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Democracy Dripping

By Lorraine Waldau


Nari Ward American, born Jamaica, 1963 We the People, 2011 Shoelaces 96 × 324 in. (243.8 × 823 cm.) Gift of Speed Contemporary 2016.1


The hanging stretches a full twenty-eight feet over the bare museum wall.

Colors dripping at different lengths wound around shapes almost obscuring the words.

Coming closer, the dripping fabric wrapped around words reveals itself.

Thousands and thousands of colored and worn shoelaces. Everyone has at one time, or another worn shoelaces, haven’t they?

The words come into focus as I stare.  There is power in those words. They mean something to me.

Do they mean something to the little girl intently looking at those same words?

As I squint my eyes to slits and look again, the shoelaces seem to drip, drip, drip!

I smell the drip of the sweat of workers who built our great skyscrapers and railroads and highways that crisscross the country.

I see the laces drip, drip the blood of those not fully embraced by the words – the slaves and homeless and the elderly and sick and those left behind in the whirl of life as we know it.

I taste the salty tears that drip, drip, drip from the eyes of mothers who could not protect their sons, husbands, and uncles from the violence of guns owned by those who rule the streets and those who are sworn to protect the streets. I taste the bitter tears of the young girl who must secretly secure an illegal abortion as she cannot bring into this world a baby that she cannot adequately care for or protect.

I feel the drip, drip, drip, drip of a Democracy in chaos nearing demise, dripping away the reality of fact, devaluing of science, losing equal protections under the law, and the violence of exclusion.

I hear the Constitution ripping, a sound so great, so gruesome, so jarring, like a thousand violins screeching at high pitch.

Can shoelaces help “to form a more perfect Union”? Can “We The People” move us forward?

Or will we choose Velcro and slip-ons instead?




We The People
Nari Ward
American, Born Jamaica 1963
96 x 324 in.
Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY



Photo by Lorraine Waldau

One comment

  1. Amazing insight into what’s happening to American democracy. Each word is a paintbrush. This poem is a call to each of us and touched me deeply. The author presents a message that needs to be read and spoken over and over in many settings.

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