Elliot Harmon

It wasn’t even a real Namco game, I learn
from Googling. It was a bootleg. A better, tougher Pac-Man,
made by hackers. Instead of suing, Namco bought the rights.

We’re made to understand the female Pac-Man was key:
A circle wearing a bow, a female circle.
The McDonald’s toys were pink, the color of girl-toys.




I ask Kathleen about it over coffee. “That’s dumb,”
she says. “Let’s make the exact same game, except
with a bow in Pac-Man’s hair. The girls will love it.”

She also has lipstick, in fairness, and a beauty mark,
and eyes. You could argue she is gendered
and her predecessor, the featureless

yellow circle, is androgynous. But no,




no, Pac-Man must be a boy. Though I believed,
incorrectly, for as long as I knew something existed called a pacman

frog, that the frog existed first. The ghosts, never identified
as ghosts: Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde

become their female forms: Inky, Pinky,
Blinky, Sue. The female ghosts are
more sporadic, uncontrollable, more dangerous.




There’s a sound, like some electric siren, that permeates
Ms. Pac-Man. The sound of dots being swallowed? But no,
it still goes on when she’s not moving. Marc says
he thought it was just the sound Ms. Pac-Man makes.
Meaning not the character, the game.




More than your hair or brushing your hair, I miss
your ability to estimate sines and cosines,
your high Ms. Pac-Man scores, your blanket.
I can’t even find any of the records

you always played, let alone you.
Like a siren, or maybe someone saying
“Wow wow wow,” the game continually shocked
that it exists. Or the sound of ghosts.




I do not know which to prefer,
the beauty of pursuit
or the beauty of denouement,
the last dot in Ms. Pac-Man
or just after.




In a Youtube video, a thirteen-yr-old boy beats three levels
of Pac-Man blindfolded, following one path repeatedly,

increasing speed. The ghosts go where they must. Is that how
we know they’re ghosts, never being told by anyone, and not the monsters




they’re numbly labeled by instructions?
You couldn’t do that in Ms. Pac-Man,
there’s randomness and gender,

the humanness of ghosts unquestionably real,

the chorus relentlessly chanting, “Wow.”
Your emails come at the worst times. Damnit,
can’t you see I’m trying to be domestic?




Each note an invitation to cantilever words
along the interstate and frankly,
I just burned my wife’s breakfast.
“Well, what about you? Would you rather control

a female character?” She shakes her head.
“I really don’t like those games.”




Unlike Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man hints at plot,
with a crude animation every two levels.

Act 1: They Meet. Serendipitously a cartoon heart
is called into existence just above their heads.

Act 2: The Chase. Pac-Man chases Ms. Pac-Man
across the screen. Ms. Pac-Man
chases Pac-Man across the screen.

Act 3: Junior. A stork drops a baby
on the Pac-Men, who shares his father’s indescriptness




but nothing is resolved. The acts repeat indefinitely.
There could be a joke about that, but
this isn’t really that kind of thing.

Actually, Marc tells me, it does end. Around
level 150 the processor crashes,




so there is that.

For so long I believed that everyone
was lonely, poetry the only hope
for tiny slivers of connectedness.
It turns out I was wrong, it was
just me. But here,




I stall the ghosts until they’re
crowded in the corner, I wait
to eat my dot and strike. “What’s
that noise?” she asks. “It’s just

the game,” I say. She’s carrying
the mail, her reflection
on the screen reluctantly snaps
into focus as she opens the blinds.





Even with the narrative through line, I like to think of each section of this poem as a distinct movement, with its own rhythm and internal logic. The Stevens reference is a joke, but it’s also supposed to be a statement of intent, both about form and about the poem’s relationship to its subject.

Workshopping the poem taught me that there are poets who hate video games. I mean, they actually hate hate them; as in, want to eradicate them. I hope that both poetry and video games last as long as possible in the culture war, but I’ll gladly side with the winner when the time comes