April 6, 2015: A Poetry Writing Prompt from Lowell Jaeger

Prompt: “Things My Children Will Never Know” — Compose a catalog of things you experienced in your childhood which have already vanished. Write them down so that your children will have a chance to know them through you. (Hint: Sometimes you can add to this list a private confession or two — things your children would never have known about you had you not confessed to them in this poem.) Example below.

Things My Children Will Never Know

Me before I shaved.
Five cent root beer
in glass bottles that sweat
in July while I still traveled barefoot
before sidewalks.
Bottlecap collections.
The gray-haired immigrant grocer,
how he taught us to count change
—tirty-one, tirty-two, tirty-tree—
how he kept watch as we deliberated
over which flavor jaw breaker
and how much licorice, red or black.
Each of us bickering to divide the licorice,
a root beer dripping in our palms,
all for six nickels, three pennies
—Tirty-tree. Dat’s perfect. Tanks.—
His potatoes in wooden bins.
Black bananas. Onion sprouts.
Cereals and laundry soaps stacked.
The whole store no bigger
than a single-car garage.

Single car garages
with no windows, no lights, dirt floors.
Cigar boxes of rusty nails.
Cars big as whales.
Split windshields, rain visors.
Hood ornaments. Horns
that could blast me from my bicycle seat
as I pedaled the highway through town.

The highway through town
and the railroad that crossed it.
Wooden wig-wags striped black and white.
Lines of patient cars.
Bells that called us down from trees
to wave at dreaming faces
strung along the windows of passenger coaches.

The conductor in his cap,
brakeman swinging a blue lantern,
caboose with men in coveralls, mustaches, smiles.
How they rocked beyond us
day by every day we reached out to them,
while mothers twisted their aprons,
worried from inside screened porches,
scolding us for standing too near.

The milk boxes on those porches.
Fresh bottles of milk. Cream-top.
Milkmen in white paper hats.
Their miniature vans.

Birds everywhere
eating beetles that killed the elms.
The elms that once lined the streets green
and shaded in summer. Yellow leaves
knee deep one last fall before
the city crews stripped the branches,
fed them to a chipper and hauled them away.

The forests of logs the trains carried off.
The acres of corn and beans subdivided
to build new homes. The shopping mall
that edged out the homes. The freeway
that bulldozed the mall.

Submitted by Lowell Jaeger

If you write a poem from this prompt, post it as a comment underneath the prompt in the Poetry Super Highway Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/poetrysuperhighway

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