Betsy Snider: Poet, Famous Ex-Nun, Lover of all Dappled Things

I Imagine Greece at Noon

I imagine Greece at noon, sun as bright as the moon tonight,
all sharp edges and deep black shadows,
where stones burn the bottom of my feet
on the island of Lesbos as I walk barefoot
on cliffs overlooking the deep azure sea.

Far below, the sea rolls in relentlessly,
gorges on gravel as it slowly eats away the shoreline,
and leaves huge cliffs and rocks strewn along paths
that hug the water. I imagine diving off these chalky cliffs
into the cold water below, clearing my head of the heat.

In my imagination, I can hear the cicadas sing
and feel the dirt and dry grass on my back, as I lie in the sun
and look at a sky clear of clouds, milky-white in the heat.
I feel the sweat make its way down my body,
pool in the small of my back where the touch
of my lover lingers, long after she has left.

           ~ Hope is a Muscle


Perfect Offering

The wings weighed her down.
Hair she had shorn lay like golden
feathers strewn at her feet.
A white cotton cap covered
the stubble left behind.
Sister Josetta placed the crown
of the headdress over the cap
and wings unfurled
past her shoulders, heavy
as the past she had fled.

She thought she’d be free
of her childhood, a perfect
offering in the sight of god.
But the starched cotton wings
were not meant for flight.
As she filed with her sisters
into a chapel bursting
with song, she looked
up to the crack in the rafters
where the light streamed in.


Arrayed in Glory

The first time I saw Sister Mary Andrew,
my future shimmered like the lake in August,
resolved itself into the dark shadows
of a veil where I could hide myself.

Seven years later, I traded doubt
for a blue serge habit and white coif,
garbed in certainty for a god
who had called me in my dreams.

My body folded itself into the silence
of the cloister. Patterns formed,
hymns chanted in the dark, knees bent
in awe, secrets whispered at night.
But over the seasons, despair filled my soul
and loneliness claimed my heart.

One cold day in February,
I walked out, habit neatly folded
on a chair, clothed only in hope
and a second-hand suit,
the faint odor of smoke
knit into its past.



The nights are so long,
without the comforting sound
of breathing in other beds
nearby, close, safe.

I’m in a room grown
unfamiliar after years
among women
who wear caps to bed.

Even the mattress
no longer sags
where my hips
press my grief
in a thin line.

It takes time
to adjust
to a world

It takes time
for wings
to appear
on shoulders
curled in pain.


Angel in Paradise

She stares shyly from the projector
in her first communion dress,
her ghostly image captured
fifty years ago in home movies.
She shrugs off the touch
of her uncle’s hands on her shoulders
where the nubs of ripped wings
are still visible under the straps
of her cotton undershirt.


Pause: The Nun, The Star and God

At the edge of the universe,
where time folds in on space,
I hesitate.

The last dimension wobbles
and a million molecules spin out
of the center.

I run headlong into the child,
the nun, the lawyer and the poet,
a neutron star bursts gamma rays
that sing my name
in silence.



I spin fine strands of forgiveness
and drape them across my mother’s face,
over eyes open but yet blind,
around ears that cannot hear
the whispers of her children.

Stars shed skin beyond the Crab Nebula
adrift in Taurus, before the battle of Hastings.
Gretel bakes cookies of bones and gems
while a priest anoints the crone with ashes
and mercy is scattered like snow in April.

Everywhere, silence gathers threads
of singing birds and night falls black.
I am unwound.



©2015-2022, Betsy Snider