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This poem is taken from PN Review 154, Volume 30 Number 2, November - December 2003.

An American Hero Stanley Moss


It wasn't all smell of Adirondack lilac
and flowering chestnut trees along Broadway
in the spring of 1824.
Human sewers, mostly Negroes, carried waste in tubs
at night to the Hudson and East Rivers, James Hewlett,
said to be an ex-slave, self-purchaser, ex-tubman -
once pedestrians could smell him from half a block away.
I pick his pocket. Ex-houseboy to English actors,
he leapt up like a wildcat - then like a witch
joined a Shakespeare theatre of ex-slaves,
billed himself 'Vocalist and Shakespeare's Proud Representative'.
I pick his pocket.
He played Richard the Third and Othello,
sang Il Barbieri, La Marseillaise, and 'O!
say not that woman's love is bought' in one evening.
In royal silks, Mr Hewlett recited:
...


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