RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Kwame Alexander, MORNING EDITION's poet-in-residence, is back with us, this time from New Orleans. Hey.
KWAME ALEXANDER, BYLINE: Hey. That's right, beignets and po'boys all day, every day.
MARTIN: Lucky you.
MARTIN: So you are there filming the pilot episode of the "Crossover" series, which is based on your novel-in-verse. Congratulations. That's awesome.
ALEXANDER: Rachel, I am overwhelmed with bliss and joy.
MARTIN: As you are most days, my friend, we should just say.
ALEXANDER: Hey, last year was heavy. And I just want to spend the next year radiating joy and positivity. I'm ready to shake off the blues and start jazzing it up again. So New Orleans is the perfect place to get my happy on.
MARTIN: Indeed. And there is more happiness from the poetry our listeners have sent us, right? This week, we asked you all to write a poem about how you came out on the other side of the pandemic. And we asked you to use "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou as your inspiration.
ALEXANDER: We received an overwhelming number of submissions in just under 36 hours. And once again, I am so impressed by our listeners' willingness to bare their souls, to share their hearts with us, with each other.
MARTIN: Yeah. Everyone, you always rise to the moment. We so appreciate it. And as usual, Kwame has waved his magic writing pen and combined them all into one great crowdsourced community poem.
ALEXANDER: With my magical pen, huh? Well, with your magical voice, you will kick us off?
MARTIN: Yeah. OK. Here we go. (Reading) Every morning, I wake with wonder and dive into the day. I grasp for my phone like a lifeline, a buoy. I rise among the displaced dreams of yore, supplanted plans disrupted from the year, so distanced from all social life before.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I set out on my way to make snacks for three kids because that's all I seem to do with them here all the damn day. And it's hard work because it's heart work. This is artwork.
MARTIN: (Reading) I rise like the sap in the maple tree knowing it's time to feed its budding branches, like seedlings struggling towards the light even though I need a baptism of magic waters to cure all that aches.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I don my gowns and masks and gloves, tend to the sick, the lost, the tired, the dead. I say a prayer, talk to God, think of things I love - birds and flowers and books.
MARTIN: (Reading) Dandelions, earthworms, mosses - all those things I never thought to love, or not enough.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I rise even when the news of the day makes me want to stay in bed, even when the outlook is bleak. I've not seen my eighth graders smile or smirk. My neighbor cut down the massive oak that shaded my yard. My wife died alone in a skilled nursing facility bed.
MARTIN: (Reading) Oh, yes, I mourn those we have lost and the cost of human lives. But still, I rise. Still, ire eyes cry for those who are gone, who have marched on. Still, fire eyes burn for justice denied, flame hot for truth.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) We rise even when our spirits feel deflated because this, too, shall pass, because we are made of stardust. I am a new breath in an older body with a future to ponder. I no longer take hugs for granted. The music at church yesterday with full choir was glorious.
MARTIN: (Reading) I sing of loss and grief and hope, of joy and pain and memory of yesterday and tomorrow.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I became best friends with my computer and learned something spectacular. Disconnection has connected us more than ever. The Zoom leave button calls for me.
MARTIN: (Reading) So I am easing out of this rabbit hole. I will find my equilibrium and my verve, be who I am - lose 40 pounds and improve my mental health, meet every patient as they are and care for them as best I can, try to celebrate the fact of my existence.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) Birds tweeting, wind blowing, leaves rustling - I notice it all now. I like this new world.
MARTIN: (Reading) Even though I'm in my 90s, I have learned to love more - the old man across the hall who has trouble with his eyes, the touchy woman down the street.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) In this world of bad audio connections, I have learned to listen. After such stillness, nothing's the same.
MARTIN: (Reading) I rise on this new day out of bed like a miracle. I tie my own shoes. I linger with a full pot of Barry's Irish tea, each slurp an act of contemplative prayer. I spend so many days watching my child grow. Mourning dove pretends to be an owl. A cardinal rides a slip of a limb up and down. What was simple is made extravagant.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) So I lift my gaze forward slowly to hike up, not give up, to sing out, not cry out, to like who I am even when - especially when I stand alone. Return to my books to find support, to make the coffee, to watch ducklings drop to water glory, following momma hen through fervent streams.
MARTIN: (Reading) To fill each day, not miss one. To see the world full on. To pace the house at midnight, watching the moon wax and wane. To live and love, to write, to work, to laugh, to share, to fight, to create a world of generosity, a world where we are inspired to help each other in every moment.
ALEXANDER: So rise, my friends. Rise up, all one heart. Be the change. And when you wonder how you will likely spend your life with the time left to borrow, know that to fight is to be human, for times short or longer. For through the struggle, we may hope to become stronger.
MARTIN: Thank you. Thank you to you, Kwame. Thank you to everyone who submitted and contributed to the crowdsourced poem. You did it again.
ALEXANDER: In the words of Bill Withers, it's going to be a lovely day, y'all.
MARTIN: Yes. Let's make it so. Kwame Alexander is MORNING EDITION's poet-in-residence and the editor of "Out Of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets." Thanks, Kwame.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF J.J. JOHNSON'S "KENYA")
MARTIN: And now it's time to do something we cannot put off any longer.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're saying goodbye to MORNING EDITION'S executive producer, Kenya Young.
NOEL KING, HOST:
She's been promoted to manage NPR's relationships with our amazing member stations. But we are going to miss her.
MARTIN: And we know she will miss MORNING EDITION's producers and editors, many of whom she hired or mentored. But there are things we think she won't miss - waking up at 3 in the morning, for one.
INSKEEP: Trying to listen to the show at home without waking her husband, three kids and the dog.
KING: And leading this show through two impeachments, an election and a global pandemic.
MARTIN: And waking up at 3 in the morning.
KING: You already said that.
MARTIN: I know. But I'll say it again.
INSKEEP: But really, Kenya, we want you to know that we will miss how you've kept everything in perspective.
KING: We will miss your brain and your heart.
MARTIN: And we will miss your laughter through it all.
INSKEEP: So thank you, Kenya, for 3 1/2 years. We couldn't have done it without you.
(SOUNDBITE OF J.J. JOHNSON'S "KENYA")
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