Self-Portrait in a 19-inch Magnavox, by Randolph Pfaff

I.

I stood in line for an hour at a furniture liquidation warehouse to meet a man in face paint, neon spandex, and feathered hair. A man who other men revered and who, in exchange for twenty dollars, shook my tiny hand, posed for a picture, and scribbled his name on a glossy picture of himself.

I stayed up late, waiting on the couch with Nana, for WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and the inaugural Royal Rumble; microwaved fish sticks, fries with ketchup, and bottles of Yoo-hoo at the ready.

I sat across from her during the afternoon on school days, checkerboard balanced on an ottoman and the TV always on in the background, plotting my next move while my mother made her way from job to college and back in the year after my father died.

I watched the Ultimate Warrior move across the ring, looking like a manic, steroidal owl, acting out his half of the script. I thought about growing up to be big like him, or at least big enough to wear my father’s suit coats that I’d begged my mother to keep.

I heard Nana yell at the TV, berating grown men who could have been her sons, calling out nicknames that sounded like honorifics my uncles brought back from the war: Captain Lou, Superfly, The Snake.

I wondered if she’d always been so small. I’d stare at her tiny hands, fingers like the branches of a tree in winter, commanding the remote, one of the few things that belonged to her alone. There, ensconced on a recliner older than I was, she was in control.

II.

I grew older, grew up, moved away, and mostly forgot what it meant to sit in that warm living room at eight years old, and to share something simple with a woman whose life had been anything but.

I returned to her house when my grandfather died and saw a different Nana, alone and scared, but free. I smiled when my mother gave her simple things she hadn’t been allowed before: a porch with a rocking chair, an extra box of cookies, choices, silence.

I stood in that same house five years later with my mother, sifting through eighty-seven years of Nana’s life, and hearing stories I’d been told dozens of times but never telling my own. I thought they’d sound silly. It took me another five years to realize I was wrong.

I can still see myself there sometimes, sitting of the floor and watching her move the squat, red pieces across the board, wondering now if she let me win and realizing I never knew her well enough to figure it out.

I wait for my turn and simultaneously try to keep track of the good guys and bad guys and which matches are rematches. I try to guess who will get hit with a chair first and to decipher exactly how many times you have to get knocked down before you’re allowed to break free from an impending pin and rise to sudden victory.

I am silent, as I always was, in deference to the soundtrack of choreographed violence. And in those reverent moments, I am a sidekick, a grandson, a fan, and a tiny tag team partner, acting out my half of the script.


Randolph Pfaff is a poet, editor and visual artist. His work has been featured in PANK, The Destroyer, H_NGM_N, Revolver, and SLAB, among others. He also edits a literary journal called apt, and runs a small press called Aforementioned Productions. He's not very good at free time.