“The Opposites Game” by Brendan Constantine

“The Opposites Game” For Patricia Maisch This day my students and
I play the Opposites Game with a line from Emily Dickinson.
My life had stood a loaded gun, it goes and
I write it on the board, pausing so they can call
out the antonyms – My Your Life Death Had stood ? Will sit A Many Loaded Empty Gun ? Gun. For a moment, very much
like the one between lightning and its sound,
the children just stare at me, and then it comes, a flurry,
a hail storm of answers – Flower, says one. No, Book, says another.
That’s stupid, cries a third, the opposite of a
gun is a pillow. Or maybe a hug, but not a book,
no way is it a book. With this, the others gather their thoughts and suddenly it’s a shouting match.
No one can agree, for every student there’s a final answer.
It’s a song, a prayer, I mean a promise,
like a wedding ring, and later a baby. Or what’s that
person who delivers babies? A midwife? Yes, a midwife.
No, that’s wrong. You’re so wrong you’ll never be right again.
It’s a whisper, a star, it’s saying I love you into your
hand and then touching someone’s ear. Are you crazy?
Are you the president of Stupid-land? You should be,
When’s the election? It’s a teddy bear, a sword,
a perfect, perfect peach. Go back to the first one,
it’s a flower, a white rose. When the bell rings, I reach
for an eraser but a girl snatches it from my hand.
Nothing’s decided, she says, We’re not done here.
I leave all the answers on the board. The next day
some of them have stopped talking to each other,
they’ve taken sides. There’s a Flower club.
And a Kitten club. And two boys calling themselves The Snowballs.
The rest have stuck with the original game,
which was to try to write something like poetry. It’s a diamond, it’s a dance, the opposite of a gun is
a museum in France. It’s the moon, it’s a mirror, it’s the sound of a bell and the hearer. The arguing starts again,
more shouting, and finally a new club. For the first time
I dare to push them. Maybe all of you are right, I say. Well, maybe. Maybe it’s everything
we said. Maybe it’s everything we didn’t say. It’s words
and the spaces for words. They’re looking at each other now.
It’s everything in this room and outside this room and down
the street and in the sky. It’s everyone on campus and at the mall,
and all the people waiting at the hospital.
And at the post office. And, yeah, it’s a flower, too. All the flowers.
The whole garden. The opposite of a gun is
wherever you point it. Don’t write that on the board,
they say. Just say poem. Your death will sit through
many empty poems.

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