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You haven’t seen me in a while
and you ask me how I am
but tell me,
would you really listen
if I answered your question
or will we do better
with the stock reply,
“Everything is all right.”?

What do you really see
when you look at me now?
I’ve gained some weight
and my eyes are keener
my posture more world-defensive
my strides wider,
more important
or at least more urgent
but tell me,
can you discern
that I’ve been compromised?
can you guess at
the so-called “achievements”
that are slowly
turning me
into a monster,
one made of paper
and signatures
and P’s and S’es
with double bars?

It feels like a lifetime
has passed
since I left
the unconditional love
within the academic arms
of my birthright
the royal-blooded caste
of the called and chosen
to pursue a road
with more thorns
more twists and turns
and swore
to not change
to never “get swallowed
by the system”
and promised
to someday return

Of course I’m proud.
I survived.
I’ll bet any amount
you name
that I’ll make it
but somehow
it doesn’t feel
the triumph
they told me
it would be
not the satisfaction
whether or not
any of my former detractors
caught wind of it

through the eye
of the needle
beyond the edge
of this
previously flat earth
I still say
I’ve known
no such happiness
out here
as I’ve had before
in there

the longer I stay
unconfined by its
ivy-covered walls
away from
its generations-aged
acacia trees
and tradition
the more I feel
that I don’t belong there