poetry "Old Ghost Appears Before the Un-American Committee
"Old Ghost Appears Before the Un-American Committee and Refuses to Remove His Hat"
—title of the Langston Hughes article
of a fictional appearance before HUAC
By Roy Bentley
He is there before HUAC unsummoned, Old Ghost, a fiction,
but Old Ghost is Paul Robeson because he won't take off his hat.
Robeson visited battlefronts in the Spanish Civil War. The Soviet
Union. He supported Henry A. Wallace for president. Was labeled
a Commie by the FBI. Jackie Robinson has called Robeson "silly"—
one Negro passing judgment on another: the oldest Jim Crow trick.
Whatever drives some men to endure then explain that endurance
as the face of communal will, Robeson has that. And a fine voice.
A voice like any pick-your-holy-story angel, a story of America
he, Paul Leroy Robeson, discovers he belongs to. The dreams
of his dead sprout in spring. Flower as resistance to Injustice,
a dance of light shored against the Not-so-grand. He has
nothing to explain, an explanation the denouement to
keeping your hat on: the raised middle finger to Power.
Roy Bentley, a finalist for the Miller Williams prize for Walking with Eve in the Loved City, is the author of eight books; including American Loneliness from Lost Horse Press. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, and Prairie Schooner among others. Hillbilly Guilt, his latest, won the 2019 Hidden River Arts / Willow Run Poetry Book Award.