One of my favorite video games as a kid was . . .
Our parents promised a Nintendo
if we could clear every cactus
from the pastures, front and back:
about four acres. At the time,
it seemed difficult but fair.
A Nintendo cost one hundred and
fifty dollars, an impossible
amount of money, but there
was nothing we wouldn’t do
to play Super Mario Bros.
without begging our aunt,
who could beat the game
without losing a single man
and always made us play Luigi.
I was ten, my brother eight,
and what I wonder now is
if our parents believed we could do it
or asked the impossible on purpose
to avoid saying no, the way
we tell kids that anyone
can go to Harvard, become
President, earn a million dollars.
It took us weeks to pull not just
the plants but the shallow,
wide-ranging roots, weeks
of stinging and a burning itch
from the tiny, yellow, hair-like prickles
that clung to our skin and broke
like shards of brittle glass
just above the surface—
impossible to pluck, even with tweezers.
If they meant for us to fail,
they gambled and lost and paid up.
They bought the machine, though
they could afford only one game,
and we would never be more
than indifferent gamers, never
as nimble as our aunt or our friends,
and maybe that was the lesson
we were meant to learn: the gap,
no matter what we earned,
between what we imagined
and what we could be.
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