Game Poem 28: Public Trust

This poem is a game intended to be performed in front of and with an audience. It should run about ten minutes, give or take. Any number of people can be in the audience – the more the better – and it should be performed in a space where people can stand up and move around a little bit. The presenter just needs to read the following rules out loud to the players in attendance, and if they want to and are able to affect the stereotypical “poetry slam” pacing and cadence in their presentation, so much the better.

This poem is a game. Your attendance implies your consent to take part as a player here.

The game is simple, and in that simplicity we will find meaning together. This is not about me, the reader, this is about every one of you, individually, and as a congregation of intelligent, insightful, and delightful people who share a common interest in learning about yourselves and the world around you, and having a hell of a good time while you do it.

All you have to do for the next couple of minutes is follow the instructions that I read, and see what happens. All you have to do for the next couple of minutes is trust me, and trust the people in the room around you, let go, and have fun. Without you, this is just going to be some jerk up here reading a bunch of stuff, so come on.


First instruction. Everybody who’s not standing, stand up. You can’t play the game if you’re not standing, and if you’re not playing, everyone’s gonna see that you’re not a player, and nobody likes a grumpy greyface. See, I told you this was gonna be simple. Hang on now players, it gets better from here.

Second instruction. Find yourself a partner. We play this game in pairs, so couple up and get yourself into a twosome. Try to make them someone you don’t know, someone you haven’t seen before, someone you don’t know anything about. If you have to move, move, but watch out for other folks. If you know everyone here, congratulations, player. Hook up with someone nearby. If there’s not enough to go around, and you find yourself the odd man out, come on up here and I’ll be your buddy. Everyone all set?

Third instruction. Partners, grab a hold of each other’s right hands. You can just hold them in a simple handshake, or you can go palm-to-palm, tangling your fingers up like one of you is leaving on a train. You can curl them up like you’re about to get into a thumb war – but you’re not – or you can grab each other’s wrists or forearms like you’re young boys playing at being indians. Any way you do it, get comfortable and hang on tight. Don’t let go, because the next part is where it starts to get real.

Fourth instruction. Every player, listen to me. Using your left hand, and while being as respectful of your partner’s body as humanly possible, take something that belongs to them. Nice and slow, take it easy, but just take it. Don’t puss around and grab their bottle of beer or the glass they’ve been drinking out of. Take their glasses off of their face. Take their wallet, take their phone. Take their necklace, take their little black notebook full of scrawled poems and mash notes. If you have to, and you can do it without letting go, take one of their shoes. Any one thing will do, but if it’s something valuable objectively or personally, and you can hold it in your hand, all the better.

Everyone got something? Good. Fifth instruction. Sounds easy, but it might not be. Just stand there for a minute. Look each other in the eye. Don’t look away. Who is this person? They’ve got something of yours. Something that you probably don’t leave the house without. Something that you pat your pocket to make sure you haven’t lost while you’re out having a good time. Something that you might curse and swear and stomp around about if someone walked into your house and walked away with. But there they are, just holding it like it was theirs. Look that person in the eye. Don’t look away. But don’t worry, because we’re all friends here. Or, if we’re not friends, we are at the very least members of a civilized society that do our best not to do each other wrong, at least, not when anyone’s looking, anyway. Look at that person. Do you trust them? Are they gonna take your stuff? Treat it bad? Drop it, break it, mess it up? Look at that person that you’re holding on to, who’s holding on to a piece of you. Who are they? Are they like you, wondering the same thing? What are they going to do next?

Sixth instruction. Let go. Hold your partner with your gaze, don’t break eye contact, but let go of their right hand, and they’ll let go of yours. Keep looking. There they are, standing there with your stuff. You’re not holding on to them any more. Maybe they’re a little bit further away from you than you’d like. Hang on for just a few more seconds. Keep looking at each other. Who is that over there? What are they going to do next?

Seventh instruction. Turn around. Face away from each other. What are you feeling now? You can’t see them, you can’t feel them, you probably can’t hear them. What are they doing? What are you doing? Look down at the thing that you’ve taken from them. Do they want the thing that they took from you more than they don’t want to lose the thing that you took from them? How valuable is it to them? How valuable is it to you? Would they walk away with it? Knowing that you’re right behind them? Knowing that everyone else here can see them? Do you still trust them?

Eighth instruction. Close your eyes. How about now? Just be still for a minute, here. Are they still there? Do you feel like you need to open your eyes? Like you need to turn around and look, just to make sure that they’re still there? Like you want to take a step backwards, and “accidentally” bump into them, to let them know that you’re still there too? Drop all of that. Are you straining to listen to what’s going on in the room around you, to listen for some small sign that your partner hasn’t walked away with your wallet, with your phone, with your shoe? Would they really do that? What would you do if you turned around and they were gone? Forget about that for a minute. Just hang out here with your eyes closed, breathe, and relax. You’re all good. Just a few more seconds.

Ninth instruction. Open your eyes, and turn around. Smile at your partner. Take their right hand again. Just look at each other for a minute. I know you want your stuff back, but just stand there for a minute longer, looking each other in the eye again. That wasn’t so hard, was it? To give up your stuff to a stranger for a few minutes, to let them hold on to it, to turn away and trust that they would treat you like they’d like you to treat them? That wasn’t so hard, was it? To forget about being cool and interesting and unaffected for a few minutes, give up any number of things that you could be doing by yourself, of your own free will, and do a bunch of stuff that some person reading off a bunch of instructions told you to do, for some reason, or for no reason at all? You could be checking your text messages, or pretending to be interested in something on the wall, or getting yourself another drink, but instead, you gave yourself up for a few minutes, and did something new, something unexpected, something that you’d never normally get to do by yourselves, and probably won’t do again any time soon. You let your own stuff go, and gave your time to someone you’ve probably never met before, someone you probably don’t know anything about. Was it worth it?

Tenth instruction. Let go of your partner. Hand them back whatever you took from them. You don’t need to put it back in their pocket or back on their face, but make sure they get it the same way they had it before. Thank them for playing with you. Shake hands again if you feel like it. The game is over, and you all won.

This poem was a game, and it was for every one of you. Have a seat. Thank you.

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