This poetry writing prompt submitted by Charlie Brice:
Prompt using Jim Daniels’ poem, Unwritten Laws of Gravitational Isolation.
Submitted by Charlie Brice
Jim Daniels is a national treasure and we are lucky that he lives here in Pittsburgh. His most recent book, Gun/Shy (Wayne State University Press, 2021) is one of his best. His poem, “Unwritten Laws of Gravitational Isolation,” serves as a poetic preface to that book. My prompt follows the poem.
Unwritten Laws of Gravitational Isolation
Imagine rows of magnetic houses spaced each
to each against the curb like stones on a path leading
to lemmings’ cliff. Each magnet not attracted
or repelled, but anchored to the earth.
So close to each other, we could hold hands
through open windows, linked by force fields
of sweat. But why hold hands, that embarrassing
empty exercise that strained the heart’s unused
muscles and caused someone to give up under
duress or mockery? Do magnets breathe? We were
that close and that far away in a patten determined
by Monopoly men and Factory men and Families
in the Game of Life with babies squeezed into cars
with imaginary seatbelts and piles of counterfeit
money and family photographs. The point is, we had
no need to sharpen our knives to cut through butter
and the soft lies of upward mobility. We were always
sinking, even during fire drills for the census. The point
is, dullness was a virtue and virtue was a poorly worded
document subject to invalid erasures and brick walls
mortared with the froth of betrayal. We never
borrowed cups of sugar, or bedpans—or expired curses,
though they still worked if we spit them out quick
enough. When the scoreboard ran into overtime
we forgot our casual hatreds. Our parents never
crossed each other’s thresholds. Buy-one-get-one-free
was the golden rule, but it turned out to be copper
and Abraham Lincoln turned out to be Liberace.
Maybe I shouldn’t say never. Maybe I should
asterisk it in case I missed some violation
of the threshold. I hate to admit, maybe
we were top tired to get it up for an affair.
Maybe the men, too tired from work, maybe
the women, too tired of us, the Catholic mass
of children of the damned, the Catholic math
of carry the one, adding another child—
were we what kept the fire burning, or remnants
of that fire? That’ll keep you up at night, rubbing
your hands together over the magnets, hoping
for a cure for magic. An electric burn shocked us
inside out when someone died on the block
or bled enough to bring the cops—that
brought us outside, following on our bikes
at a distance, circling the circled bloodstains
in the aftermath. Maybe the point is, we knew
what was where in each other’s houses,
from toilet to TV, to unused wedding presents
we passed on to each other in lieu of pleasantries.
Maybe the point is, it was our blood.
~Jim Daniels, Gun Shy, Wayne State University Press, 2021
Describe a real place, but in a surreal manner, as if it was an imaginary place.
Bring in the subject of morality.
Suddenly ask a question.
Mention Something that relieves the tension.
Question what you’ve posited in this poem. Use the word “maybe” to show indecision.
Ask another question.
End with indecision
If you write a poem from this prompt, post it as a comment underneath the prompt in the Poetry Super Highway Facebook Group.