Ashes, ashes, we all fall down

A spoken work with references to the nursery rhyme, Ring Around the Rosie, and to ideas put forth by Resmaa Menakem in a recent interview with Krista Tippet, On Being. See references, below. Resmaa Menakem is the author of My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Traum and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.

Ring around the plaza
an eye socket full of gas
the corner goes up in flames.
Ashes, ashes, we all
rise up.

Ring around the Big House
pocketful of protests.
The fence becomes a meme
demanding justice.
Ashes, ashes, we all
fall down and weep.

Ring around the house of worship
pockets emptied of protection.
The Reverend’s voice rings to
the rafters of the nation:
“Because you held a
knee to our neck.”

Ring around the Rosie
a reference to a rash,
pockets full of posies,
nosegays believed to
protect against the plague.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down
as cases spike, the bodies
that cannot breathe, numerous.

Ring around the wrist or the waist.
We wear our slogans proudly
as if our purchasing history
might changed the damage done
over centuries.
Free Shipping! Black Lives Matter!

Ring up the purchases, fast and
furious, for it’s not all
pat and full of pride. The
esteemed list of best sellers
goes nearly fully to educating
white people about the ills of
our body, our white body,
holding down the Black body
for fourteen generations.

‘Performative’ sneers a neighbor
‘a buzzword,’ she demeans,
then puts “micro-aggression”
in quotes, nearly begging
to be challenged in a post
decrying white women
challenging each other.

We could argue. I could be
right and she wrong or
I could be obnoxious and she right
and none of it would matter since
it all happens from the
neck up and slightly to the left.*

What if Justice with a
capital “J” arises from a
place located just below
the navel?

What if it’s a problem
niceness can’t nice us
out of? And policy can’t
strategize us out of?*

I’m reminded of the brief
time in one of my toddler’s
lives, when he went
around disagreeing with
everyone. “You are
UNcorrect,” he’d scold.

Neighbor, fellow white
progressive, you are
UNcorrect. Hook up the
laugh track or better yet join hands and
spin and spin and spin until
the world blurs into horizontal
stripes and when we all fall
down, the world tilts and
makes us woozy — a
full body sense of disorientation,
a visceral impression
of losing hold of our
ingrained reliable perspectives —
even gravity unfamiliar.
A falling down
that might unhinge us
enough to fully rise up.

No nosegays for protection,
no signs of disease
breaking out, but an

embodied redirection
a skeletal curiosity
a human openness lacking
historic reference to white
supremacy except as
a check and a check again —
a hand out held for a
less insular dance
maybe even a fever pitch
celebratory hallelujah
where race matters as
culture but not as an
up or down measure.

Ring around the Rosie,
a Juneteenth dance,
a July 4th dance.
Post pandemic, Post
Tulsa, Watts, Rodney King,
post slavery, reconstruction, Jim
Crow, red lining, post foul brew
of leadership that slinks
from low point to low point.

Some of this will be over
soon, right?

We’ve burned it all down
before — ashes, ashes —
but could this be
the real time, the call
forward, even if the dance goes to
our death — yes, since all
dances go there — but
with real hand holding
in a dance of falling down? Alive.

The wind blows today.
Maybe it brings hope.


* * *

*in his now famous TED talk about education, Sir Kenneth Robinson talks about how most of academia is aimed to an area “above the neck and slightly to the left,” and that this is one of its greatest weaknesses.

* Reverend Al Sharpton’s eulogy for George Floyd was powerful and moving.

* Resmaa Menakem studies how trauma is stored in the body. In his recent interview with Krista Tippet (On Being podcast), he criticizes white anti-racism efforts for relying on strategy and policies, instead of on culture. He also says that ‘white niceness is inadequate to deal with the level of brutality inflicted on black bodies.’ He asserts that the ‘real battlefield is inside our bodies and therefore the conflicts need to be resolved there.’

18 thoughts on “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down

    1. deemallon

      Oh thank you Acey. As you know, I value your opinion on all things but especially these matters. I almost thought of trashing the audio given how difficult it was to put in place. Your comment makes me think maybe it was worth the trouble.

      1. Acey

        most definitely worth it. Your reading of the last line broke my heart just the way it was supposed to.

  1. Nanette

    Powerful and real to listen to your words……visceral! Well worth your trouble. I have passwords like that……

    1. deemallon

      Well she needs two more weeks before reading manuscript in full, but she had good pick ups about the first fifty pages. I can’t wait.

  2. Michelle Slater

    “This movement is the most recent in a long line of attempts and actions that trail back into the past I’ve lived through and before my time as well. There will be no peace without justice. FACT. Let this time be THE time and may we all have the persistence and intelligence to let it be. Change is a process. It won’t be quick. May it be thorough.” (quoting myself earlier today)

    1. deemallon

      I wonder if we were writing these things at the very same moments. “Let this be THE time… “ yes.

  3. Saskia van Herwaarden

    I did not know the history behind the nursery rhyme, nor have I been aware of the unbearable suffering of black people in my lifetime, their suffering and humiliation on a daily basis!
    I feel ashamed at how little I knew and felt; I was listening to a radio program today, a white Dutch male journalist living in the States (he’s married to one of Nancy Pelosi’s daughters and a familiar voice on Dutch TV and radio) talking about how he just now realized how privileged he was as a white man, how he never had to give his sons ‘the talk’ a black parent has to give to their sons….how to behave when a police officer stops your car and questions you, how unbearably unjust and unfair that is, he too felt ashamed….as a parent of two sons I cannot begin to imagine what life must be like for a black parent, the ever-present fear of real danger ever-present
    BLM Dee
    I listened to you speak and again learned more, came here after having just visited Nancy’s latest post, which I highly recommend

    1. deemallon

      I’ve learned a lot since I began researching slavery nine years ago. Once you start paying attention, its hard NOT to. I watched the doll house video. You must’ve loved it!

  4. Liz A

    full body sense of disorientation …

    The wind blows today.
    Maybe it brings hope.

    yes, it was worth it to hear you read this

  5. Nancy

    To hear the writer’s voice makes the writing so powerful, in a different way than reading a piece in your head does. Powerful writing Dee. I too did not know the background of Rosie’s. I’ll have to make up anew game whenever it is that I go back to work and can actually hold the hands of the children. Years ago a teacher I worked with shared the altered version of Baa baa black sheep. We have to become more aware and act on it. Thank you Dee for the learning conversation we always have here.

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