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Crime and Punishment


I close the book on Crime and Punishment

And think of you, my friend, the gifted student,

Who switched your major, once at M.I.T.,

To history, then anthropology—

Through half the catalogue in seven years,

First in, then out of school, grinding your gears.

Playing Raskolnikov, your plight became

Almost a joke between us.  Now that name

Reminds me how the spiralling depression

That dragged you from confusion to confession

Blunted your gifts.

                             For fourteen years of hard time

You stalked through Boston, but your only crime

Was killing your own future, spinning wheels

From Cambridge to the Back Bay's cobbled hills

Driving a taxi—or on all-night walks

Roaming the back streets, where, for several blocks,

You fled, one cold night, pounding the cement

Past stop sign, parked car, light, and tenement,

While steadily behind, a shadow gained,

Waving a pistol.  When at last you turned

To face your nemesis, you met no double,

But a common thief, who cursed you for your trouble,

Rifling your wallet with, "What is this shit?

Just some gaddamned IDs—go on, then, keep it,"

Then tossing back your life.

                                           So what's your crime?

What spins you down the sidewalk like a dime

Wobbling, wobbling . . . always just off-center

As autumn passes and approaching winter

Makes Boston your Siberia, your fate

The tragedy you lived to recreate

For me each summer, turning your life to art,

While I, who should have been your counterpart,

Kept both at a safe distance, and now write

What you said then with such criminal delight.


Paul Lake



From Another Kind of Travel, The University of Chicago

Press, © 1988.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

Background by
Lewis Eaton

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