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.