‘When Your Madden Running Back Retires’ and other poems

When Your Madden Running Back Retires


You curse him,
shrug, note

his speed dropping
two points a season

for the last
three seasons,

relive the fumble
in the January snow,

relive the shoulder injury
that kept you from going

undefeated. You never needed
him. But you wanted

one more 1,000 yard year,
one more run

with the gem
you discovered in the muck

of a fifth round video game draft.
You want him to last

a little longer because
if his knees have finally gone,

you have to think about your knees
and the songs they sing

when you trade one can for another
in the kitchen. He’s gone

away to spend more time with his family.
When was the last time you called your family?

You do remember that it was family
that put the controller in your hand

in the first place, don’t you?
The envy only second sons can know

pushed you to push buttons faster,
to push “mute” so mom didn’t find

your hands pawing a wet
controller in the dead of the night.

Your brother stopped beating you
years ago. Your mom’s just happy

you’re not dead and you’re not asking
for money that much these days.

Your running back moved on.
Your video game grew up.

What happened to you? Really,
I’m asking.


June 10, 1992


I spent the hours punishing my brother
with midair backbreakers and eating cheeseburgers.
If I say it was the best day of my life,
some of you will understand.


Do They Play Like Ryu or Guile?


When life was as simple as a button
combination and a sticky cabinet,

this question told us all we needed to know.
It was “Ford or Chevy?” It was

“Batman or Superman?”
Does this character move

in arcs and circles, nothing but
tornadoes, cyclones,

and fireballs? Or are we charging
in a straight line like Hector

and his phalanxes? Back-Forward.
Up-Down. Remember

when these were the only options
the world gave us. Remember

when they felt like all the choices
we’d ever need.


Wings of Liberty


We opened beers with our teeth
because we were men, and men didn’t carry
bottle openers on Spring Break.
At the pier, we decided on oral sex

being a reciprocal thing because, well,
manhood was about obligations.
We spent days collecting names
and numbers and faces, but at night

they never matched. We laid our IDs
on the counters with pride and tried not to
giggle into our rum because men
didn’t giggle. We were old enough

to know that, old enough to drink and hold
a dollar between a woman’s breasts
in a strip club we could never find again.
But men were explorers, and we found

our muse when she fell off the stage
during “Air Force Ones.” She laughed;
we laughed, but I wasn’t sure
who was laughing at who

but I didn’t ask because men
weren’t supposed to ask
too many questions
in front of a naked woman.

She whispered promises in my ear,
but before I reached for my wallet
the Terran theme from Starcraft
reached my ears. I waited to see

if my RTS-loving stripper fantasy
was going to come true, but
it didn’t. The music wasn’t for the stage.
It was the DJ playing

the game in the back corner.
I left my muse to go talk to a guy
about siege tank defense and fucking
Zerg rushes. He said he was just passing

the time, and we traded strategies
while we watched space marines
put flamethrowers to alien parasites
instead of watching live

nude girls. The DJ joked about watching
the wrong thing. I told him naked girls
weren’t new to me. I lied. But I was honest
about the Zerg. Without tanks, they were tough.


After I Heard Another White Woman at the Bar Talking About Michael Vick and the Death Penalty


Mike, I wanted to hit her
with a history lesson
about black men

never getting what they deserve
from the law.
But she’ll go to OJ,

I’ll go to Emmett Till,
She’ll say I can’t think
of what it’s like to lose

a pet and I’ll say
she can’t understand because she doesn’t
have a black dick between her legs

and America around her neck
and she’ll say it’s not the same
and that’s the only thing we’ll agree on

before her boyfriend shows up
with a shot and a shrug for everyone.
Thing is, Mike, I wanted to hit you, too,

years before the first shovel
touched your backyard
in Virginia. But it wasn’t because of the rape

stands and electrocutions; it was because you ran
circles around my linebackers on Madden 2004.
You took away my safety

blitzes and zone coverages.
If you finished the game, I was finished,
so I hit you every play.

I hit you on run plays.
I hit you on pass plays.
I grinned every time

your virtual body broke
and my opponents turned into Priam
weeping over Hector’s corpse

or some other Trojan father whose son caught
a spear with his throat.
They didn’t want to go on without you

as their leader. The contest wasn’t worth
the dollars on the coffee table
if you weren’t standing.

They would swear they learned
to never gamble their future
on the shoulders of one man again.

It was nice to see the world care
about a black body so much,
even if I wanted to break it.