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To stop the wheels of state, I made

My life a kind of counter friction

And went to jail, my tax unpaid,

Until a friend with less conviction


Paid so its cogs might turn again

To spit me out.  And as I stood

Behind those four thick walls of stone,

That heavy door of iron and wood,


I saw how states and institutions

Must be half-witted, thinking men

Are merely flesh and blood and bones

To be locked up at their discretion.


The night I spent in jail was novel

And interesting enough:  My cell

Was clean and neat on my arrival—

It might have been a small hotel


The way the inmates leaned to chat

In doorways till the lockup call.

Once learning where to hang my hat,

I took my station at the wall


And gazed out through its grille, as pages

Of history seemed to waft my town

Backward to the Middle Ages,

Turning our Concord to the Rhine.


Next morning, through an oblong slot,

They passed our meal—brown hunks of bread

And steaming pints of chocolate --

And after having breakfasted,


My roommate, who spent mornings haying

In neighboring fields each day till noon,

Bade me good-bye and parted, saying

He doubted we'd be meeting soon.


Let out myself, I then proceeded

Across the street to fetch the shoe

I'd left to mend, then unimpeded

Strolled slowly down an avenue


And past the square and when last seen

On top a hill two miles from town,

Was lost in huckleberrying,

My conscience clear, my duty done.


Paul Lake



From Walking Backward, Story Line Press, © 1999.

Reprinted b y permission of the author and
Story Line Press, Ashland, Oregon.



Graphics by Prozac


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