April 21 Poetry: Little Girls in Church, Kathleen Norris

Poet and author Kathleen Norris is the reason I nearly moved to South Dakota to take a job 5 years ago. I'm glad that didn't work out. I started dating S that fall. But her writings and poetry are, for me, such a perfect mix of spaciousness and detail, midwest frankness and poetic melody. As a benedictine Oblate living in her grandmother's farmhouse ins a smal ldown in (one of) the Dakota's she speaks from a place of doing laundry, living ordinary life, and bathing richly in spirituality.

Thank you Kathleen Norris. Your work taught me how to pray differently.

Little Girls in Church


I've made friends
with a five-year-old
Presbyterian. She tugs at her lace collar,
I sympathized. We're both bored.
I give a pencil:
she draws the moon,
grass, stars and
I name them for her,
printing in large letters.
The church bulliten begins to fill.
Carefully, she prints her name
on it, KATHY, and hands it back.

Just last week
in New York City, the Orthodox liturgy
was typically intimate,
casual. An old woman greeted the icons
one by one
and fell asleep
during the Great Litany
People went in and out,
to smoke cigarettes and chat on teh steps.

A girl with long brown braids
was lead to the icons
by her mother. They kissed eac one,
an the girl made a confession
to the yougest priest. I longed to hear it,
to know her name.


I worry for the girls.
I once had braids
and wore lace that made me suffer.
I had not yet done the things that would need forgiving.

Church was for singing, and so I sang.
I recieved a Bible, stars
for all the verses;
I turned and ran.

The music brought me back
from time to time,
singing hymns
in the great breathing body
of a congregation.
And once again in Paris, as
I stepped into Notre Dame
to get out of the rain,
the organist began to play:
I stood rooted to the spot,
I looked up, and believed.

It didn't last.
Dear girls, my friends,
may you find great love
wihtin you, starlike
and wild, as wide as grass,
solemn as the moon.
I will pray for you. if I can.

Norris, Kathleen. Little Girls in Church. (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh 1995)


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