What’s God’s intention? What is out there that we cannot see? In her new book of poems, Seriously Dangerous, Helen Losse meditates on God, Jesus, the passing of time, prayer, racism, and injustice, as well as the nature of sin, faith, and redemption. In these serious poems, the titles of which represent both themes and places, Losse plays with the opposites of light and dark, inner and outer, and urban and rural, using evocative but accessible language and understated rhymes.
Her considerable knowledge of Christianity, specifically Catholic church history and its customs, informs many of her poems, resulting in frequent employment of Christian metaphors and symbols. Readers who are less familiar with Christian history and theological specifics may not connect with all of Losse’s references. Fortunately, the poems work on several levels, also integrating familiar subjects such as weather, the moon, and candles.
Losse introduces her work with two epigrams, one from Oscar Wilde (“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all”) and the other from scripture (“God is light and in him no darkness” from I John, 1:5), which set the tone for what is one poet’s search for God’s presence in ordinary objects.
In the titular poem, “Seriously Dangerous,” Losse drives readers to the Deep South’s memories of racial injustice as the poem references Jesus’s crown of thorns (“the prick of a thorn”) and baptism in the last line, “nor wash us clean, till truth bleeds.” Losse is at her best when she employs specific images such as “old dryers bob beside alligators.” The cover art for the book is the image of a burning cross, a central motif that particularly comes alive in the line “Seriously dangerous,/ the cross without a savior.” The poem in its entirety:
The evening begins with kudzu—
summer memories submerged
in a deep southern swamp—
where spirited black boys, old dryers
bob beside alligators. Late in hot night,
flashes of yesterday surface in pain
like the prick of a thorn, the mock
of a crown that continues its burn.
Low whispers, deep shadows remain
where trials by fire have left actual trails
after a tromp in slime & muck,
with tell-tale footprints from society’s
work boots. Seriously dangerous,
the cross without a savior—
deniable today, but for masks, hoods—
cannot burn away filth & dross,
nor wash us clean, ’til truth bleeds.
Central to Catholic ritual, candles represent hope, loss, and the Holy Spirit. In “Candle,” the speaker remarks on valuing the ugly the same as the beautiful.
I do not avoid spots where leaves now decay—
virtual ghosts of their green-spring existence
in rain on city sidewalks and ominous shadows—
and fall, when the moon’s orange light glows
soft as an ember. I light a candle on Friday,
autumnal wind chilling, as we wait in unspoken prayer.
Losse is “an old soul/ wearing nerdy glasses,” who won’t let go of her hope, perseverance, and patience no matter the challenges in this world. Her poems reflect her deep beliefs and faith, how she recognizes God in nature and the power of stillness. But watch out—there’s an undercurrent of violence in God’s beauty that may strike at anytime. Losse seems to suggest that the best way to face this world is to pay attention to the wind, the snow, and the rain, as well as to acknowledge and perhaps eventually make peace with our dangerous personal and historical pasts.