'I Wake With Wonder': A Crowdsourced Poem Of Pandemic Pain And Hope

May 28, 2021
Originally published on May 28, 2021 11:06 am

The past year has been heavy and affected us in both small and big ways.

Now, millions of Americans have been vaccinated, businesses are reopening and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened guidance on mask-wearing for vaccinated people. As many begin to take steps to come out on the other side of the pandemic, Morning Edition asked NPR's audience to write a poem using Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise" as inspiration.

We received hundreds of responses, and NPR's resident poet Kwame Alexander took lines from submissions to create a community poem about the challenges of the past year and hope for times ahead.

"I Wake With Wonder"

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

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.
'Cause it's heart work.
This is artwork.

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

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
dandelions, earthworms, mosses,
all those things I never thought
to love, or not enough.

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 an skilled nursing facility bed.

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

We rise
even when our spirits feel deflated
because this too shall be past
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.

I sing of loss and grief and hope,
Of joy and pain and memory,
Of yesterday and tomorrow.

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

So, I am easing out of this rabbit hole
I will find my equilibrium and my verve
Be who I am.
Lose 40 lbs 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

Birds tweeting, wind blowing, leaves rustling. I notice it all now.
I like this new world.

Even though I'm in my nineties,
I have learned to love more
the old man across the hall
who has trouble with his eyes.
the touchy woman down the street

In this world of
Bad audio connections,
I have learned to listen
After such stillness,
Nothing's the same.

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.

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 waterglory
following Mama hen
through fervent streams.

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

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.


This community poem was created using submissions by:

Heidi Glenn, an NPR editor in Washington, D.C.

David Epstein, West Hartford, Conn.

Paul Constantine, Boulder, Colo.

Edward Ruete, Niantic, Conn.

Elizabeth Wind, White Plains, N.Y.

Nancy Macchia, Boston

Laura Gudmundson, Lanesboro, Minn.

Nina Mosko, Alexandria, Va.

Sue Miles, Buckingham, Va.

Angel Limb, Glen Allen, Va.

Scott March, Somerville, Mass.

Maria Briones, Kalaheo, Hawaii

Tim Kinsella, Marshfield, Mass.

Carissa Papp, Falls Church, Va.

Whittney Hooks, Montross, Va.

Rhiannon Schmidt, Houghton, Mich.

Cydney Buchholz, Alabaster, Ala.

Bob Lemon, Norman, Okla.

Barbara Skidmore, Towson, Md.

Rahul Swali, Albany, N.Y.

Paul Sproul, North Dighton, Mass.

Haley Zapal, Atlanta

Anna Lukacs, Washington, D.C.

Nicholas Bottesini, Oxford, Miss.

Matthew Finnegan, Hingham, Mass.

Sanford Cassel, Charleston, S.C.

John Brewer, New Albany, Ind.

Elena Mityushina, Maple Grove, Minn.

Aaron Arm, Brooktondale, N.Y.

Lisa Fuller, Worthington, Ohio

Stephen Thomas, Wooster, Ohio

Derek Siegler, Hinesburg, Vt.

Kate McGloughlin, Olivebridge, N.Y.

B.J. Connor, Salisbury, N.C.

Liz Cormack, Boston

Kaity Stone, Fort Worth, Texas

Joan Halperin, Canton, Mass.

Panfila Gwynne Villegas-Bussell, Corpus Christi, Texas

Leigh Barry, Marquette, Mich.

Will Andrews, Hopkinton, Mass.

Katharine Abbruzzese, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Seth Engel, Rapid City, S.D.

Cady Burkhart, Pasadena, Calif.

Helena Taylor, West Allis, Wis.

Caryl Morris, West Newton, Mass.

Sara Wilcox, Ayer, Mass.

Kendra Wagner, Seattle

Tamara Nichols, Livingston, Texas

Edward Dougherty, Corning, N.Y.

Millicent Motzny, Waterford, Mich.

Barbara Bradley, Eagan, Minn.

Natalie Geenen, Chicago

Stella Plein, St. Louis

Diane Wiener, San Francisco

Sarah Pomranka, Longmont, Colo.

Alice White, Pompadour, Kansas

Margaret Simon, New Iberia, La.

Kathleen Dunckel, Harrisville, Mich.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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.

ALEXANDER: (Laughter).

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.

KING: (Laughter).

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") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.