Volume 31, Number 2


Three men are caught standing by the side of the road.
One of them is guilty.

What do you want to know in judgment?

All three are friends.
Each has been in the others’ company
All night.  None suspects
Their companions.  One reports he has not seen
His friend wear a jacket before
But it is a cold night.  Each
Believes the others to be good men,

However at the moment you define that.
One says he has noticed one of the other two
With muddy shoes but
It hasn’t rained all day.
Each has never lied about anything.

The tall one has a cut on his wrist
That does not look work related.
Being right is not the same as not being wrong.
Before they can match stories, you separate them.
One slouches in his chair, one sits
Hollow and rigid, one paces.
The hands of one seem out of proportion.

Your duty is to find the guilty one.

The task becomes a sympathetic tic
In your left thumb.  One suspect
Buys his clothes where you do,
Yet the other two go for the discount houses.
When you are alone with any one of them
You can hear each insensibly breathing: hard
Time, hard time, the rasp of an engine
Weathered, in need of repair, out of fuel.

Originally there were three men
Standing at the side of the road,
A senseless huddle beckoning attention.
By night’s end there will be three instances
Of one man standing alone at the side of the road.
Each will in degrees be guilty.

—Ken Poyner