'Today, I Am A Witness To Change': A Crowdsourced Poem Against Anti-Asian Hate NPR's resident poet Kwame Alexander created a community poem from submissions that reflected on increased violence and discrimination against Asian Americans.

'Today, I Am A Witness To Change': A Crowdsourced Poem Against Anti-Asian Hate

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is National Poetry Month. And as such, I am joined by MORNING EDITION's poet in residence, Kwame Alexander. Hi, Kwame.

KWAME ALEXANDER, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. April is a celebration of poets and poetry. And this year marks the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Month.

MARTIN: Last week, we asked you, our listeners, to lift up your voices, share your concerns about the rise of anti-Asian hate, about the challenges you face in these times, about your hopes.

ALEXANDER: And you did it. You bravely wrote list poems that refuse to placate the truth, that channeled our better angels, that summoned the real soul of America.

MARTIN: And then, Kwame, you took these poems and compiled a crowdsourced community poem.

ALEXANDER: Yep.

MARTIN: Many voices, one poem. Let's share it.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, I wake up tired, a tiredness that plagues me, soft gray hues contrasting over a grieving landscape filled with many frigid hearts.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, I ache. I lay in the pre-dawn, moon shadows on my window blinds, contented kittens purring at my side. On the radio, news of greater challenges, challenges that require more than I can handle alone.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) An Asian American died because of hate. A child lost his mother. Today, we mourn. I cry and pray for the world. I want the attacks to be called what they are - terrorism.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, I feel we need more than conversation. Let us take more than a moment of silence. Let us find our humanity. Let us remember. Let us take action.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, I hesitate. For the first time, I wonder if I should stay home and not walk the neighborhood. It's not the weather or the virus. The day is beautiful. Today, I'm frozen, terrified. I cannot hide this skin, this hair, these eyes. I see the punch, punch, punch of a community at war. Today, I am a witness. I rush past the jeering white boys that say I brought corona to America. My soul is wary.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, a video call full of empty boxes stares at me apprehensively, students locked behind a screen, their hearts and minds severed from one another.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, the headlines say March Madness. Today, I don't watch basketball. The madness is in the streets, in broad daylight, on the concrete sidewalks of New York, in the silence of bystanders. It's in the textbooks, the classrooms, the family dinners, the lies we tell.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, the rain falls and falls and falls and falls, a silent tear from a weeping woman. Today, I will say their names. I will cancel class and try again tomorrow.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, a Chinese man travels back in time. The hateful and racist words hurled at a lonely child emerges from buried memories. Today, I offer a slice of my own wounded soul to graft a love patch, a patchwork piece for a more perfect union.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, I think about my best friend's Korean mom, if it was her kicked to the ground in New York or punched in California or shot in Georgia.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, I remember the idea of America as a melting pot, the past 12 years looking over my shoulder, watching my back.

MARTIN: (Reading) The Steak 'n Shake waitress in 2006 who outright refused to wait on me, who threw the menu in great disdain.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) The young woman in Alum Creek who was with her boyfriend who threw a stone at me because I was doing my tai chi at the top of the 116 steps that I love to go up and down.

MARTIN: (Reading) I want to be somewhere and nowhere at once. I cringe at our disunity. I stand back in awe of the never diminishing divisiveness. I cry for the misunderstood and those that misunderstand.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, I tell my youngest child that when I was a child, I wished I was white. I was silent. I allowed people around me to mispronounce my name.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, the dragon bends from Western winds, blown hot from valleys deep, scorched skies belie the spring, heads bowed, all weep. Outside my window, the daughter bends to examine the fish in the pond, slowly gliding out of their winter torpor. Her name means celebration in Chinese. It also means blessing.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, I remember the sacrifices of my grandmother, her steely eyes that shed many tears, her small, sinewy hands that clung to her children, her diminutive feet that leapt over the ocean. Today, I will use her strength that courses through my veins.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, I am witness to change as I sit inside our bookstore, arranging the carefully printed and bound words of so many voices. I wonder who will welcome the truth.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) "The Joy Luck Club," "The Hungry Tide," "Prairie Lotus," "Pachinko," "The Namesake."

MARTIN: (Reading) So many words, each leaving an imprint like a grain of rice, stockpiled and catalogued, knowledge gleaned, gathered, empathy enhanced.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, I will ferry you across the troubled waters, hold you close in any way you crave.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, I think not only of the cold ignorance of man but the small ember of warmth we transfer when we love.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, I rise.

MARTIN: (Reading) Today, we stop telling lies.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) I will stand. I will speak.

MARTIN: (Reading) I will stand. I will speak

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today, I will return to normal, attending church, eating out, walking, being, because today, we will persevere.

MARTIN: (Reading) Yes, we will persevere.

Thank you, listeners, for that poem, for that salve, for that testimony, that call to action.

ALEXANDER: That was so powerful. That's the soul of America right there. We've got to do better.

MARTIN: Kwame Alexander is MORNING EDITION's poet in residence and author of "Light For The World To See: A Thousand Words On Race And Hope."

Happy National Poetry Month, my friend.

ALEXANDER: Keep doing the right thing, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF YUSSEF DAYES' "LOVE IS THE MESSAGE (FEAT. ALFA MIST, MANSUR BROWN AND ROCCO PALLADINO)")

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