The Tallest Man (1681-1759)

By Nels Hanson

In a cave in Abington, Pennsylvania,

dwarf and hunchback, once common

sailor, Benjamin Lay lived alone. No

thing grown or made by slave labor

would he touch, instantly he walked

away from any supper if he learned

his host owned black slaves. Only

water and milk he tasted and ate just

fruit and vegetables to spare animals

each harboring an inner light. Even

Quakers saw him deformed in mind

and body, ignored his fiery warnings

slavery would ruin our country. We

should live simply in nature, he said,

raise our own food and make our own

clothes, as he must have done unless

he wore the garments of hurt children.

In the country of the blind a one-eyed

man is no king but a slave. So huge,

the little man has no statue, no stone

exists large enough to carve his heart,

his hump. Shame always on those who

never listened to the misshapen one,

tallest in America, deep shame on us,

on ears and eyes gone deaf and blind,

on anyone who can’t recognize a king.


Nels Hanson grew up on a small farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California and has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart nominations in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. His poems received a 2014 Pushcart nomination, Sharkpack Review’s 2014 Prospero Prize, and 2015 and 2016 Best of the Net nominations.

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