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Rocky-Eyed

When I think about the MFAs
I think about my dead friend Travis
An old friend from the old guard
Who had been through the wars and went back to school in his late 30s
Some smarmy pig-head running the MFA program
Someone probably accustomed to shaping younger writers in his image
Had the nerve to read his stuff and ask 
if he had considered doing something else with his life
That is
Stop writing

I try (as hard as it is) to see the best in people and their intentions
He probably said that in passing
Probably just preoccupied with his own shit and having a bad day
Trapped in the maw of his own grind
"I'm too good to be running this MFA program”
"It really should have been me, the Man Booker"

Everyone is quietly thinking
I’m too good for this
And they see someone who’s their own age
But who’s the Pupil
Who hasn’t climbed all the ladders and kissed the right asses
Who’s been touring in bands like Reactionary 3 that no one remembers now
And making an obscure zine that people are too hurt to read anymore
And working in a library helping Salvadoran teenagers with their GED prep

Pupils
Ha, ha
Travis loved that damn record
And everything by old Dan Whatshisname
the Lungfish guy

These little literary fiefdom-chiefs just can't handle it
It actually pains them that they run such-and-such MFA program
Such-and-such university-funded literary journal
And they're not Zola or Proust
or running the goddamn Paris Review (we must never forget who funded that one)

They're also grateful because we’re all grateful for a good job that mostly lets us be ourselves
But they thought they would end up like Junot Diaz or Colm Toibyn
Didn’t work out
Maybe for the best, they're thinking to themselves now
Didn't want it bad enough I guess, they think to themselves

Professors don’t really want old students
Or students their own age who have seen a bit too much
It’s unsettling
Their presence exposes the lie

The con they’ve pulled that they have taste and cultural authority
The con of having attained a position of power they didn’t really truly need or deserve

As the Mountain Goats sang
When you punish a person for dreaming his dream
Don't expect him to thank or forgive you

I don't know that MFA guy or care
But I do know he helped send old Travis down the river of oblivion
It was a million little things and decisions and sleights that did
Many of them self-inflicted
As is the way of the world

I associate Travis completely with Florida
With the neon record cover of that ye olden 2002 band Bitchin
“The Night Life, the Tight Style”
Pulling into the sand Greyhound parking lot
In the shining ever spring morning light
I miss his little pointy beard
And his beady eyes
And his high voice and how much he nodded

He clearly sought approval from the world
He had been raised Southern
Smile when you're with company
If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all
Was better at all that than I am
Concealed a lot of things he thought and felt
That shit builds up
Creates a perforation in the personality
He compartmentalized

And I think
Found it hard to say some important certain things
That create a perforation in personality

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Aaron Lake Smith