After so much time you think you'd have it netted in the mesh of language. But again it reconfigures, slick as Proteus. You're in the kitchen talking with your ex-Navy brother, his two kids snaking over his tattooed arms, as he goes on & on about being out of work again. For an hour now you've listened, his face growing dimmer in the lamplight as you keep glancing at your watch until it's there again: the ghost rising as it did that first time when you, the oldest, left home to marry. You're in the boat again, alone, and staring at the six of them, your sisters & your brothers, their faces bobbing in the water, as their fingers grapple for the gunwales. The ship is going down, your mother with it. One oar's locked and feathered, and one oar's lost, there's a slop of gurry pooling in the bottom, and your tiny boat keeps drifting further from them. Between each bitter wave you can count their upturned faces--white roses scattered on a mash of sea, eyes fixed to see what you will do. And you? You their old protector, you their guardian and go-between? Each man for himself, you remember thinking, their faces growing dimmer with each oarstroke.
Paul Mariani - 1940-
for David Ignatow
Midnight. For the past three hours I've raked over Plato's Republic with my students, all of them John Jay cops, and now some of us have come to Rooney's to unwind. Boilermakers. Double shots and triples. Fitzgerald's still in his undercover clothes and giveaway white socks, and two lieutenants--Seluzzi in the sharkskin suit & D'Ambruzzo in the leather--have just invited me to catch their fancy (and illegal) digs somewhere up in Harlem, when this cop begins to tell his story: how he and his partner trailed this pusher for six weeks before they trapped him in a burnt-out tenement somewhere down in SoHo, one coming at him up the stairwell, the other up the fire escape and through a busted window. But by the time they've grabbed him he's standing over an open window and he's clean. The partner races down into the courtyard and begins going through the garbage until he finds what it is he's after: a white bag hanging from a junk mimosa like the Christmas gift it is, and which now he plants back on the suspect. Cross-examined by a lawyer who does his best to rattle them, he and his partner stick by their story, and the charges stick. Fitzgerald shrugs. Business as usual. But the cop goes on. Better to let the guy go free than under oath to have to lie like that. And suddenly you can hear the heavy suck of air before Seluzzi, who half an hour before was boasting about being on the take, staggers to his feet, outraged at what he's heard, and insists on taking the bastard downtown so they can book him. Which naturally brings to an end the discussion we've been having, and soon each of us is heading for an exit, embarrassed by the awkward light the cop has thrown on things. Which makes it clearer now to me why the State would offer someone like Socrates a shot of hemlock. And even clearer why Socrates would want to drink it.