Featured Poem 2/21/04

Detective Story

The beginning

"You don't look much like a detective," she said.
I put the frog back in the drawer
and looked intently at her.  She gazed back
with obsidian eyes and a mouth like
misty fish.
                         "I'm by trade
a optometrist," I said. "But I inherited this business
from my father, who was a blue beret
in Viet Nam, training villagers in contra-
dancing and shape-note singing."
haunted by the memory of bodies swaying
and voices braying, "Old One Hundred,"
he turned to drink and sank until the only
occupation open to him was this."

And here I gestured around the office at the
body from my last case slumped in the corner,
the map of Shakespeare's London,
the pitcher plant terrarium, my father's
teeth in a glass on the bookcase.

The development of the plot

I turned my attention from the victim's mother
after it had been conclusively demonstrated
she died seventeen years before he was born.
That left Police Lieutenant Ravioli
and the mysterious stranger who walked on his hands.

Ravioli had a good alibi—
seven times seventy officers swore he
had been at a whorehouse during the time
Von Hoffman had been turned into
sweet and sour surprise that night
at Lo's Chinese buffet and betting parlor.

While the mysterious man
who walked on his hands had no alibi,
but claimed that his Buddhist faith forbade taking
life, even one as evil as Von Hoffman's.
"I stand upon my convictions," he said.
"No, you stand upon your hands," I replied,
but tended to believe him because
he smelled of rose water with
a touch of escargot.

The dénouement

It's always the one you least suspect, isn't it?
That's why I'm turning myself in.
I have an alibi—I was kissing a Shetland
pony while simultaneously talking to the spirit
of St. Louis—the king, not the airplane,
although sometimes I think it might be
the city.
                         But I know deep in my heart,
down there where childhood misdeeds
fester and you remember the unkind word
your aunt said to you when you kicked her,
yes, deep in my heart, I know I'm guilty.

So take me, Lieutenant Ravioli,
hang me by the railroad track and let
trainloads of tourists witness my guilt,
spit upon me, and call me toilet toes.
Yes, take me, and cry me to the moon.

©Paul Thompson
December 24, 2003
Revised December 31, 2003

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