Poem of the Week | August 25, 2014

This week we’re delighted to offer a new poem by Indigo Moor. Moor is a poet, playwright, and author currently residing in Sacramento, CA. His second book of poetry, Through the Stonecutter’s Window, won Northwestern University Press’s Cave Canem prize. His first book, Tap-Root, was published as part of Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Select Poetry Series. Three of his short plays, Harvest, Shuffling, and The Red and Yellow Quartet debuted at the 60 Million Plus Theatre’s Spring Playwright’s festival. His stageplay, Live! at the Excelsior, was a finalist for the Images Theatre Playwright Award and is being made into a full length film. Indigo teaches workshops throughout the Bay area and the greater Sacramento Valley region.

Author’s note:

“I am a NEGRO” is the first poem in my new manuscript In the Room of Thirsts and Hungers. Grounded in the epistolary relationship between two “cousins,” Paul Robeson and Othello, Hungers explores the many similarities between these two men, the tumultuous time periods in which each man lived, and the eerily congruent personal traits that brought about their demises.
More than a recounting of their lives, Hungers is an exploration of the myriad motives that drove Robeson and Othello. Too often in texts, writers explain Othello’s actions and behaviors in ways that are nothing short of insulting to anyone of African descent who has achieved success. Would anyone dare insinuate that Paul Robeson reached his heights because he was eager to please the dominant, white culture? Or that he dated white women because he was attempting to fill a hole in his psyche? If all we knew of Paul Robeson were his major accomplishments, without the full spectrum of his life to reflect upon, would we similarly ignore the diverse psychological pushes and pulls that it takes to create a man of such depth? Hungers creates a background for Othello and, complete with the mirroring of his timeline with his cousin Paul, serves to infuse a more realistic understanding of his actions.
Likewise, other important figures (Desdemona, Iago, Joseph McCarthy, Bianca, Eslande Robeson, Charlotte Selby, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Dubois, and Lenora Hickok, among others) offer first person observations of the persecution of the Moors and African Americans, misogyny and women’s roles in society, love, anger, joy, jealousy, death, and all that made these times and the people who lived them more than two-dimensional characters whose psychological makeup are often streamlined for the sake of expediency.
The book begins with Robeson’s return to America following his first theatrical stint in England and visits to other parts of Europe. In Europe, Robeson is allowed to play roles denied him as a black actor in America. Briefly visiting the Soviet Union, Robeson is impressed with the treatment of Blacks as equals and he harbors a strong desire to promote the cause of Communism to blacks in America. Unfortunately most of America considers Communism its sworn enemy. On his way back to the States, Robeson stops in the Alpujarras Mountains to seek the advice of his cousin, Othello. They had been close as children, but had not spoken in 20 years. But, the village where he expects to find Othello is decimated. Once Robeson is back in the U.S., he discovers Othello is the captain of the Venetian army.
This first letter (poem) derives its title from the first line of Robeson’s autobiography, Here I Stand.


I am a NEGRO


Paul Robeson:


Cousin Othello, do you recall us, crazed and gangly?
Sinless boys, cracking grouse over campfires? Forgive
Me the absent years that hamstrung my song. I’m sullen
And cross, aching to stir the Delaware with a red sickle.


Jim Crow wouldn’t raise a black actor above the Colour
Line. So I loosened the flag from my wrists and set sail.
In Europe, roses flowered and bowed in every country,
Tore petals from their heads, showered them at my feet.


London to Moscow. What can I say: I was beautiful.
Children adorned me with kisses. Ice and pale sleet
Embroidered the skies, but not their lips. The Negro:
A Beast does not slouch or jump crow in their heads.


Roosevelt has blown open the storm door. War Dogs
Hunt Das Kapital under a blood moon. When the eagle
Raises the bugle, my people will toe the line. But Negro
Hands bleed faster holding rifles than Pullman ropes.


I sought your counsel in the Alpujarras, but ghosts haunt
Your village. I’m a sphinx, stoned to unanswered riddles.