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)

Voices

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.

The hills?

The rocks?

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

mean-spirited clouds

released their rains.

Dampened pigmentation

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

life’s possibility.

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

1

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.

2

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?

3

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

**

Perspective

Standing on the wooden walkway.

Leaning against the rail. Salty air

sticks to my skin.

Ocean waves

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

1

Frosty moonlight

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.

2

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.

3

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

**

Destiny

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?

Gone—

the pinks of summer.

The wind blows colder now

and hardly for the better.

Stiff brown leaves crunch

just where the fog is dancing,

but look—look,

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

for Lisa

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,

2014)

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.”

Precisely.
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

Dual Perspective

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

various purposes.

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

not-so-long.

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

Asher Publishing

**

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

**

Absolution

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,
to punctuate.

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)

Discovery

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

yellow dandelion.

**

Hospitalized in December 

I look back,

through silvery linen-shades

on east-facing windows,

at Winston-Salem,

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

**

Reflections

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,

every candle-flicker.

The Comforter

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

motorcycle cop.

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

**

Surrender

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

from memory.

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

****

Author: Dead Mule Staff