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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