_________Lyme, Connecticut, 3 July 1815
Nor’easter and calm shine, high tide and neap,
combined lives shuttled between births and deaths,
from baptisms to funerals, amen.
Mehitabel, Uriah, Moses, John.
Robert, Elihu, Azanaha, Love.
Wakes, marriages, fallings-out and laughter,
arguments, broken hearts, betrayals, guilt:
thus time shaped a community of faith.
Jerusha, Wealthy, Esther, Hepzibah.
Moses, Elihu, Phineas, Baruch.
Ministers came, stayed for a while, and left.
Fortunes increased over generations,
from farmer to merchant to sea captain,
a new nation of opportunity.
Wealth gives the spirit wings and leaden shoes,
and makes some Christians turn their backs on Christ.
Elias, Phebe, Jemima, Gershon.
Luther, Luvania, Rosalinda, George.
Communal life remembered together,
bowed a roomful of heads, raised in unison
voices connected by hymns of worship.
As wealth and families grew, church members paid
more for the better pews, the best up front.
The gallery seats, reserved for slaves, were free.
But you couldn’t see the pulpit from them.
By 1810, most blacks in town were free,
and some wanted to buy pews they could see from.
In 1814 the church council decreed
that only white church members could buy pews.
But it voted to raise the gallery,
so those who sat there could see the preacher.
Emily, Ephraim, Harriet, David, Charles.
That evening in July of thunderstorms
and a tree-bending wind, when lightning struck
the meeting-house, was a circle of hell.
The wives and house servants raised the alarm,
beating kettle bottoms with soup ladles.
Everyone raced to the pumps with buckets,
or whipped horse-drawn wagons filled with washtubs
to Duck River and back as people screamed
and shouted and dogs barked. Women and girls
hiked up their skirts so they could run faster,
and who cared if some man saw they had limbs.
Sometimes fingers touched, passing a bucket,
and, looking out of a pale or dark face,
desperate eyes looked into desperate eyes
and saw through their clarity all the way
to the bottom, where they read their own prayer.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.