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This ‘Essay on Reentry’ charts life after prison: and the way that others keep your sentence alive even when you’re wishing to just get on with your own life. It’s about secrets and choice and disclosure. And in the midst of all this, there is also love between a son and his dad, a son like a “straggling angel, / lost from his pack finding a way to fulfill his / duty.”

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

A poem about blossoms that is not only about blossoms. Li-Young Lee remembers a glorious day when he and a companion bought peaches; peaches that had come from blossoms. And in the taste of peaches, the brown paper bag they came in, sold by a boy at a bend in a road, the poem tells us — again and again — that sweetness, yearning and generosity is possible, on all kinds of days.

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — or SETI — goes beyond hunting for E.T. and habitable planets. Scientists in the field are using telescopes and satellites looking for signs of outright civilizational intelligence. One of the founding pioneers in this search is astronomer Jill Tarter. She is a co-founder of the SETI Institute and was an inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact, based on the novel by Carl Sagan. To speak with Tarter is to begin to grasp the creative majesty of SETI and what’s relevant now in the ancient question: “Are we alone in the universe?”

This poem takes place on battlegrounds. The poet — Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo — is at Gettysburg National Military Park, where she wanders around the cemetery searching for the graves of Mexican soldiers. Instead she finds KKK books on display in the park’s visitors gift shop. So much of this poem is about unearthing, and making offerings of devotion and life: the poet makes offerings to her ancestors, but she also makes offerings of water bottles to migrants at border crossings.

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

In this love poem, Matthew Olzmann writes about his wife — the poet Vievee Francis, whose poem for Matthew was featured in the previous episode — and the reasons why their marriage might work: her courage, her tenacity, her quirks, her multiplicities. He recounts instances of her generosity and lands on a story of how, when she was down to her “last damn dime,” she  still bought a bottle of Mountain Dew for him, because she knew he loved it. This is a cinematic and musical poem, making exquisite use of a particular object: a bottle of soda, holding fizz in it, and symbolizing more love than it could contain.

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

“Though we have instructions and a map buried in our hearts when we enter this world,” the extraordinary Joy Harjo has written, “nothing quite prepares us for the abrupt shift to the breathing realm.” She is a saxophone player and performer, a visual artist, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, and the 23rd Poet Lau­re­ate of the Unit­ed States. She opens up with Krista about her life, dreaming as a way of relating to time and place, and the story matrix that connects us all.

Building up in lists of delicious words — uvular, hibiscus, loquacious, shuttlecock, dollop, chipotles and chocolate — this poem uses sensual language to make a simple point. Vievee Francis moves past these words and all their suggestions by telling us that her favorite word is the name of her husband — the poet Matthew Olzmann — and how she loves it when he says her name. Love, like this poem, can rejoice in many things, and take its own time to unfold its own delight.

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

This poem offers critique into a moment of Irish history when Ireland, through independence, was rising to the light. But Irish women were facing lives as constricted in independence as under empire. Decades later, Eavan Boland reads a newspaper of her grandmother’s near-eviction and is consumed both by rage and critique of how history concerns itself with the politics of men, not women. This poem is a corrective, turning the gaze on historians, as well as history.

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

The classic economic theory embedded in western democracies holds an assumption that human beings will almost always behave rationally in the end and make logical choices that will keep our society balanced on the whole. Daniel Kahneman is the psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for showing that this is simply not true. There’s something sobering — but also helpfully grounding — in speaking with this brilliant and humane scholar who explains why none of us is an equation that computes. As surely as we breathe, we will contradict ourselves and confound each other.

Krista’s been in a conversation with Tiffany Shlain for several years about her practice of “Tech Shabbat.” For more than a decade, she and her family have taken a rest from screens sundown Friday to sundown Saturday; her book 24/6 is a kind of manual to open the practice to everyone. After a year in which many of us have relied on our devices as our portals to reality — even our sole connection to the people and places we love — Krista called Tiffany to talk about how this practice works. Might it be a reset and ritual we could all use?

This poem starts off by describing how split the poet — Jónína Kirton — feels between two identities: having both Métis and Icelandic heritage. The poem imagines a bridge between these two places and cultures, and arrives, in the second stanza, at the image of a “living root bridge.”It is in this image that the poem anchors itself: a bridge that is part of the earth, a bridge that lives, that is not torn, but alive and growing. This metaphor speaks to what is possible in a life, and helps Jónína Kirton thrive in the tension she thought would tear her.

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

In Lorna Goodison’s imagined scene, Spain’s Queen Isabella receives the ‘report’ of the discovery of Xamaica from Christopher Columbus, an Italian man who was financed by the Spanish court to ransack foreign lands. Lorna Goodison is the former Poet Laureate of Jamaica, and in this tight, terse poem, she’s the explorer: exploring practices of colonization, finance, power and administration. With pomp and ceremony she describes a scene that was as vacuous as it was dangerous.

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

Hanif Abdurraqib’s writing is filled with lyricism, rhythm, people and precision. In his essays and poetry, he introduces readers to a soundscape of Black performance and Black joy: we hear hip-hop and jazz, we hear Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Little Richard. Music and performance of every kind are the source of his fascination, focus and wisdom: what makes people cry, or feel safe, or brave; held in struggle, joy, or love. Hanif is interviewed by our colleague, Pádraig Ó Tuama, a poet himself and the host of On Being Studios’ Poetry Unbound podcast, now in its third season.

Music works a kind of poetry in us. This poem is like a mix-tape of Hanif Abdurraqib’s memories, complete with a soundtrack that’s as roaring as it is tender. An adult now, he remembers moments of grief and growth in the adults of his childhood, and how Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” opens up more than just those memories. In a poem that you can almost dance along with, Hanif wraps other people’s griefs — and his own — into language that uplifts.

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

Layli Long Soldier is a writer, a mother, a citizen of the United States, and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. She has a way of opening up this part of her life, and of American life, to inspire self-searching and tenderness. Her award-winning first book of poetry, WHEREAS, is a response to the U.S. government’s official apology to Native peoples in 2009, which was done so quietly, with no ceremony, that it was practically a secret. Layli Long Soldier offers entry points for us all — to events that are not merely about the past, and to the freedom real apologies might bring.

Across the past year, and now as the murder trial of Derek Chauvin unfolds with Minneapolis in fresh pain and turmoil, we return again to the grounding insights of Resmaa Menakem. He is a Minneapolis-based therapist and trauma specialist who activates the wisdom of elders, and very new science, about how all of us carry in our bodies the history and traumas behind everything we collapse into the word “race.” We offer up his intelligence on changing ourselves at a cellular level — practices towards the transformed reality most of us long to inhabit.

“Remember,” Bryan Doerries likes to say in both physical and virtual gatherings, “you are not alone in this room — and you are not alone across time.” With his public health project, Theater of War, he is activating an old alchemy for our young century. Ancient stories, and texts that have stood the test of time, can be portals to honest and dignified grappling with present wounds and longings and callings that we aren’t able to muster in our official places now. It’s an embodiment of the good Greek word catharsis — releasing both insight and emotions that have had no place to go, and creating an energizing relief. And it is now unfolding in the “amphitheater” of Zoom that Sophocles could not have imagined.