The graduate students are lunching on cafeteria coffee,
greasy fries and cold roast beef,
dreaming and complaining.
One is tired of literature. She wants to be a farmer,
grow radishes and onions, maybe raise a cow or two.
The other sighs, "I just can't wait to get out of here
and have a real life!"

I imagine her going to a huge supermarket
to buy her future: passing shelves of powdered reality
in dusty cardboard boxes, steering her cart around pyramids
of shiny, colorful cans that exclaim, "New Existence Lite!
One third less pain and stress than Regular Existence!"
She heads straight for the gourmet section, picks out
a tastefully foiled package upon which is lettered,
"La Vita Bella. Made from 100% meaningful experience.
Just add college degree and simmer for one year."

I want to ask her who she thinks has a Real LifeTM.

Does it belong to Linda, a businesswoman, her daily routine
paperwork and pens and pantyhose and watches and more paperwork,
eyes rimmed red from computer screen dust before she lies
down in a hotel suite bed, only to wake a few hours later
for an early morning flight, the after-images of dreams
of children and long-gone lovers burning behind her eyelids?

Or does it belong to Betty, a housewife, her life
dirty diapers and cans of pork and beans, ironing to be done
while her husband snores in his underwear in front of the TV?
At night, she gets a kiss and two minutes of sweaty blundering
on a creaky mattress. When he is snoring again, she lies awake,
dreaming of gorgeous orchid wildernesses, bright jungle birds,
and safaris to all those places in the National Geographic shows.

And could it belong to Susan, a scientist in a feverish rush
to kill, photograph, and bag all her tiny rainforest insects?
She wishes she could take them alive like a modern-day Noah, but
her little footlocker won't keep out the mud and rain; she cannot
curse the gaunt, shabby farmers and their swollen-bellied children,
but as the smell of woodsmoke and the snarl of chainsaws jars her awake,
she prays for dry clothes, a pantyhose job, and blissful ignorance.

Maybe living is just a matter of respiration and perspiration:
memories and ideas inhaled, opinion exhaled, decisions sweated out.
Maybe Shakespeare was right all along: it's acting the part
you've accepted for yourself, heartbeat never quite steady
as you manage to celebrate every scene, even as the last reel
in the camera is slowly rolling onto its cold gray spool.

The poem above is written in free verse - no particular rhyme scheme or meter is intended. However, there are many instances of alliteration which serves to emphasize certain concepts within the poem.

Through college one hears of this mythical place called "real life". To some, it appears to be a paradise free from academic concerns and papers to be written and no stress. The poet wonders about the student who expects everything to be grand after leaving college.

From here, the poem looks at three women and various career choices...

First we have Linda who is a business woman. The routine is emphasized by the alliteration on the next line containing four 'p's: paperwork, pens, panty-hose, and paperwork (again). The life described is one of a manager and classic consultant career. The early morning flight is often termed the red-eye (at this point, I wonder if the poet would have used that turn of phrase if the muse had suggested it during the writing). The difficulty with the management and consultant style of life is the lack of time to one's self. Of the managers (all women coincidently) that I have known two are divorced, and three are single with no intent of 'settling down'. The description of the business woman is one that is very accurate.

The second women is Betty - who is a housewife. One should realize the dreams of Linda being manifest in the life that Betty lives. The life of a housewife is presented as rather tedious with a baby to care for and uninteresting food and chores. Betty's husband is portrayed as a rather insensitive guy (sitting in front of the TV and only caring about himself during lovemaking). The dreams that Betty has are of the life of a field worker in the tropical wilderness.

Susan is a scientist who works in a rainforest (thus the dream of Betty is manifest in Susan's life). However, Susan's life is full of stress just as Linda's and Betty's lives are. She is engaged in a race against the destruction of the rainforest trying to preserve as much of the insect life as she can. Around her, she can hear the very destruction she is racing against and wishes that she had the life a business woman (like that of Linda) who is unaware of the rainforest (the phrase blissful ignorance being very close to ignorance is bliss).

In each case, the grass is greener on the other side - the dreams and fantasies of one person are the living nightmare of another. Ultimately, life is simply living and acting. As such, we should each take joy and celebrate what we do have and to an extent, be happy with it. The closing is very similar to one of the passages of Epictetus (The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, 159)

Remember that thou art an actor in a play, and of such sort as the Author chooses, whether long or short.

If it be his good pleasure to assign thee the part of a beggar, a ruler, or a simple citizen, thine it is to play it fitly.

For thy business is to act the part assigned thee, well: to choose it, is another's.

Ultimately, life is what we make of it.

Ironically, one is indeed likely to find signs of life at the bottom of any coffee cup, cold or otherwise.

Three distinct paths by which this is so are immediate.

Firstly, there is the existence of an undeniable product of intelligent life, this being the cup of cold coffee conceptually. If a visitor to an alien asteroid were ever to discover a sculpture hewn in dead and frozen rock of "a cup of cold coffee" -- even though the edifice had itself never lived, nor harbored life -- it would yet be apparent by the presence of the subject, a smoothly crafted functional structure, that intelligent life had visited there. But here on Earth the existence of at least somewhat intelligent life is a mundanity, and the cup of coffee is no more necessary to prove this phenomenon than is any other piece of detritus.

And secondly, where we earthly find this thing, examination of the cup and the coffee will suffice to demonstrate that both are made from (formerly) living things. The rapid development of molecular DNA isolating technology has, in the past decade, made it possible to take samples of even processed wood and derive some genetic information from it. From this, it might be determined the species of trees from which the paper was milled, possibly the geographic locale of its harvesting, and possibly even whether the trees from which a particular sample were made were commercially grown or even illegally harvested. The same ought to apply for the coffee itself, with molecular fingerprints pointing to the nature of the parent plant for those beans; and the same would go even for added milk and sugar. But the underlying point of all this is that it is now possible to unequivocally demonstrate that the cup, the coffee, and other ingredients were all themselves once part of living things, and so signs of life. Unless the cup is styrofoam, in which event mankind is screwed.

And lastly, putting aside all of the interpolations of human activity, there is no doubt given the tenacity of microbiological life on Earth that by the time that coffee has reached coldness, it is well-populated from top to bottom with some especially hardy, coffee-loving strains of bacteria. For those searching for such signs of life, I would recommend a reasonably powerful microscope. A magnification of 100x will usually do to view the little dudes scooting about on a slide.

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