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Shadow Writing (What it’s like to write a dissertation)

It’s not about being smart.
It’s about lighting bundles of sandalwood incense
and writing on rice paper March winds, sending
smoke you think are words to academic nether regions,
only to have them Rejected and Returned
as bitter pipe exhalations blown in your face
by a Buddhist monk professor who demands of you
Kung Fu torture exercises—
Fast leaking river water buckets yoked on to stooped shoulders;
Ancient limestone keyboards suspended from bruised knuckles;
Weary steps ordered to a too quick cadence by bamboo canes
Beating out welts that read: “Not. Good. Enough.”

It’s not about being smart,
And it’s nowhere near as romantic as it seems.
There is no exclusive sheepskin invitation-only soiree
Where you indulge in high tea and Hors D’oeuvres, and speak
in sentences crafted from esoteric syllables held aloft
like silver serving platters
It is none of this.
This is just the dream
from which you awaken, and find yourself
on the wrong page of an Ambrose Bierce short story–
neck in a loose leaf noose,
feet shifting on a splintered book jacket plank
and poised above an awaiting river of self-doubt.

It’s not about being smart.
It’s about hazing,
It’s being the bent over target for an air holed-paddle—
A whistling ventriloquist whose sonata hits
with heavy, unsynchronized expectation.
And it’s about the sting,
The white-hot, frost bite of pain
and your masochistic request for more.
It’s truly not about being smart.
but about being both stubborn enough,
and stupid enough
to read, write,
and not quit.


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