Muriel S. Lipp, Kathryn S. Cochrane, Kathryn J. Tobias, Alan Dragoo and Kate Amoss: Poetry

Sermon of 11 July 1999 by Muriel S. Lipp, Kathryn S. Cochrane, Kathryn J. Tobias, Alan Dragoo and Kate Amoss.


[Every couple of months, a group of Seekers get together to read their poetry. This week’s sermon was a poetry reading.]


The babe's face and body
are those of a small adult–
dark skin, aquiline nose.
Russian or Greek, the mother
and child are defined by soft
lines, bright gold haloes, red
and blue robes, yet
the child's helplessness

clinging to his mother's cheek is
universal. Exotic symbols inhabit
the painting's corners. If you look
at it long it enters you. Here is Everywoman
with Child, yet no woman you've
ever met. You worship without

meaning to. Long ago we smashed
these for their power of gentleness
and strength. They made us kneel
though Moses said, "Thou shalt not."
Mother of God, God Child,
I do not know what to make of

Muriel S. Lipp 

You, David…

… groveling in grief invite me in. How
we repeat the names we gave them. These
and memories are all we have. "Absalom,
my son, my son Absalom…
Absalom, my son, my son…
Several millenia and a bell
still tolls this litany as though today.

You, David,
wily and compassionate,
poet      warrior
     shepherd      king
          lover      murderer–
what can I make of such extremes?
But when you as parent speak
the language of forsakenness,
I know it well. Did you not write
poems when all other parlance failed?

Friend of all bereaved parents,
whose words become our own,
"my son, Absalom… if only I had
died instead of you."

Muriel S. Lipp 

        A crow calls             Nuthatch whispers         Flickers squawk             A red tail does his "kyeer"          Chickadees sing their name         
        Here in the edge of the woodland             a tickseed sunflower             brightens the waning days of September         
                            The heat of the early autumn                                afternoon weaves thru                                   touches of cool         
        My heart is heavy             as 1 come to grieve for losses             at home                where trees fall                and ducks fly away.         At least for a moment here             there is a measure of reassurance             that God still cares         
        Rich here         Diverse         A weaving tapestry             of God's good creation         And a place         Allowed to remain that way             So much for the property                back home                in the neighborhood            where even as I sit                here                giant claws             make way                for monster houses 
        God deliver us from the             awfulness             of "bigger progress"              that only keeps on               destroying                   nesting ducks                   wading herons                   osprey catching fish                   and flycatchers                       doing their insect                           catching loops         
         Close to home             it hurts             it is grief          And it moves me             to sadness and despair 
        God--get me thru this             so I can continue             to engage in the battle             to preserve your earth. 

Sept. 24, 1993
at Huntley Meadows
Kathryn S. Cochrane

        I had to leave today             I could not stand               the wrenching sound                   of saws               and giant clawed                   bulldozers               tearing down                   ripping up                      destroying               every vestige of a hill and                   valley                   covered with trees                that I have lived                   with               for twenty-four and one half years. 
        The grief is too much for me             Each time I step outside               it wrenches                   the whole essence                      of my being            And before my eyes                floats that                  vision of mountains                      of brown                         raw                         earth. 
        Nausea         Grief         And weeping 
        Anger at governments             that care only about             big money                and the                thing                called "progress".          Their eyes are blinded           and they do not see                   or hear.         But at what an awful cost             for ecosystems                neighborhoods               community                   and life. 
        Grief is the only way to spell it.  

Sept. 24, 1993
at Huntley Meadows
Kathryn S. Cochrane

As many of you know, a group of Seekers and students from St. Andrews School n Potomac has just returned from South Africa, where we visited our friends, the MUKA Project. We met the MUKA Project last summer when they came here to perform Roy Barber's play, "Gift."

I'm happy to report that they are doing very well and I was struck again by how often they and other South Africans introduce themselves and then tell the meaning of their names. Names are important to them.

While they were here last summer, they told me about a place whose official name is "Weiler's Farm"–a place where many South African blacks were forced to live, a place with no amenities and no way to make a living. I can say that many are still having to live that way, with education, employment, and health care in short supply. Those who live on Weiler's Farm have taken to calling it by a more meaningful name, "Thula Mntwana." "Thula" means "quiet" or "peace" and "mntwana" means "child," so the translation is "Be quiet, child." There's no use crying, in other words.

The word "thula" is also familiar to us as part of the name of one of the MUKA Project members, Nokuthula, whose name means "Mother of Peace."

