I got detention in fourth grade for yelling,
“Screw you!” at Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego,
but I don’t want to dwell on it.
I want to recall floppy disks, like square plates,
darker than the boxes
packed away in garages. I bank away
fuzzy memories of Number Munchers, good for
devouring multiples and prime numbers
with the smiley, green creature
zipping the screen, duping me into learning math.
I’m still stuck on the Oregon Trail, rendered
in pixelated graphics, taking my motley family
from Independence, MO, to the Oregon coast.
I’m always the farmer, too young to say
“I ain’t no soft-handed banker” even if I felt it.
I set my meals to meager
and traveled the grueling pace,
never afraid to ford the river
or to sacrifice my oxen, but I felt guilt
killing too much meat to carry
back to my starving family from the hunting grounds
home of rabbits, squirrels, and lumbering buffalo
keeled over on the black field
with sparse bushes. This was the first time
video games made me laugh at death.
When I died of cholera or if someone else
contracted measles, I always answered
“Your Mom” or “pepperoni”
when the game asked, “What do you want
on your tombstone?” The real death always came
with a classmate ejecting the disk
before the game ended, more painful
than Manifest Destiny, more fatal
than the broken wagon axle scenario
on the plains of Nebraska.
They pull through currents in large blooms.
A minefield of tendrils armed with marine stingers.
Crowds of them parade past beaches, below boardwalks.
They swarm herring and salmon schools to bits.
Like surprise of starfish in North Atlantic seas or
glaciers’ hairline cracks spilling into slush,
they float amid the most remote sparks in our minds.
Washed ashore, fed by the ocean’s dead zones,
they nourish the absence of bones, eyes, and heart.
We aren’t afraid enough to notice.
Juan Morales was born in the U.S. to an Ecuadorian mother and a Puerto Rican father. He is the author of the poetry collections The Siren World, Friday and the Year That Followed, and the forthcoming collection The Handyman’s Guide to End Times. He is a CantoMundo Fellow, the Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine, and an Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where he directs the Creative Writing Program and curates the SoCo Reading Series. His poems are forthcoming or have recently appeared in Pank, Post Road, The Malpais Review, Green Mountains Review, and others.