Pac-Man (№ 2 in the Atari 2600 Poems Series)

William Lee is not in the neighbourhood anymore
But, before he left, his grandson showed him how to chase the ghosts
That second generation removed –
From zen arcade to anarchy’s home console –
The kid thought he’d taught the old man his last tricks:
How to rack up the biggest numbers,
Keep progressing through the different levels,
Pass through secret doors to the other side of the maze …

But Mr. Lee already knew
The point of the game
Having lived it
He just didn’t let on, even then,
During those final months:
Shake hands with the ghost
And you become one

The kid didn’t know it
But Will Lee always
Counted on the big white pills
To get him through the worst
At precisely the right moment,
When a certain death starting creeping up,
Threatening to touch him,
Threatening to turn him all
Upside down and inside out

He ate these pills like the candy
He would hand out at the store
Especially back in the old days,
The better days,
The days when the only monsters he knew
Were the ones that

Of course, at Thankgiving,
With everyone around the dining room television
That’s when the kid found out
With his head between his knees
That’s when he learned the secret of death
“Just because”

Will Lee,
Was it the daisy or the sunflower that cried for you?
Or was it just the sun,
On its way to becoming a red dwarf,
Gobbling everything in its path
Chasing ghosts and running from them
In an infinite, never-ending maze?

The kid hopes you ran through the secret doors, Will Lee
With your heart pounding and your palms sweating
Not knowing if you’d run right into another ghost

Before you died, though,
On the flickering TV screen
There was a reflection of yourself
A reflection of the thing
You were about to become:

One of them

* * * * *

Zachary Houle lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where he works for the federal government as an Information Officer and is also an Associate Music Reviews editor for, a pop culture webzine that reaches 1.2 million unique visitors a month. He also contributes regular book and music reviews to PopMatters. Houle has been awarded a $4,000 emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa to write fiction, and was a Pushcart Prize nominee for a novella that appeared in Midnight Mind. His fiction or poetry has also appeared in places such as Broken Pencil, Word Riot, Pindeldyboz, Kiss Machine, The Danforth Review, Girls with Insurance, Thieves Jargon, Friction magazine, Megaera, and many others. His poem “Ode to the Long Lost Mini-Pops Album” was published in the book anthology In Our Own Words, Vol. 7 (MW Enterprises, 2007).

His contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

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  1. Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. II, Issue 47 « Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure

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