Living the Dream
by Daniel Becker

A friend at work asks living the dream?
Maybe I was sleep walking.
He meant see you later in the vaccine tent.

It’s a great place to meet old friends, make new ones,
and, looking at the empty seats, wonder who’s afraid of what and why.
Lines are short, parking is free, you meet the nicest people.

Who hasn’t led a horse to water but failed to make it drink?
None of my students is who, judging from the silence.
While we’re sitting around in masks and this far into the semester

feeling comfortable with what we don’t see,
how, the smart kid asks, is the Socratic method
not the cat in the bag clawing its way out?

Good question, once you hack the syntax.
Socrates never mentions cats,
but half of us have cats at home, and of those with cats

all have pictures we’re happy to share.
The point being we’re all in this together.
Meanwhile, the water that the horse won’t drink:

two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen,
and the third part that makes it water.
The river that the horse won’t cross:

the next bend will wait forever.
They should have learned this stuff at home
or on the school bus from wild kids

or looking at the night sky and wishing on a star.
Like the imaginary square root of minus 1,
negative capability will come in handy if they let it.

I’m interested less in the sum of our fears than the combos,
the degrees of difficulty,
the torque that keeps the wheels on.

Last week we did one rule haiku’s that had to mention
either Pfizer or Moderna.
Speaking of rule-bound:

the Dalai Lama says know all the rules
to know the ones to bend or break.

Then I explain who the Dalai Lama is

and someone asks about his vaccine status
and how he’d deal with anti-vaxxers in his flock.
He’d shrug, close his eyes, take a deep breath without fighting for the next.

When my sainted mother heard me judging other points of view
she’d say that’s what makes horse races.
I can’t picture her at the track.

I picture her taking her kids to the library.
I happen to be re-reading Sea Biscuit’s biography.
It’s one of those books we passed around the house,

one of those books that became family.
When led to water, race horses drink.
I like everything about Sea Biscuit except the plutocrat owner,

who, like a demi-god on Mt. Olympus,
married his daughter-in-law’s sister after dumping his son’s mother.
But that’s who makes horse races.

For thirty minutes this morning, watching the sun
drop a pink curtain behind the tree line,
I give everyone the benefit of doubt.

We’re all pink on the inside.
Poetry is an argument with yourself.
Rhetoric is an argument with others.

Twitter is half a million clowns in a clown car.
The breakfast crowd at our bird feeder is crowd enough for me.
I picture Thoreau matching birds to their songs,

enjoying time off from reclusivity.
I picture St. Francis scooping birdseed into a feeder,
hanging cakes of suet from a shade tree,

enjoying time off from sainthood.
I remember my father remembering
the snake proof birdhouse he built with his father.

My day off plan A is to install a fireproof home safe.
Yesterday at clinic a homeless patient explained how hard it is
to get a new Social Security card,

how there’s a phone that no one answers,
how alone it feels
standing in line in front of a door that prayer can’t open.

Who needs the card if you already have a number?
The boss.
He shrugged, took a deep breath, closed his eyes.

I would have joined him, but the rest of the schedule was waiting.
Once my documents are safe, plan B is de-cluttering the shed
where I build the boats I fly in my dreams.

That would be three generations of Y chromosome clutter.
When I need one of my grandfather’s washers,
I shouldn’t have to rummage.

Daniel Becker is Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medcine. He has won the New Issues Press first book award, judged by Jericho Brown, for 2nd Chance which was published in October 2020.

Other Daniel Becker Mudlarks: Ode to the O.E.D., Flash No. 140 (2020), and Goals of Care and You’re Welcome, Flash No. 112 (2017).

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