Poetry from Michael Ceraolo


libel- noun
"defamation of persons by means
of written statements,
or other visible signs"

Defaming private people was bad enough,
"reflecting on those who are entrusted
with the administration of public affairs"
was even worse,
                          because it
"has a direct tendency
to breed in the people
a dislike in their governors
and incline them to faction and sedition"

This was the climate I worked in,
it didn't seem likely to change much, if any
My name is John Peter Zenger,
I preferred to be called Peter
I made my living as a printer;
                                            unlike today,
                                                                owning a part
of what in America would come to be called the media
wasn't a pathway to great wealth,
when Lewis Morris and James Alexander
approached me about starting a paper
to be called the New York Weekly Journal,
for which they would provide the content,
I was receptive to the idea

The words were never mine,
       as the printer of them
and with my name the only one on the paper,
I would be held responsible
since I agreed to keep their names secret
(a secret kept until this moment),
                                                 solely responsible
(in exchange for keeping their identities hidden,
they agreed to support my family
and provide for my defense
should I be arrested for printing their words
Promises kept on both sides)

The grand jury three times
refused to indict me for libel,
the determined royal governor
got around that quite easily,
and I was arrested November 17, 1734,
destined to spend the next nine months in jail

The words at the trial weren't mine either,
though I am proud to be associated
with those spoken by our side

The prosecution reminded everyone
"It is not material
whether the libel be true or false"
we trusted the jury to determine
if our words rose to the level of criminality
"the just complaints of a number of men
who suffer under a bad administration
is libeling that administration")
the jury judged me not to have
committed criminal libel

I don't know if mine was the landmark case
that some have made it out to be
(I'll leave that debate for historians),
but it was a first step,
                                 a beginning:
though not citing my case directly,
afterward juries were reluctant to convict
anyone charged with seditious libel,
and that's enough for me

The Great Dissenter

it's not Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
(he's The King of the Weak Analogy,
later dissenting from your own weak analogy
falls far short of greatness)
it's a man by the name
of Robert Carter III

I wasn't born in September,
didn't die in September,
in my seventy-seven years  here on Earth
two of the most important events in my life
took place in September, early September
to be precise:

                        September 6, 1777
At fifty,
I was baptized on this day,
that went against the grain:
had an established church, the Anglican,
though soldiers were busy fighting the British,
some of them weren't too busy
to be among the mobs
that attacked and destroyed our churches
I eventually left the Baptists
because of doctrinal differences
Such dissent among the gentry
was usually labeled eccentric,
as it was in my case

                   September 5, 1791

"I have for some time past been convinced
that to retain them in Slavery in contrary
to the true Principles of Religion and Justice,
that therefor it was my Duty to manumit them"
on this date I submitted to the Court
what was called the Deed of Gift,
a schedule to emancipate my slaves gradually,
a schedule that would continue even after
my death a little over a dozen years later

I don't think anyone knows exactly
how many slaves were freed by this
(a few different numbers have been offered),
it entirely possible that some
who thus obtained the necessary certificates
attesting to their freedom
weren't even my slaves,
I count as a good thing
I showed that gradual emancipation,
without eventual resettlement elsewhere,
was not only possible but practical,
few of my fellow Virginians
followed my example;
                                  in fact,
laws were soon passed to make it
more difficult for anyone to even try to do so

I always wanted to be
"laid under a shady Tree
where he might be undisturbed
& sleep in peace & obscurity"
for the most part I have been such,
"My plans and advice
have never been pleasing to the world"
and because they didn't fit the narrative
that has come to be constructed
regarding my more famous contemporaries

Michael Ceraolo is a 66-year-old retired firefighter/paramedic and active poet who has had two full-length books (Euclid Creek, from Deep Cleveland Press; 500 Cleveland Haiku, from Writing Knights Press) published, and has two more, Euclid Creek Book Two and Lawyers, Guns, and Money, in the publication pipeline.