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.

From The Great Wheel, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Paul Mariani. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.