Issue 1


– Rev. Stephen Colton, Minister, First Congregational Church, Lyme, CT
1829-1840; the Amistad trial, New Haven and Hartford, CT 1839-1840

Are they those who go to church on Sundays,
who close their eyes and whisper the words of prayers,
whose generosity causes no pain,
but the glow of self-congratulation
on a pedestal of self-righteousness.
Are they those who treat people like themselves —
upright, educated, with good manners —
as they would like their neighbors to treat them.
Are they those who struggle to imitate,
in minute kindnesses, His gentle life.
Those who know continuous conversion
into the discipleship of service.
Are they those who are good Samaritans,
who can look into a black captive’s face
to the joy-filled vastness of a free heart.
Those who know an African mutineer
is more infinity than rich cargo.
Are they those who accept persecution
as the price of trying to feed His sheep.

Between Christmas Eve, when the Church Council
voted to stop paying their minister,
and the June day when they bade him farewell,
the church record was carefully erased,
blacked-out like so much of world history.
Zipped lips hold back many guilty secrets.
Perhaps Reverend Colton asked them to give
the Amistad prisoners Christmas gifts.
Or perhaps he pointed out that the wealth
amassed from ships in the Triangle Trade
was tainted by commodified people.
Did everyone in the congregation
sigh with relief when he finally left?
Did anyone ask what a Christian is?

Marilyn Nelson is the author or translator of twenty-four poetry books, among them The Fields Of Praise: New And Selected PoemsCarver: A Life In PoemsFortune’s Bones, and A Wreath for Emmett Till. Other books are the recently published How I Discovered Poetry and My Seneca Village. Nelson’s honors include two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, a fellowship from the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Frost Medal, the NSK Neustadt Award, and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. She was the Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001-2006.