File on Paul Robeson Released Under the Freedom of Information Act

The white FBI men who shadowed him
read Marx and Lenin between the lines
of spirituals, eavesdropped on his recitals,
sitting in the balcony with the porters and maids,
sympathizers who’ve long since gone dark,
indexed in dossiers and earth. The concert halls
blacklisted him, the radio, the record stores,
until no one else listened, until he was gone
so completely from the newspapers, the churches,
the football trophy case at Rutgers
it was like they’d redacted the man
and he’d become a typed whisper,
a memo’s soulless cadence. Now no one
has even heard of him. Some wrongs last longer
than lives, although this fact like light
from a burned-out star finally arrives. Long dead,
he’s still catatonic as Soviet Russia,
the first black Othello at Stratford-on-Avon
playing an old man who waits for the new age
while slumped in a chair at his sister’s Philly row home,
his unAmerican soliloquies before
the subcommittee a box of microfiche
in a warehouse. Even the trained voice cracks,
fails to carry. Anyone can change history
but not the past, anyone the audience
for whom they wrote it down as the color
of that day’s suit, which book he dozed over
in the park, that his father was a slave,
the more sensitive observations blacked out.

David Moolten’s most recent book, Primitive Mood won the T.S. Eliot Prize (Truman State University Press, 2009). He lives in Philadelphia. website:

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