Two Poems

Poetry / Garrett J. Brown


:: Manual Recall ::

On your 39th birthday you discover the 2600
in a museum, wood-grain trim on the black plastic

console locked behind a glass display, plugged into
a cathode ray television for authenticity. But the joy-

stick was loose, inviting young digital natives to toy
with 8-bit blips after spraying handprints on sheets

of block paper to learn how the artists of Lascaux
coded created by. You spy Adventure & send

your cursor avatar spelunking into the invisible 
maze. As a kid you loathed the gray screen

that surrendered just glimpses of the path ahead,
spent hours bumping walls, chasing bats, ending

in the hollow of Yorgle’s belly until the level finally
was mastered, so that now, here, in our 21st century,

though deleted from your conscious mind, your hands
recall the routine: down, left, down, right, up until

you stand again before the castle gates, pleased
a part of you never released the grip.


:: Glitch ::

Narrative comes unstitched
I return to find the quest giver dead
Plot in knots instead of a twist

Back to the load screen to sift
Past saves & recover the thread
Before narrative comes (un)stitched

Cyber-moshers nose the rift
Between image & code, bend
Data to bits the original twist

Was an ordinary moth adrift
Coiled in wires wings spread
Among circuits looped & stitched

Inside gears & tape it slipped
Cursorial legs treading
Punched manila stock & twists

Language & mutations (in)(per)sist
Metamorphic viruses shred
Artifice stitched (un) [404] [Syn-
tax Error]
                    [Fail Whale]
          [NO CARRIER]
Again?          Sonavabitch	



From the writer


:: Account ::

It’s absurd how much of our lived expe­ri­ence is sunk below our con­scious­ness, dor­mant neur­al cir­cuits ready to siz­zle back to life giv­en the right cir­cum­stances. The moment that inspired “Man­u­al Recall” was like Proust’s cook­ie, but more embod­ied than encod­ed. I could not have explained in lan­guage, nor point­ed the way through Adven­ture’s mazes. Any attempt to bring the solu­tion to the con­scious mind sim­ply got in the way of the mus­cle mem­o­ry. Adven­ture’s mazes also hide what many con­sid­er to be the first video game “East­er Egg”: a secret room where pro­gram­mer War­ren Robi­nett signed his name on the screen in defi­ance of the own­ers of Atari.

Glitch” began with a prob­lem com­mon in video games that could be con­sid­ered the great-grand­chil­dren of Adven­ture: you may recov­er the quest object, maybe a fam­i­ly heir­loom a vil­lager lost to ban­dits, but when you try to return it, you dis­cov­er the vil­lager has been killed in a ran­dom­ly gen­er­at­ed encounter and you can’t com­plete the quest. Games such as these insist on being a nar­ra­tive genre, but there’s always ten­sion between plot and the free­dom of the play­er, always room for slip­page and glitch. The “cyber-mosh­ers” are a ref­er­ence to data­bend­ing, a process where errors are delib­er­ate­ly intro­duced into the code of a dig­i­tal image, video, or sound file to cre­ate dis­tor­tion. This tech­nique is com­mon in what is some­times referred to as “glitch art,” which has its roots in Chicago’s video arts move­ment of the 1970s.


Gar­rett J. Brown’s first book of poems, Man­na Sift­ing, won the Liam Rec­tor First Book Prize from Briery Creek Press in 2009, and his chap­book, Cubi­cles, was pub­lished by Fin­ish­ing Line Press in 2014. His oth­er awards include first place in the Poet­ry Cen­ter of Chicago’s Juried Read­ing, judged by Jorie Gra­ham; run­ner-up in the Mary­land Emerg­ing Voic­es com­pe­ti­tion; and a Cre­ative Writ­ing Fel­low­ship from the School of the Art Insti­tute of Chica­go. His poet­ry and cre­ative non­fic­tion have appeared in Black War­rior Review, Poet­ry East, Tri­Quar­ter­ly, Nat­ur­al Bridge, and Pas­sages North. He makes his home in Bal­ti­more and is an Aas­so­ci­ate Ppro­fes­sor at Anne Arun­del Com­mu­ni­ty College.