Not Tag But War

Valerie Bandura

Before the internet, my college roommate

would get as close to the actor on TV

as she could to a human ear

and whisper the punchline

before he said it, and if she guessed right,

would pat herself on her own back. Back then,

I used the paper version of Facebook

to find my RA’s number

to record a message on her answering machine,

my voice in her empty room

like a lost kid stuck in a dark well

calling and calling for help. These days,

Mickey’s on TV blinking at my son

who’s trying to guess the circle

from the four shapes Mickey’s holding

to save them from whatever on-screen trouble

he believes they’re in, too much ice cream

and no scooper in sight. What a fool,

I think, Mickey’s making of my son,

and then, There is no Mickey.

There is, though, a Bradbury story

where children create a virtual African veldt

in their playroom, then send their parents in

to the lions. Awe-some,

sings my student for the sixty birthday wishes

on Facebook she reads to herself

as she walks to her room alone.

Who knows what’s real. When kids play at the park

calling out, I’m here, come get me,

hiding behind trees, who knows if they’re playing tag

or war with their semiautomatic bee bee guns

and camouflage pants tucked into their black lace-up boots

pelting each other like carnival ducks

that ding and fall down when hit

but come right back up quacking.

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