The Inspector-General Tickets Me on Tram 22, Prague

by Sandra Maresh Doe - 2006-07-04

I am standing in a crowd
When I see the gold sun seal
Attached to a chain, flashed
At a women sitting below me.
She fumbles at her purse.
I don’t know what this means.

I am numb from climbing 272 steps
In a tower of St. Vitus Cathedral.
No, not numb.  My feet pulse.
My calves pulse.  My thighs wonder
Why this punishment? What sin?
In the tower of St. Vitus, views
Even of the weather vane, a copper cock
And beyond—the city of a thousand spires
And the Vltava river.

Then the return, a narrow passage
Where streams of climbers up and down
Pass each other, the “ups” having to turn their feet
Sideways to  advance on the slice-of-pie stone,
The “downs” having to turn round and round
On the wide part of the pie, their hands pressed to the walls
For balance.

But my friend and I are done, now, really
Done, heading back to drain our legs,
Elevated on the hotel wall above our heads.

The Inspector checks her ticket,
Before I even know who he is,
He or his partner.  Finally he tells me
In English to show my time-marked ticket.

I am confident in my three day pass,
Purchased for 220 crowns.
I have forgotten my extra ticket, 8 crowns,
Purchased carefully at the airport
For when my three days run out.

But, lo! I time-stamped the wrong
Ticket.  The inspector-General regards
My three-day pass, not stamped:
It is so.
My friend defends me.
She tells the Inspector-General—
Our first day in Prague, Praha—
We are traveling together—
Is this the way you treat tourists?
She rages.  I explain.  I’ve made
A mistake.  I’ve mixed up my tickets.
But mistakes are not
Allowed in old ex-communist
Prague.  No.

The three day ticket is not stamped.

“So, do I have to go to jail now?”
“No, of course not.”  Young, blond,
Neatly groomed, he wears spectacles,
His blue eyes impassive.

I have to pay the fine:  500 crowns.
In cash.  $25 bucks on the spot.

I pay, but I protest.
“I want address of the agency!”
His helper, in a blue shirt, writes it
In illegible moving script
On the back of my three day pass.

My friend’s face is red.  She is sputtering.
The Inspector-General, all plain
Clothes, and his blue-shirted partner hop
Off at the next stop,
As if they were criminals who had cached
Their stash for the day.

My friend and I retire to our hotel
To drain our legs and our brains
Of the golden city, and our missteps,
288.