I have spent much of the summer playing Duck, Duck, Goose.
Unlike the local kiddie pool, which is all chaos and concrete, Duck, Duck Goose offers us a balance of mayhem and order, conflict and resolution. And in doing so, the game provides us with a glimpse into the foundations of narrative.
Everyone sits calmly in a circle, as one child walks around tapping the others on their head, chanting, duck, duck, duck, until a well-timed goose leads to a great chase. Sometimes the ducker takes the goose’s seat; sometimes the ducker ends up in the pickle. Then come’s the return to calm and order, everyone sitting criss-cross-applesauce, as a new round begins.
It’s the set up of every sit-com I ever watched as a kid.
The problem, of course, is how quickly this gets boring. Even when a kid offers some variation – calls out Red, Red, Blue or Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter, Jelly – the thrill is short-lived. Sure there’s some nuance to it all. Too many ducks and the suspense builds like the calm before the storm. Too few ducks and we witness the difference between suspense and surprise. And there’s the occasional glimpse into character, too – which kid likes a challenge and which picks the littlest goose on the block.
But for the most part, after a couple of rounds, the game feels about as formulaic as a Hollywood sequel.
That is unless you’re playing with my two-year-old, who calls the game Duck, Goose and sees it as an opportunity to smack people across the face without repercussions.
She chases the ducker even when she’s not picked or, when it’s her turn, chooses a goose then makes a b-line for the street. She sits in my lap as I read her favorite book, and right before I get to the page where Gossie figures out that Gertie is wearing her red boots, she turns around, yells goose, and slaps the glasses off my face. Sometimes, she even plays by herself – taps her own head then runs around in a circle like a dog chasing its tail.
If Duck, Duck Goose offers us the foundations of narrative, then Duck, Goose offers us the pleasures of the irrational imagination.
And while we need foundations and craft and technique when we write, we also need mischief and impulse – so that we write the kind of stuff we’d never have thought of in the daylight hours, stuff that doesn’t care about rules, that slaps us across the face when we’re least expecting it then runs away shrieking in delight.
Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters. www.ben-berman.comSee other articles by Ben Berman