Zeno's Paradox on Dig Dug

Emily Allison

(Southeast USA)


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I stroll through the back alleyways of Hollywood with the poet Maggie Nelson because I believe she will teach me something about how to love // 

There’s a tour bus waiting somewhere for me, seat nine empty, the acting troupe I arrived with filling in my place onstage. Maggie knows this, but just keeps walking // 

There’s a fissure that sprouts between us, & that’s probably because she’s an adult & she’s had lots of sex & she’s eloped in a queer-centric church & she’s bought a stack of lottery tickets & she’s slept on a futon made of milk crates & she’s been recognised on the street & she’s not actually here, just an extension of another daydream // 

\\ 

Pain is a decision. I decide to feel like shit because when I look back, I compare my current unhappiness to the time our hands were flying over the arcade buttons, him & I pressed against one another with laughter coming out of our noses, sweat dripping down our necks from lots of people in a crowded room & a low AC as he tried to teach me how to play Dig Dug & actually win—because if I think about that day then my throat starts to close up & I can’t do my homework // 

If you compare it, then yeah, pain is something I’m deciding to feel. I decide to feel like March will never be as good as January because March hasn’t been as good as January, & neither has April—not without him // 

March hasn’t been as good as January until Maggie showed up on my hotel doorstep this morning & told me to follow her instead of watching Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Los Angeles because we all know how that story ends // We walk. There are two thousand, seven hundred & seventeen stars // 

\\ 

I try & create something from nothing // 

“There’s too many holes,” Maggie tells me as she jumps from one star to the next, never allowing herself to touch down on bare concrete. I think she is talking about the ground at first, but then I realize she means Zeno & his paradox // 

I clutch a fistful of gravel that has collected against the curb & I begin to sprinkle one on each star, ignoring her. You can hear it every time a pebble falls // 

“See? Holes” // 

I sigh, because I guess she’s not leaving this alone. “It’s rocks, not millet. That changes it, no? He says that with one grain of millet, you hear nothing—but with a thousand, you hear it all. Yet these,” I shake my enclosed fist, “are rocks. Different.” Maggie just turns away // But can you blame it for having holes? // 

Do we fault a net for having holes? Do we pity it? Do we look at it & think how it would be so much more efficient to have it be a sack instead, because maybe that would keep the possibility of whatever we are capturing—what are those characters from Dig Dug called again?—from slipping through? // 

Maybe I should’ve asked for Zeno to take me to the theatre instead // 

\\ 

I like to believe that if I get up in the morning & tell myself that I will be okay, then I will be // My dad used to wake me up with the same three sentences: // 

“Rise & shine! It’s a beautiful day in (city, state). Today is the day the Lord has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it!” // 

They were nice words to hear for a while. Comforting // 

Then they felt expectant. Because the Lord has made the day, I must now live this twenty four hours to the best of my ability because why else would God have given me this day otherwise, if not to share my wisdom with everyone I pass, tell my siblings I love them more than usual, do the dishes without being asked so my mother doesn’t have to worry, & also get the hundred on the chemistry test, & keep my energy up at rehearsal, & eat three full meals, & go get coffee with someone I haven’t seen in a while & give off the impression that I am thriving & write something actually worth reading for once & maybe finally tell the boy I’m avoiding that I cannot seem to look at him without wanting it to be January again // 

I must now live this twenty four hours to the best of my ability & then wake up tomorrow & do it all over again // 

I like to believe that if I get up in the morning & tell myself that I will be okay, then I may have a decent shot at it. There’s a chance—isn’t there always?—that today will be the day where I rise from my bed & decide that I will start my life anew, because that just seems like something I should do as a person who has been blessed with a day from the Lord // 

“Oh, that’s healthy,” Maggie mutters at me. I scowl in her direction & drop the rest of the pebbles on the ground. The sound is much louder than I expect it to be // 

\\ 

Maggie & I find a pastry shop because her stomach is growling & my feet are getting tired from walking on stars & Cinderella is now well underway, meaning no one is looking for me anymore // When the girl behind the counter smiles at me (she’s pretty & has a smiley face necklace), I don’t even notice the blush that blooms up my neck until Maggie stifles a snort behind me & pushes me to the side so she may purchase her own cupcakes // 

The worker is pretty in a nostalgic way, probably because she has red hair like I girl I used to like did & for a second I wonder if it’s her, but it isn’t, so I leave it alone & take my food & leave her a nice tip // 

“You blush because you run hot on the inside,” Maggie tells me later, once we’ve found a table. I don’t even know what she means, but she mumbles something about passion as she stuffs sugar & cake into her mouth. She hasn’t brought it up since // 

I pick at a brownie & wonder if he would recognize me now, sitting with Maggie Nelson—a poet I once made him read because I wanted him to feel even a semblance of what I did—because I look different. I have cut my hair shorter than he’s seen it & I’m stronger than I used to be, & I blush now, apparently // 

“You look lonely,” Maggie comments. I look up at her & she has icing on her chin. “You must find dignity in that loneliness” // 

“You sound like a poet,” I tell her, laughing a little & going back to picking at my brownie // \\ 

