writing prompt

On “Prometheus (1964)”

by M.J. Gette

“Prometheus (1964)” appeared in ROOTED: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction

This essay was written after I’d attended an interactive documentary that mentioned the anecdote of Donald Currey in terms of a world record: the world’s oldest living organism (at the time). I looked it up afterward and became obsessed with the scale of time: what is human history relative to other living systems? How do our small actions affect—for better or for worse—the larger ecology? What is the violence enacted by small gestures over a geological period of time? What does it mean to love something deeply—to depend on it to live—and also be its destroyer? So the piece was written by analyzing units of time relative to human history.

A writing exercise: take a historical event that is important to you, and research what was going on in the rest of the world at that moment in time. How do these stories interact? Write a short essay in which this genealogy illustrates your place in relation to these historical events.

Alternatively: take the lifespan of an organism. What human routines pass by unnoticed during the lifespan of a Baobab tree? Or, if the lifespan is much shorter, (or is perennial etc.) what human things pass in say, the span of the life of a tulip? A mosquito? An arctic moth? How does comparing these scales affect your day? What do you think about?


M. J. Gette is an MFA candidate in Poetry and Anthropology minor at the University of Minnesota. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Anthro/Poetics, BOAAT, Carolina Quarterly, Tupelo Quarterly, Fugue, otoliths, Indefinite Space, Eratio and elsewhere. She won the 2015 Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize for her chapbook The Walls They Left Us (Newfound, 2016), where “Prometheus” first appeared. Earlier in 2015 she was awarded a writer’s residency with Arquetopia, Oaxaca for a project in architecture, culture and language, alongside the Marcella DeBourg Fellowship, for “giving voice to women’s lives.” She is currently on a fellowship to continue study of the Kaqchikel language in Guatemala.