth mode,
or up that tree like chattering squirrels, making plans
for the vegetable can, kicked at night from yard to yard—
hiding, seeking. For bags of locust shells.
The request line, called, giggling, after seven, using
made-up names instead of our own. For those summers,
when childhood gave us the gift of each other.
I should have been in the school-chapel, by ’69—
newly married, in Charlotte, safe in the wide arms of
God. Instead, I’m atop an old Mulberry Tree.
Sure the tree bears fruit: The rooms keep getting darker,
each ascending floor more mysterious.
The floors go up and up.
My friends are my children: Victor and Troy.
Both children become Michael.
And we’re playing with Linda at church, after the meal.
“Mother, May I?” comes softly from whispering lips. Or
are we at the ice cream social,
where, with several saw horses, in the sweltering August heat,
the deacons blocked off Fourth and Pearl? We tip-toed
up rib-coated, baptistery stairs.
And what did we risk by running in church?
Tonight’s sky, like the droning of crickets,
like briquettes in the shadows, bituminous coal,
the cloud-concealed moon,
far, far away—breathing smog.
Tallish trees in the distance
with leaves and trunks feathered into nightfall.
Even the umbrage fades into evening’s soft face.
There’s no color now. No Mulberry Tree.
Just a barrel beneath the elms,
where, two days ago, our neighbor’s cat gave birth to
one stillborn kitten and two that were alive.
At dusk, everything’s black.
I’m not afraid of the dark.
But about midnight, despite well-designed eves,
a pelting rain wets my outstretched legs. Low
flashes of lightening cause me to shiver,
to reach for a blanket, the fern to my left
flex its emerald-bright fronds. At dawn,
an infant sun peeks shyly through.
A row of trees, sky-scraper tall. In the distance:
green leaves, trunks, yellow-brown, drops of liquid silver.
That’s not all from memory though.
Yes, there’s nothing like life in the firefly shadows:
Sometimes I dance with my shadow and sing songs to the moon.
first published in Facets: A Literary Magazine
Summer, Back Then
In my teenage years, I coveted a red bathing suit—$25.00 at Macy’s—
to which my parents said,
“No.” I got one that was blue and cost about half.
If I’d gotten the “better” suit, my life would have been different.
I’d have been wildly popular and at least one cup size larger.
Guys noticed things like that back in the 60s.
first published in Heavy Bear
Standing on the wooden walkway.
Leaning against the rail. Salty air
sticks to my skin.
break against rocks
near the shore. At times like this,
I feel like a child.
My needs are simple:
Someone to feed me fish.
Someone to bring me wine.
Someone to walk on water.
first published in vox poetica
III. Poems from Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, Mount Olive, NC, 2009)
The Triple Evils Presented In No Particular Order
filters through church-window prisms,
striking the cross,
the Hungry One crying out of the dark,
words to the Sacred.
In the dark, no one remembers the sparrows.
An old man dreams
about a cheeseburger and hot fries.
Where will he lay his head?
Left half-dead outside in the cold,
perhaps, through some oversight,
shivering and naked,
with no bowl of hot soup
to warm his belly. Might as well be dead.
Holy candles flicker as they burn.
The old man dreams a valid dream.
Dirty children line blasted streets,
sucking babes who cannot cry,
their parched throats
swelling amid the rubble.
Have they no homes, no mothers?
And, oh God, the men.
Yes, the men. Are they so guilty
as to die for those who govern with
trumped-up creeds, pitting brother against
brother, maiming for life, stealing
divine creation one-by-one?
The world must lock the door
to keep war out, the people safe.
A woman rises from a third row seat
with stomach churning
and lungs that will not fill.
She’s a Pillar of Fire
who wants to burn like
God’s voice at midnight. But ice crystals
cast thin shadows in the place where she’s going
in a room filled with strangers.
There’s no make it plain in the buzz of this crowd.
The woman’s dream is divorced from the cross:
Small embers in fallen leaves,
the Promised Land in the incensed air.
And all she totes are borrowed words.
first published in TimBookTu
Who can deny how gently
tender petals float on the wind?
Yet each day more flowers fall,
withered and dying.
Even the leaves
remain where they drop.
Is this not a sign?
the pinks of summer.
