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

Apr 12, 2021

April is National Poetry Month, a celebration of poets and poetry that's been in place for 25 years.

Last month, as the U.S. grieved over attacks against Asian Americans, NPR's Morning Edition collected poems on how people grapple with the increased violence and discrimination.

Over 500 listeners shared powerful, poignant poems — in the form of a list beginning with the word "today." They showcased fear, anger, empathy and motivation to make the world a better place.

NPR's resident poet Kwame Alexander took lines from the submissions to create a community poem, "Today, I Am A Witness To Change." Contributors are credited at the bottom.


Today, I Am A Witness To Change

Today, I wake up tired
a tiredness that plagues me
soft grey hues, contrasting over a grieving landscape,
filled with many frigid hearts.

Today, I ache
I lay in the pre-dawn
Moonshadows 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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Today I remember the idea
of America
as a melting pot
the past twelve years
looking over my shoulder
watching my back

The Steak and Shake waitress in 2006
Who outright refused to wait on me
Who threw the menu
In great disdain

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 loved to go up and down

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

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

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.

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.

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

The Joy Luck Club
The Hungry Tide
Prairie Lotus
Pachinko
The Namesake

So many words
Each leaving an imprint
Like a grain of rice
Stockpiled and cataloged
knowledge gleaned, gathered
Empathy enhanced

Today I will ferry you across the troubled waters.
hold you close, in any way you crave.

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

Today, I rise.

Today, we stop telling lies.

I will stand.
I will speak.

I will stand.
I will speak.

Today, I will return to normal
Attending church
eating out
walking
being
because Today
we will persevere


This community poem was created using submissions by:

Frankie Wood-Black, Ponca City, Okla.

Andrew Ensor, Knoxville, Tenn.

Todd Gardner, Tallahassee, Fla.

Jessie Bergamini, League City, Texas

Therese Glowacki, Boulder, Colo.

Rosa Nam, Houston

Veronica Crane-Lindsey, Asheville, N.C.

Ernest Wong, Broomfield, Colo.

Ali Stephens, Bossier City, La.

Andrew Adams, Effingham, Ill.

Joshua Grove, Oregon City, Ore.

Matt Harr, Marietta, Ga.

Thazin Nu, Columbus, Ohio

Lisa Burgess, Kansas City, Mo.

Heidi Pennington, Harrisonburg, Va.

Anita Rao, Oakland, Calif.

Amanda Ladish, Fayetteville, Ariz.

Michelle Alumkal, Beacon, N.Y.

Christopher Standish, Windsor, Conn.

Rebecca Dodge, Midland, Texas

Sueño LeBlond, Brattleboro, Vt.

Chiara Andres, San Francisco

Lesly Sanocki, Beaverton, Ore.

Sydney Cottongim, Milwaukee, Wisc.

Sherwin Kendall, Deltona, Fla.

Marilyn Temkin, New York City

Lyn Pyle, Honolulu, Hawaii

Susan Mcclellan, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Kundai Chikowero, Goleta, Calif.

Karen Tan Hanson, Minneapolis

Donna Joyner, New Bern, N.C.

Natalie Truong, Davis, Calif.

Kari Cameron, Churchville, N.Y.

Jane Ujhazi, Bandon, Ore.

Christine P San Mateo, Calif.

Tim McCarthy, Fox Point, Wisc.

Wendy Tang, San Francisco

Unhei Chong, Washington, D.C.

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

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)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.