So this is a poem I wrote when I met the MUKA Project last summer:

Be Still My Child

You, cardboard shantytown,
Spit out your name:
Thula Mntwana–
"Be still my child."
Flyspeck of homelands,
Dustbin of apartheid.
"Give me your poor
Who yearn to breathe free,
The wretched refuse
Of your teeming city,
Send these, the tempest-tossed to me
And I will make them

O little no-town of Be-Still-My-Child,
How still, how uneasy you lie.
Your edges ooze out with
Each urban eviction,
Each distant conviction
A cancer nearby.
Rabid growth here,
Dry rot over there,
Homeless, your children
Lie sick in your dust ruts,
Dying mundanely
Hour upon hour.
No room in the inn,
No hospice nearby,
No car to take them
To anyplace far,
No one even there
To go look for a car.
No shelter,
No shepherd,
No star.

Be still my child,
No one is listening.
Lie about listless.
Sleep dreamless sleep.
Until Nokuthula,
The Mother of Peace,
Comes to teach you to dance.

Kathryn J. Tobias 
June 10, 1998

On the MUKA Project's last day here, we went to the beach, and danced in the waves, and as we looked out to sea, Brian–or Goodwill–said, "If we had a boat, we could sail straight home from here." Not long after that I had a disturbing dream, and somehow the dream and the beach experience came together in this poem:

The Launching

In my dream
A jeep speeds up the road,
Screeches to a halt
Between two parked cars,
Jamming right tires over the curb.
Man jumps out, carrying a razor-sharp black steel spear
Like a harpoon from a harpoon gun,
Runs across the busy street
Tossing the spear nochalantly in the air.
"He could hurt someone with that thing,"
I'm thinking.
Suddenly he launches it high into the air
And it arcs down
Straight through the chest of a young man
Bystanding in the street.
Everyone screams,
"Call 911!"
As the young man falls.

In the middle of the night
When your heart is broken down,
Rise and pray
Rise and pray
Rise and pray.

We are broken,
Hearts broken down.
Waves break,
We break in the waves.

We stand on the shore,
Toes in the water,
Our immensity stretching out before us
Vast as the distance to Africa,
Our immensity coming to get us,
Lapping at our feet, banging our knees,
Knocking us over,
(We miss the jetty–
Washing us on out,
On out, on out, on out,
Past the jetty,
Past the nearby and far out swimmers,
Past the dolphins,
Past the sailboats and the freighters,
Past all that is familiar–
Out out out
To dream under the stars
To launch our dreams to the stars
Across the vast plain of still water
Across the hilly terrain of rolling water
Across the mountain ranges of awesome water
Our immensity,
Our hope,
Our love.

Kathryn J. Tobias 

Adam's Dream


Naming mine and me

under the Tree,

naming pistil and seed

          stamen and bee,    

naming what has been,

what is, what is meant to be,

naming her Tiamat

Ukhat    Ishshat   Eve


God bloomed as a crimson flower

in an azure night and spoke

down gossamer lines of space,

the rhythm of her voice

creating time.  From hollows

of her breath worlds emerged

like caterpillars creeping to dreams

in silken beds under green leaves.


    Out of white webbed spasms of my sleep,

    out from my silken dreams she comes,

    pushed and molded, as hands shape

    pliant clay or smooth the blush of marble,

    or as lovers touch, recreating their bodies.

    She comes: blood and breath,

    substance of rib into lineaments of flesh.

    She comes youth-plumed, beating

    her tissued wings – arabesque in gold and lapis –

    exulting her burning cry into my silver dawn.


Alan Dragoo, 1982 and 1999


                                        Wherever I stand I hear the trees
                                        petition so

                                                – William Stafford, "Always"

                        Our task is to remain upright
                        and to hold our ground.  Many
                        years after our children have gone
                        and our bark has sloughed away,
                        like layers of dead skin,
                        and we bristle with stubble
                        and wear little shelves of fungi,
                        still visitors come.
                        Some fly in, but others
                        climb up for a better view.

                        Over the years we have gathered
                        many thoughts, but few come
                        to ask us.  Please come
                        and softly whisper our name.
                        We may wake to answer you.

 Alan Dragoo, 1997

Where does a poem come from?

It begins
deep inside
gently curled
as small as a comma
as small as a pause between
two words.

Kate Amoss 


It is hunger that drives me to fill the void
Ransacking cupboards for scraps of sustenance
Food lengthens my limbs and expands my girth
Like Alice I dream of rooms too small
Wondering as I push my foot up the chimney
Am I finally enough to be born?

Kate Amoss 

For Carrick

You were born at daybreak
A blade of light piercing
Dawn’s shroud, rupturing
The membrane of our sleep

You who were so gentle
Broke unfathomed waters
Flooding dark recesses
With rip tides of love

Memory, light, water
Mingle with your loss
All are still pools fractured
Knife-edged shards of sky.

Kate Amoss 

An Oak

Outside an oak has snagged
The setting sun and time
Lies tangled in a treetop
As bony branches clutch
The swollen, golden disk

My mother is watching
While cocooned in her bed
Her eyes are joy-bright embers
Her form is faint and soft
As if covered by snow

Yet once she was sturdy–
arching above me with
life-proud limbs – an ample sky
raining her seeds of light
down on my hidden heart.

Kate Amoss 

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