The wind blows colder now
and hardly for the better.
Stiff brown leaves crunch
just where the fog is dancing,
a Rose of Sharon blossoms
from a Virgin’s womb.
And the wonder of it is
it happened just like that.
first published in Domicile
Prayer in the Fog
The morning fog
at the back of the yard—
like the smoke in the mountains,
only thinner and lower—
invites. The fog dances in sun
like my feet to a proper rhythm.
The sun makes golden
the uneven weeds and the grass.
As the sun rises over the right of way,
shadows cause a false elevation
behind the familiar man-made ditch.
I embrace those shadows—
though they may be untrue—
for this is the first morning this week,
I have awakened to a fog so penetrable
I can walk into it and set myself free.
IV. Poems from Kaleidoscope World (published online with Miki De Goodaboom, 2009,
Living In a World
I see Grace in the upper right hand
corner of the picture which may be
under water. Under glass or Plexiglas.
Maybe ice. Bubbles around her face,
hair the fuchsia of flowers. Pictorial
division is vertical, in front of which,
the shadows become women
whose arms are tree branches—
mirrored, stretched, stretching, reflected.
Certainly raised up over their heads.
Some of the trees have green leaves.
This place is “a pressure cooker.”
A world held together by string.
Dominance of Pink
Looks like the world’s imploding,
while some poor soul got shot out
of a chimney. The rest of the people
are rushing toward center. Why
even the trees seek the white-hot light.
Will we recognize the world when
the wind stops blowing, the brush in
the hand still painting its acrylic?
first published in Right Hand Pointing
Better Not To Know
Somewhere a stranger
sits on a hillside. Somehow
a light shines deep in the night.
The man with the purple face
has three fingers on his hand.
He looks upward, face frozen.
A woman raises her arms, cries.
Buzzards slowly gather.
Sometimes it’s better not to know.
When God Looks Like a Snowman
My eyes leave the women—dancing and worshiping—
advance to the water, color and texture of glass,
the light the droplets falling.
At one point I think the women could be mermaids
but abandon that theory along with the one about ice.
The water is blue, green, purple, the women silhouettes.
Then I notice the face—looking upward—
central to the red section, where God looks like
a snowman, blowing bubbles through separated lips.
The power of the breath of God is grace befalling.
And even wonder.
When Worlds Collide
A church stands on a hill behind the action.
I look up at the belfry, the steeple.
The sky is blue and normal enough. In it
is a trail of white, left by a jet.
The side of another building is pictured on the right;
the rest of the town concerns me.
Toys from the junk-yard:
blue, purple, brown, green, yellow, orange.
Only a fence stops plastic town—sliding down the hill—
from crushing yellow flowers.
All the houses are playhouses made from colorful plastics.
They wear tags like Playskool and Little Tykes.
Blue cardboard in front of the fence
forms a monument to childhood.
I’m an old ghost in a tumble-down town.
Miki’s Spanish Village
The bold colors you have chosen
for the trees and the sky and the roofs
invite me to participate in your water
color in a place that is documented
but not interpreted. You have captured
the Spanish village and invite me there.
Your colors explode around buildings—
built at odd angles. Your tree
on the left looks as though a horse is
jumping through it, and the trees themselves
look effervescent. You invite return
to a place I’ve never been.
V. Poems from Seriously Dangerous (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC, 2011)
nominated and long listed for the SIBA Book Prize in poetry in 2012
Fading light filters through
an open window, & from where I am,
I see a pot of dark pink impatiens
under a layer of evening calm. Inside,
a folded newspaper, an odd sock
on the glass coffee table, off to my left.
A balding man sleeps on a green chair,
his forgotten tea, with a small wedge
of lime, going cold in a cup painted with
flowers the same fuchsia-color as those
in the pot outside. A nominal breeze is
present but too slight to alter the picture.
first published in Rusty Truck
Spin, Spin, Spin
The world’s gone where
in a handheld basket?
People with crosses have
We know most are dangerous,
except for the chosen few
God actually likes.
I think not. But what do I know?
I’m just an old soul
wearing nerdy glasses.
Aren’t most of us rather
forgettable in the long run?
And maybe even if the run is
The earth spins, yes?
Spin, spin, spin,
and we have lost the faith of the daisies.
