Apology for Ralph’s Mule by Joyce Compton Brown

 Joyce Compton Brown is the 3rd place winner of Streetlight‘s 2023 Poetry Contest

Photo of green hill and trees
Photo by Laurie Byrne on Unsplash.
Apology for Ralph’s Mule

      …and before them went the mules: and ever upward,
         downward, sideward, and aslant they fared.
                                         The Iliad   II.23.93

You stood there in mud and dung,
your little streetside lot hardly big enough
for a good stretch, a kick.
I’d stop sometimes, Ralph’s Mule,
think about the muck on your hooves,
how it must feel, you standing
in the mud, mired in that nasty mess.

I never knew your name.
Your owner was a silhouette at church.
He sometimes walked behind you
in his field, making mule noises—
Gee and Haw, some throaty cluck. You
obeyed, walked the straight line,
turned, walked back.

I never spoke to you then.
Now, I like to dream your mule-brain
felt the glories of your kind,
not mired down in one dull field,
hitched to one dull man—no mule friends,
alone, bored in your tiny lot.
I’d like to think you found

some collective memory, Ralph’s Mule—
such as humans seek. You showed
up in movies. John Wayne had Jeanette,
the Waltons their Blue. Sometimes
you conversed. Twenty of you brought borax
from the deep western desert to my house
Our old sheets were dazzle white!

We didn’t know you’d worked
the battlefields of ancient Grecian Wars—
bled, died, were devoured as you are today.

Your image is imbedded in Assyrian murals,
in ancient stories of human woe. You died
among the bombs in our grim battles,
slaughtered by both sides.

You’re in old photographs of Carolina farmers,
their fields and wagons, their teams, names
scrawled on the backs. You’re in cities where
lonely lots once stood, where townsmen
played out lost lives. You stood your ground,
the burden of your kind
ignored by the likes of us.

Joyce Compton Brown
Joyce Compton Brown grew up in an agrarian community with strong roots. She attended Appalachian State university and the University of Southern Mississippi and then taught at a small university for a number of years. Her books are Bequest (Finishing Line), Singing with Jarred Edges (Main St. Rag), Standing on the Outcrop (RedHawk Press), and Hard-Packed Clay (RedHawk Press). Her Book Against the Dam will be published by Madville Press in early 2025.

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