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RING-AROUND-THE-ROSY by Noor-Malika Chishti

 I wrote this poem as a way of wrapping up some of the experiences with racism I have had in my life
I grew up in segregated Indiana in the 50s. My mothers family lived on a farm and on Sunday when they went to church they took a picnic basket so they could stay for the KKK meeting afterwards.
 My mother told me this not long before she died. I never saw anything other than attitude and language that gave her and others in the family away, and I knew these beliefs were wrong. My ex-husband and father of my children is African American.  This is the groundwork of the poem.

Ring-Around-The Rosy

I remember refusing to play ring-around-the rosy
on the veranda because of the way our Mother taught it to us.
She must have learned her version at the picnic after church
when she was a little girl.
A community of farmers ate their lunch while they had their meeting;
not sure what the women did, maybe join the meeting,
or watch the children play and sing
ring-around-the rosy last one down’s a nigger-baby….

I knew this was wrong, so my first act of protest
was at five years old
and it was to not play a child’s game.
I got older and noticed things like
Major who worked for my Dad but was really his friend
was expected to drink from the garden hose
as he waited outside.
I would get in trouble when I brought a glass of water from the house
because maybe the neighbors would see.
Our town was segregated, we lived along a river
and across the river was the black part of town.
On hot summer nights I would sit in my Mother’s room
listening to those across the river at the summer revival
singing out their praises.
When it got quiet,
I would take out my violin and play;
I thought they could hear me, as I had heard them.
As life would unfold, I fell in love and
Mom kept asking what was it that
I wasn’t telling her about him, so, I told her.
Well, I don’t know if they really went to a lawyer and disowned me,
but they said they did.
Then, they went to their minister.
He made it clear that God did not expect them to accept this
marriage, nor, any children that came from it.
Yeap, he really gave that advice.
When they got home, Dad called and said he knew that isn’t what the minister was supposed to say, so,
we’re gonna’ come out and meet this guy.
But, not for the wedding, before.

My best friend’s Mother hosted a dinner and everyone met.
Dad said he hadn’t wanted to like them
but they were such nice people, he did.
Dad was ready for us to visit. It took Mom longer,
but, she got there and set a profound example for her community later,
when my Father died.
Lots of people came and Mom met them all at the door
and walked them up to the casket.
Then, I saw Major coming in the door.
I was enormously proud of Mom as she walked up to Major,
greeted him, took his arm and led him up to say his good-bye.

I noticed several heads move together and shake
with a,
did you see what Alice just did?
© Noor-Malika Chishti, May 23, 2013; Pasadena, California

Noor-Malika Chishti has been a student in the Sufi tradition since 1972; she serves as an authorized representative of Pir Zia Inayat Khan. She began writing poetry when she was in grammar school; it now serves her in processing the lessons life brings. NMC is very involved in interfaith and is a Founding member of the Southern California Committee for the Parliament of World Religions; she now serves on the Advisory Board.  Noor-Malika presented workshops at the 2009 Melbourne Parliament of World Religions on "Listening with a Heart of Mercy, "Listening to the Other: Building a House of Prayer for Christians, Jews and Muslims,” and “Spiritual Intimacy: Taking Interfaith Engagement to the Next Level.” She has two children that were born at home with a midwife and has three grandchildren.

~If you are interested in seeing your poetry appear in this blog, or submitting a poem by a woman that has inspired you, please click here for submission guidelines. I greatly look forward to hearing from you!~


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