Sweet hickory smoke floats like violets—
or maybe violence—on the wind.
first published in Blue Fifth Review
On the Path to Jericho
On the path to Jericho,
I’m plagued by uncertainty,
“Is the man wearing a top coat
my neighbor?” A girl nudges me,
startles me with gentleness. We dance.
And the way she tells the story,
no one dances alone. “Include
is a verb,” she explains.
“Am I wearing the clothing of a liar?”
I ask. Thankfully, she does not answer.
first published in In the Arms of Words: Poems for Tsunami Relief, limited edition, FootHills
Publishing, together with In the Arms of Words: Poems For Disaster Relief, Sherman
It should be obvious
what happened on the beach
where moonlight called to us
by way of sea-foam the color of oysters—
where rounded sea-rocks bathed, sea-oats blew,
where sand was sculpted by and over time—
where his right hand with its hungry palm
settled itself on my left shoulder, even before
we drank wine the color of juniper berries.
first published in Red Headed Stepchild and nominated for Best of the Net in 2011
On rocks’ underside,
sleeping in soft dirt,
earlywigs roll themselves
into balls. Scent of musty
earth floats upward,
and they scurry to get away—
wishing to live in peace.
How can I justify
this abruptness of sunlight?
Nothing is pure
among thin shadows.
A chill invades me,
and I cast the rock aside,
falling to my knees,
as though my action
might proclaim my innocence.
But who will listen
while I explain—
crying a plaintive cry
to a lonely field
where summer is dying?
Those grubs lie still.
Still. With no premonition
of autumnal joy.
Those grubs lie still
beneath the lifted stone.
first published in Domicile
VI. Poems from Facing a Lonely West (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC, 2014)
The Icicle Passes
A lone jay soars past the icicle
into a corridor of ice and pine,
and I am not so sure
I want to be happy. Yes,
I have thought this through.
Outside my window
a dying teardrop leaks itself
in to a puddle two floors below.
Why does its thawing
remind me of Mummy?
I see myself—lonely as that jay—
reflected in the cold glass.
first published in Domicile
Nothing But Memories
I’m thinking back
on certain teen-age butts,
stuck out the Pink Lady’s open window
near Ft. Fisher on a beach trip. Most of
the adults were very young
and had already painted concrete walls
with that barf-colored primer. We
marveled at the shag carpet squares
glued carefully to the platform
of our multi-purpose room. How
the words of “Jeremiah
[who] Was [actually] a Bullfrog,”
came blasting out
from under the principal’s office door
late weekday afternoons.
A Bible on Dan’s head, we cried ’til we
laughed, laughed ’til we cried.
We’d say, “Merry Christmas,” at each Bible Study.
Sunday nights, we let strumming guitars
make way for grace,
before it all came to an end on Freedom Drive,
quickly or slowly, intentionally or not.
first published in Distillery
(Obsolete) Mare, the April Fragment Poem
The water beneath my feet
rises, and a loon calls from darkness.
When flooding reaches my neck, I panic,
& I’m gagging.
Could I die in a river this blue—
seeing whitewater shoals, thinking of heaven—
puking & choking & hoping? I survey the damage:
Even shadows washed away.
Gypsy-hands hold ancient rivers,
but some wounds won’t
pass the test of time. Some of my wounds
hurry me on toward eternity.
Is it darker than before? The river rocks
look forgettable as do the trees. In the hills are six graves
to pile flowers upon. And I know responding with silence
is one of the most effective tools in truth-finding.
No. I’m not Sylvia Plath. This is no suicide note.
Really. I’ve drunk no scuppernong wine,
sniffed no mercaptan, no model glue.
(It may be a dream.)
I’m not a fortune teller who forgot the importance
of phases of the moon, a teenager without the angst,
a young mother without her child,
the Carpenter from Bethlehem whose followers
all went home. I’m the one who still believes
and like Mary chooses to “ponder [so many] things
in [my] heart.” My plan is, to ride this day to the fullest.
Life bittersweet, I’m going to make Wednesday count
as something wider than a place holder
stuck between two other days.
first published in Referential Magazine and nominated for Best of the Net in 2012
Poetry As Sloe Gin
Poetry is a frumpy man,
who, in my humble opinion,
wouldn’t know a communist,
if one bit him on the butt.
