…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
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,
they each left their homes
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.