Hard to picture, but these Goliath trees
are taller still than Robeson. Outside
vast plate windows in this lecture hall,
I imagine him running down autumn fields,
see his black thighs pumping that machinery
across chalk-painted lines.
He loved the woman
in the lab, Eslanda, who saw order
in swimming circles on inch-wide slides, who
made photographs. I picture her standing
in darkness, led by red light, bathing paper
in broth, extracting images. Did this woman smile
to watch white paper darken, to pull wet
from the chemicals Paul Robeson’s totem face?
Elizabeth Alexander, “Robeson at Rutgers” Copyright © 1990 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: The Venus Hottentot
(Graywolf Press, 2004)