I’ve taken license here no doubt,
since we all know a picture’s value,
when contrasted with mere words.
Poetry’s in the details or their distortion.
Poetry hides in a man’s arm pits,
and maybe in a grilled cheese sandwich
or even under the tomato, off to the side.
Poetry burrows, along with other rebels,
in the spiciness of a side dish. Coleslaw
generates some poetry upon occasion.
Poetry is an English schoolboy with tousled
hair, a jacket, clearly a part of his uniform,
who runs when he kicks a soccer ball and at
various other times. He runs, not because he
is going to chase away someone bad (read;
an Obama-loving socialist), who’s always
lurking by the playground, but because he is
young and running is fun. Nothing hides
in this lad’s torso. Poetry is the whole
of a schoolboy, not one select part.
Poetry is a sultry woman on a chaise lounge,
eating pickles and ice cream.
Playing word games and mind games, she’s
pregnant only with thought.
Poetry’s a Bloody Mary
made from vodka and tomato juice:
orange-red like the setting
of a Carolina sun, a mere dash
of pepper sauce to give tang,
Poetry is a brown field
in autumn: all thorns, no blackberries.
Poetry is sloe gin: all blackberries, no thorns.
first published in Hobble Creek Review and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012
Her Actual Question
The poet wonders
if she can write another poem,
flesh out an image,
wrestle verbs & colors
into believable details,
compile a book
by rewriting poems
to the chagrin
of editors who published them
in earlier forms. She fears
she might crash to the floor
like an aging ballerina, arthritis
having exchanged a pirouette
for the propensity to fall.
But that was another poem.
Her actual question is,
if she writes the words,
I flung a glow-in-the-dark rosary,
won for $2 on eBay
into an oak tree, will anyone care?
VII. Poems from Every Tender Reed (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC, 2016)
Why I should long for
ancient scripts and artifacts?
Search libraries, Internet,
explore dusty catacombs
of religion and history?
I meet century-old saints
whose lives are snippets
of holiness, buried in vaults
beneath forgotten churches
and glorious cathedrals.
I read tidbits of news
from multi-year wars,
unearth a bloody shroud,
imagine other evidence
like one ancient sandal
rotting in dry sand.
Why I should long for
artifacts old and scholarly?
Truth of God persists
throughout the ages,
living today in the humble
Hospitalized in December
I look back,
through silvery linen-shades
on east-facing windows,
black, dotted with fireflies,
especially through the shade
left one-quarter open in my ninth-floor
room. As the city wakes, I realize bugs
are actually street lights, and when
I squint, Matchbox cars creep along I-40.
A siren screams; a truck horn sounds.
The horizon flames: rose-red;
then it changes to rust. Navy blue clouds
navigate through brightening sky; smoke
curls upward. The charge nurse
enters, breaking my chain of thought.
I am accustomed by this time
to the sting of a needle-prick.
And with this particular nurse,
who draws blood on the count of three,
the procedure hurts. It was also she
who inserted my NG tube. A friend, who
had one inserted and kept it in far longer
than mine, called it “waterboarding.”
I pushed my hands under a blanket
to combat my urge to smack,
as the nurse crammed the tube down
so my body would give information.
Drink,” she said. Today I am able
to manage a smile. Today I go home,
where I’ll miss only the Moravian star.
Hauled, on a clear day in late November,
to the twelfth-floor rooftop, its 27 points
shed multiple lumens of light.
Every December the star helps God
and the never-sleeping hospital
keep watch. I walk to the window
to see the star. But tonight, I’ll be home,
surrounded by hallmarks of season:
packages of warmth, stockings of joy,
candles, a tree of love. And the star
will be only a memory.
first published in Pirene’s Fountain
At four o’clock
sunlight strikes the beach.
Sparkles tap-dance in the sand.
Reflections pirouette on water.
A priest studies his missal,
his hands hold it sure, strong.
Should I wonder that his hands
are full of light?
Later in the sanctuary,
the priest sings. Candles burn
in the darkness of Heaven’s
redeeming hour. My mind
reflects on the rectified shadows
of remembered seagulls.
first published in vox poetica (under a different title)
Every Tender Reed
The music is silent now,
and I search for Our Father
in the quiet of evening
on the bank of a salt-water river
where a briny flood of hope
stains the rotting door
beneath the ripped awning
on the side of Manly Jail Works.
