Quaker Meeting, The Sixties

By Robin Becker b. 1951 Robin Becker
Seeing my friend’s son in his broad-brimmed hat
and suspenders, I think of the Quakers
who lectured us on nonviolent social action
every week when I was a child. In the classrooms
we listened to those who would not take up arms,
who objected, who had accepted alternative
service in distant work camps and showed
slides of hospitals they helped to build.
On Wednesdays, in Meeting for Worship,
when someone rose to speak,
all the energy in the room
flew inside her mouth, empowering her to tell
what she had seen on her brief
encounter with the divine: sometimes, a parable,
a riddle, a kindness. The fall that we were seventeen,
we scuffed our loafers on the gravelly path
from the Meetinghouse, while maple and elm
leaves sailed around our shoulders   
like tiny envelopes, our futures sealed inside.
Despite the war in Vietnam, I felt safer
than I ever would again. Perhaps
those aged, protective trees had cast a spell
on us, or maybe the nonviolent Quaker God
had set up a kingdom right there—
suburban Philadelphia. Looking back, I see how
good deeds and thoughts climbed with us to the attic
room for Latin, descended to the gym for sports,
where we hung from the praiseworthy scaffolds
of righteous behavior. We prepared to leave
for college, armed with the language of the American
Friends and the memories of Thanksgiving
dinners we’d cooked for the unfortunates:
borrowing our parents’ cars to drive
downtown to the drop-off point, racing back
to play our last field hockey match. Grim center forwards
shook hands before the whistle, the half-backs’
knee-pads strapped on tight; one varsity team vanquished another.

“Quaker Meeting, the Sixties” from All-American Girl by Robin Becker © 1996. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: All-American Girl (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996)

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Poet Robin Becker b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, School & Learning, Social Commentaries, Youth, Activities, War & Conflict, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Coming of Age

Holidays Thanksgiving

 Robin  Becker

Biography

Poet Robin Becker was born in Philadelphia and earned a BA and MA at Boston University. She taught for many years at the MIT before returning to Pennsylvania in 1994, where she is Liberal Arts Research Professor of English and Women's Studies at Penn State.

Becker’s many collections of poetry include Personal Effects (1977); Backtalk (1982); Giacometti’s Dog (1990); All-American Girl (1996), which won a Lambda Literary Award; . . .

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SUBJECT Living, School & Learning, Social Commentaries, Youth, Activities, War & Conflict, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Coming of Age

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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