Self Portrait as Flash Gordon

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon
[Atari 2600 Video Game Adaptation]

There is no Flash Gordon, only this space
ship swiveling back and forth in an arena
of stars that are not stars but pixels flickering,
an illusion of movement. There is no enemy
swarm that strikes with violent shimmer,
only the soul which is really that confusion
a boy feels when he tries to pay attention
to three things at once. Above: an expedition
to rescue astronauts, who are not men
but lights outlining a man’s body
as a boy imagines it to be—blocky,
upright, arms windmilling to maintain
balance in the abyss. Below: the map,
contorted and tangled, no wind rose,
no landmark. Outside: your father
who is your father but also a wraith,
your father who is not your father
but a series of monstrous noises in the ether.
There is a force field. There is a joystick.
There is no Flash Gordon, only a boy
and a video game that is not a video game
but that is lion heart and lily liver,
that is the future of the universe, that is
what’s left inside a boy.


Self Portrait as Flash Gordon
[Commodore 64 Video Game Adaptation]

Skeletons, you spear me through
the chest, hollow spot where once
a target pulsed. Ape-men, you descend
from trees, rend limb from shoulder
blade from ankle bone. The spiders
know I am the electron, the lightning
spirit, power up and pixel heart.
The jungle slides by screen by screen—
yawning chasm, dinosaur breath.
Bees, you swarm my body,
as if agony could be electricity
could be flesh. You cannot destroy
what I do not have.

I am callouses on a man’s knuckles,
blockbuster and right cross. I am
heartshine. I am thumb cramp. I am a fistful
of sand, a dash of gravel to close
a man’s eyes. I am knife hand, praying
mantis, crescent moon kick in a fight
that moves too quick for blood, too dirty
for choreography. I am groin punch.
I am groin punch.
I am groin punch.

There is no such thing as speed,
only moving landscapes, a geography
for empty space. There is no such thing
as geography, only acceleration, a motorcycle
chase in 16 colors across a checkerboard.
I am wildfire and gasoline. I am desire
fizzing in the bottle, sun bursting for yolk.
The explosions know there are no explosions,
only blasts of color against the pale blue,
a voice at the vanishing point: Velocity is just
a trick of light, a man just a body in motion


Self Portrait as Flash Gordon
[Bally Pinball Squawk & Talk Isolation]

This machine has a reputation—all screech
and catcall, lights and sound bites to spur
you to nudge and bangback. Everything
is drawn to the drain eventually.

Emperor Ming Awaits
You can’t choose your own enemies.
Others will make that decision
for you. Give up on karate chops
and fancy kicks, on rooster feathers,
on eagle claws. Shoot your steel
ball into the fray, realize your desire
for tattoos—lightning bolt, rocketship
vs. mystery planet, a woman’s name.

Not your name. A strobe of light.
Your name. A lifespan.

Ignite Death Rays, Fifteen Seconds
Your mother predicted you would grow
up to be an astronaut, your father anything
but an astronaut. The lights strobe quick
like the quasar’s flicker, the eyeball shimmer.
This machine speaks with the android fuzz,
the buzz and crackle insisting you
give up on moonwalks, on swimming
in asteroid fields. Give up on sexy space
suits and ever flying with a jet pack.

Over ramp and cockcrow. Through comet
and sonic boom. In the thick of slingshot
and kicker. Straight past your flippers.

Ignite Death Rays, Fifteen Seconds
The ball spits out of the kickout hole,
ricochets past bumper pop and target
drop—there are no death rays,
only reprieve from true peril. Give up
to invisible knuckles, to middle school
hallways, to number two pencils
gripped like shivs. On the backglass,
Flash Gordon is dashing with a golden
machete. Emperor Ming’s bodyless head
fixes you with a sinister glare.

Laser. Siren. Animal sounds.
These are your new name.

Try Again, Earthling
Try again, half-pint—the aliens are
disguised as girls wearing Aqua Net
and black vinyl. Try again, monkey
boy or be defeated with headlock
and titty twister. This machine will go
silent one day so try again, junior—
until the lights go out, until you slam
tilt all the machines, until there is
no such thing as a high score on earth.