Daily an old man comes
to feed captured cats
who live in wire cages. God’s Son
can be found in the adjacent field
full of rocks
& tall red clover. He befriends
the grizzled convict
lying low in that same meadow.
Jesus holds a wiggling toddler,
pets a newborn lamb.
He walks on water. Spirit hides
in every smoldering ember,
in soft-lighted forgiveness
waits for every struggling parent,
high spirited youth,
and tired octogenarian,
for each selfless priest
who burdens himself
by absolving others
and seeks absolution
for his own sins. God wants
to gather every tender reed,
to save every soul from drowning,
even if the water’s deep.
VIII. New Poems
Rainbow of Tenderness
After an unwanted storm of envy,
I toy with the idea
of leaving poetry behind—
writing, say, memoir—
then talk myself out of it
as I speak with a priest.
A rainbow of tenderness follows,
leads me to my own best self,
provides me with purer intentions.
published in an earlier version in Catholic365.com
Life of a White Child
In the “Good Old Days”
when she was three,
Daddy slid down the pole
with her in his arms and
bought Juicy Fruit gum
from the firehouse machine
for them to share. Neither
Daddy nor Mummy told her
about the savage murder
and the dead family’s bodies
found stuffed down a well
not far from their house
that prompted Daddy
to find other work.
One day on the way home
from Jimmy’s Koffee Kup Kafe
where she got a single-scoop
of ice cream in flat-bottom cone,
Daddy talked with a black
Like other five-year olds,
she’d never heard the word “lynch”
and certainly didn’t know blacks
had been “driven from town”
like cattle, packed
onto a north-bound train.
She never wondered,
even in high school,
why Joplin had so few black people.
She hadn’t read the books
or seen archived articles.
She lived the life of a white child,
her yoke light, moon-glittered
like the world beneath the stars.
published in Rusty Truck
After a difficult day,
the priest tosses his collar onto a chair,
drinks a glass of fruit juice, and swallows two
small pills. He yawns but ignores his fatigue
because he knows he needs to pray.
The priest feeds his dog and locks the door.
He takes off his shoes and loosens his belt,
pulls his shirt from the top of his pants
so that fifteen-hour wrinkles fly free.
The priest kneels before a small altar
holding a crucifix, a statue of Mary,
three artificial roses, and his well-worn
rosary. He bows his head, shifts his weight,
takes a deep breath, and utters his first prayer
The Blessed Virgin runs gentle fingers
through his neatly cut hair. She has been
waiting for him to come home and, by now,
has heard enough to know the truth.
Tonight, inside the priest, the shadow of the boy
he once was is winning. Caressing the man
like a child, Mary guides his tear-filled face
into her motherly comfort, then slowly upward
toward God Her Son. Responding to Her love
as he prays, the priest slips his hand into Mary’s.
In earlier years, the priest might have ignored
the Divine, failed to touch Mary’s delicate fingers,
thought the wing of moth or another bug
had brushed him as it flew by, for Mary’s touch
is light, unlike his own and, yes! distinctly other.
Mary, truly his Mother now, will hold him
all night long, as he seeks the wisdom
to sort every burden he must lay down
from those he must surely bear, and later,
when he finally goes to bed, to sleep.
The priest sighs when the clock strikes two.
Both he and Mary know, come morning
he must gather God’s grace once again,
and go forth to do what he must do.
published in Rogue Homilies
How Faith Works
I see flashes of holiness I call miracles:
a butterfly pausing to speak to my heart.
I acknowledge the kiss of cool, stray raindrops,
admire a skunk mother who adopts abandoned
kittens, even a man who acquires a sick dog.
A child humming softly makes me wonder.
Light accompanies my propensity to sin
with its tiresome dualism: that partly truthful
either/or. Tall grass sways as the wind blows.
God requires me to speak well of my cursing,
junk-collecting neighbor I cannot even like,
to be generous with one who might
waste my money, to recognize the power
of His mercy as it extends beyond
the feeding of a sparrow, to collect the grace
that makes faith work.
published in MockingHeart Review