For Paul Robeson
by Terrance Hayes
(Terrance Hayes will visit Bucknell in February 2013 as the Poet-in-Residence)
Ol' Man River, he don't say nothin', He must know somethin'...
They have never heard a voice deeper
Than mud at the bottom of a bottomless creek
They have never heard gospel or the blood's spirit speak
They have never heard a storm come down & break
The river free, they have never seen the river break free
They have never seen a stone turn the temple to meat
They have never seen a mother in flames or a funeral wreath
They have never seen a black man weep
Dear Paul, they come each night to the Opera house-seats
They have never heard a voice so deep
They have never heard the sound when a river breaks free
About this Poem:
This poem pays homage to Paul Robeson, a professional football player, actor, and concert singer who was blacklisted for his political affiliations. The poem refers to Robeson's role as the dockworker Joe in the musical "Show Boat."
About the Poet:
Terrance Hayes won the 2010 National Book Award for Lighthead, a collection of poems. He will serve as Poet-in-Residence at Bucknell University in the spring of 2013. Hayes lives in Pittsburgh.