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In his poem, “The Opposite Game,” Brendan Constantine describes the experience of teaching antonyms to kids—translating each word of Dickinson’s famed “My life had stood a loaded gun,” verse into opposites.
Had stood Will sit
But what is the opposite of a gun?
I became obsessed with this poem after my friend N shared it this morning. I must have read it over a half-dozen times since.
(Sometimes the best refuge against the news is poetry.)
In the poem, the school kids tackle this question in earnest:
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
The discussion goes on and on.
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.
The opposite of a gun is wherever you point it. Such a good line.
In fact, the the whole poem is just so beautiful, through and through. Read it!
By the end of it, you’ve just imagined this world entirely made of NotGuns; the retrospective possibility and wholeness of that world…
All the life and beauty that might have filled an inverse-gun-space.