Plato liked to say that Zeno was equivocating. Covering everything with words, so as to bury the meaning of everything he was saying so that you didn’t realize that it was all a bunch of bullshit // Everything about his paradox on plurality—the like & unlike—seemed to unravel in front of Plato’s eyes, & Zeno couldn’t seem to do anything about it // 

If you listen to Zeno, then you will find yourself believing that the heaviness of a human & the heaviness of a mountain—them both sharing the quality of having weight—means they are the same, which makes them alike. This means that there is no plurality // 

If you listen to Plato, he counters that the intelligence between a mountain & a human is radically different, meaning that they cannot be alike. So, there’s a contradiction // “Well of course,” Maggie says. We’re walking on stars again. “See what I mean? I’m with Plato—Zeno’s got too many holes” // 

So, therefore, Plato has solved Zeno’s paradox, & Maggie has debunked everything Zeno has ever said // 

I think I get it. I like the idea that according to Zeno, I am a mountain, & so then the mountain is also me & yet because we are not each other, that makes us completely different. I can be a mountain if I want to, & the mountain may step into my shoes, but because I am heavy & hold weight on this earth, same as a mountain, we are never weighed down by something new // 

“That’s so stupid.” This is the first time Maggie has allowed her feet to touch concrete & not just stars. “I don’t care what you say—Plato is right” // 

I like to think about how old Greek men used to fight about theoreticals. Maggie & I bicker like that now, & I wonder if people passing by think we are arguing about where to eat dinner instead of an ancient paradox // 

Maggie & I are alike, then, according to Zeno // 

“Yeah, that’s definitely not true.” She has gone back to stepping on stars only // \\ 

In an arcade, there is always one machine that has dozens of games on it: PacMan, Frogger, Burger Time, Q*bert, Donkey Kong, & of course, Dig Dug. It looks like the most unsuspecting, janky ones of them all, but if you get there before anyone else does, you have access to almost every other game in the room on a single console // 

That was him & I—we got to it before anyone else did. It was a single-player, so we switched back & forth between each other, seeing who could get higher points. I caught him taking a picture of me as GAME OVER flickered in front of my face. We laughed until we couldn’t breathe, & when we finally left—hands interlocked—our laughs turned to cold air in front of our eyes // 

Maggie & I stand outside an arcade on Hollywood Boulevard. The sound from inside spills out onto the stars, & I watch it tumble for a second before sinking down into the asphalt // “You wanna go in?” she asks, & I swallow once. Twice. Watch more neon lights spill out from the door // 

“I haven’t been to one since January” // 

I think now about the like & unlike. How March is so unlike January, & yet their weights are the same on the calendar, so they must not be a plurality // 

But they must be a plurality because you cannot tell me that January & March are the same // I suddenly don’t know if I really understand what Zeno was getting at // 

Maggie turns to look at me, dim lights reflecting on her skin. “Let’s keep walking” // \\ 

We come across a church. The side doors aren’t open, which feels extremely un-church-like, so we end up having to pay the ten dollars at the front to get in // 

I’ve been to churches. Many churches: Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, you name it. Traditional services with male pastors in robes, contemporary services with female pastors in jeans. I’ve recited the hymns & I’ve sung the Christian karaoke // 

So I stuff a dollar into the wooden box beside the altar to Jesus & light a candle // I shouldn’t be Christian. I shouldn’t believe in the thing that has been forced down my throat since I popped out of the womb, the beliefs that change how my parents look at me. I should reject it as the thing I have been brainwashed into, & instead go on my own “religious journey” to find what I truly believe in // 

But I think I’d come back to Christianity in the end // 

I fight myself on it too much. I go back & forth, same as I do with Plato & Zeno. Same as I do with January & March // 

I am tired of being a plurality & yet not one at all // 

\\ 

I stroll through the main streets of Hollywood with the poet Maggie Nelson because I believe she will teach me something about how to forget //

I slide into seat nine & curl my legs up underneath me. The cushion rubs into the back of my thighs & the windows start to fog up because the AC is blasting & Los Angeles is reaching a hundred degrees // 

There’s a fissure that sprouts between Maggie & I as she stands on stars & the bus begins to pull away—maybe because she’s got a lovely partner & she’s written many things worth reading & she can go into arcades & she’s so sure that Plato is right & she had a wonderful March & she carries her own weight, not the weight of a mountain \\

Emily Allison

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Emily Allison is a writer based out of upstate South Carolina. She was the 2020-2021 and the 2021-2022 South Carolina state champion/nationalist for Poetry Out Loud, has been published in Havik Magazine: Homeward for her poem "I Hate Rabbits," and is the creative nonfiction editor for Crashtest Magazine. She just recently won the Jan Bailey Prize and the Poetry Ourselves Award for her poem "galatea," and her poetry was featured on the TV show "By the River." She has also performed her poetry in the Elevate Showcase and for the Greenville Symphony. She was also a recipient of the 2022 YoungArts honorable mention award for her poetry. When not writing, she is often reading, performing in her local theater, out on the town with her friends, prepping for a Speech and Debate tournament, or catching up on the latest Netflix show. She owes her success to her family, friends, beautiful hometown, and Dr. Pepper. You can contact her at allisons4423@gmail.com, or call her at (469)-514-5354.

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