When Joe Played Doctor and Got in Dutch

It was a splendid gift for one with heart,
complete with candy pills and stethoscope,
and Joe made all assembled breathe with hope
for the younger generation—the part
about how seeds planted in fertile minds
bloom as tomorrow's brainchildren. He donned
his cap and gown as one who'd formed a bond
with destiny, one of those wondrous kinds
of prodigies famed in biographies
for skipping the formalities. He shone
in his own eyes as a healer whose skills
were unsurpassed in the annals of disease
control. The next day, he set out to hone
his proficiency with medical drills.

He enlisted a nurse from the next block,
and set up his kit at the curb. Among
the items he arrayed were tongue
depressors, cotton swabs, a tomahawk
for tapping knees, and rubber gloves. He'd pick
on every little kid who passed, whose cure
was quick. His eye popped from the aperture
of his physician's mirror: "Write down sick,"
he'd tell Nurse Nancy, who barely knew how
to spell her own name. Nurse Nancy's brother,
who was three, put an end to Joe's career.
His sister pinned him down—he shouted “Ow!
and ran screaming home to tell their mother.
(Joe had stuck an otoscope in his ear.)

Mom kept from smiling as Nurse Nancy's mom
droned on. She pretended she had dirty chores
she couldn't duck, and repeated, "My door's
always open to a neighbor," to calm
the waters. Nancy's mom refused to buy
stock in Mom's notion that Joe had "a need
inspired by a keen desire to succeed,"
a praiseworthy trait, or that "those with high
hopes for their offspring set them free." Then
the green-eyed monster reared its ugly head.
"Nancy will reign as Rose Festival Queen, ‘
attend the U of O, and marry when
a boy with wealthy parents, both well-bred,
proposes to Nancy's dad. He'll be clean

and well-mannered, won't smoke, or drink liquor,
or stay out late at night." She left, restored
to her former happy state, while Mom, bored
stiff, burst out laughing. "There's nothing thicker
than some people's heads!" When Joe and I
popped from under the kitchen table, we
all had a good chuckle. Then Mom told me
to go pick up my room, which meant, "Go fly
a kite while Joe and I discuss fateful
matters of global import." I, all ears,
peeked through the crack behind the door as she
explained how some people can seem hateful
when they have the best intentions. Joe's tears
freshened an old expression, "Let it be!"

He retired his kit the way he buried
stray cats run over in the street—with rites
conducted out-of-doors by the moonlight's
soft glow. I dug the hole, and he carried
the body, the black valise with M.D.
stamped on either side, shrouded by the Stars-
and-Stripes. He might as well have flown to Mars
as try to "do the doctor thing," when he
had "no higher moral guide than his peers,"
who, obviously, at that tender age,
had "scant conception of the lures of life,"
according to Nancy's mother, whose fears
of bogeymen put Nancy in a cage,
alone, a perfect stranger's model wife.

First published in my chapbook, Brother Joe (1998)