Collecting Chaos

…Abel was running. Against the winter sky and the long, light landscape of the valley at dawn,
he seemed almost to be standing still, very little and alone.

– N. Scott Momaday

Like Abel, my people run
to survive, to teach
youngsters to do the same.

Running & running & running & always running
across hill always running, across plant, ruin, night,
always running across top, cave, palace, ocean, metropolis, sky, fortress, running & running
across egg, running across gauntlet, & always

When I was young, it made sense
to dream the world into zones
places controlled
by a single element—
forest, water, money, oil, robots—
foreboding but possible
for a kid & his genesis

A gift from my migrant Mexican mom
& migrant Rarámuri dad,
the game was my way out
of the asphalt,
claustrophobic life
they each left their homes
to build
for us. It wasn’t much
and it was barely ours,
but, as a kid who knew
nothing better, I hooked myself
into the game and learned
velocity & sacrifice.

Directional pad, three buttons,
that’s all it was & it was too much
for a game where all there is
is run, run, jump, run, run
crouch & charge & run.
This is how I remember my childhood—
hyperbole. Sonic did more.
He hung on bars & hooks, breathed underwater
bubbles. If I left him alone, away
from harm but not moving,
he also looked right at me,
scowling, toe-tapping impatiently.
We had places be, me & this game
I loved, me & this game I hated.

Inevitably, I lost. Every time
I lost, I wondered if I missed something vital
by not playing the first Sonic the Hedgehog,
as though by mistake, I migrated
to a place I didn’t belong.
Without money or elders
to guide me, I resorted to playing
& losing, spending
what little of my childhood didn’t
go to surviving & trying to escape
my hood, on running & losing
lives. Game after game

Without access to memory
storage, the game became rhythmic
exercises in amnesia. I’d run, jump, collect
rings, jump, run, break televisions, get power-
ups, run, jump, take damage, lose
rings, retrieve one or two, defeat
mini-bosses, collect chaos
emeralds, sometimes advance
all the way to the Egg Gauntlet Zone,
sometimes not. Sometimes,
agile & carefree enough,
I defeated Sonic’s robotic
imposter, only to die
at the hands of Dr. Robotnik’s
final form, but never more.

For more than a decade, the game & I remained deadlocked.
Neither willing to yield, we parted ways, drifting
or running toward our destinies:
me, to middle school, high school, and—improbably—college;
the game, to the recesses & oblivion of my family’s closet
& my memory. Unfinished, unprepared, we ran
from ourselves, unaware of what awaited us at the end
of the next zone.

Running begets its own
rules for chaos.
I, you, or we run
from & to something
lacking, inadequate, our own
failure—to know better, to listen
better, to be better. Better
becomes noise, justification
for running. Breaths & steps
echo against emptied bottles,
cans, against hollowed
nights spent convincing myself
loneliness was a reward
worth running toward.

Like Sega, I became absorbed
by rivals. Encouraged to run,
I put distance between me, my family, my home,
& my roots. Centuries spent resisting
el chabochi & el gringo,
and their ways, only for this little runner
to flee into the snow-covered zone
of my own self-abandonment.

It took years to escape
what it had taken years to achieve.
Countless miles run, countless breaths
breathed to unlearn
& relearn what had always been.
Taking me everywhere
I never imagined I’d go
& then (eventually)
back home. Though, not before…

It was a windless winter night
on a New England college campus
when I finally beat Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Sequestered in an unoccupied classroom
in the Spanish Department, I ran deliberately
through familiar zones, but
this time, through a Nintendo console.
Alone, I delivered the final strike to Death Egg Robot,
and, as Sonic fell from the skies,
I looked out the window to the moonless dark,
trying to convince myself
something had changed.

Like Sonic, I run
to survive. I teach
youngsters to do the same.