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Of Mules & Mothers

My mother came of age during the era of Elvis, bobby socks and poodle skirts.  But her reality was much different than what is often portrayed in the media.

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She was a farm girl.  Her family had a mule for plowing the field.  Their old truck had to be cranked by hand in order to get it to start.   It often didn’t.  They had no indoor plumbing.

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She began working as soon as she was old enough to pick cotton or crop tobacco.  In her world, if you were old enough to carry a burlap sack, you were old enough to work.

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When her mother died, she also became the “woman” of the house.  Survival for the family meant that there was little sympathy for kids.

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Despite all the physical labor, my mother went on to get her degree.  She also values education for her own children.

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My mother’s strength is amazing.  She doesn’t sit back and moan about what she didn’t have.  Many of her memories are good ones.  I love her stories.

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She also doesn’t dwell on SELF.   When I was a child, she often took me with her to visit strangers in nursing homes and at a mental institution.  It was a big lesson in compassion and understanding for me.  But that’s not why she did it.  She genuinely cared about the people.

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She laughs a lot.  She sings beautifully.

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I’ve heard her say many times that she has never done anything great.  I respectfully disagree.  She has done far greater things than I will ever do.  I am very blessed to have her.  I am so proud of my mother.

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This poem was inspired by her story.

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The Mule Sat Down

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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Mama died last night

on a cotton planting moon.

Eighth grade has to wait

for the pale thin girl,

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the oldest daughter

in overalls and braids–

now graduated to

hard-booted woman.

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She plows behind

a huge brown mule.

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There’s a wake to plan,

chickens to kill, pluck, fry,

biscuits to roll, seven

little brothers and sisters

with knotty hair to comb.

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But the mule just sat down

in the middle of the row.

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She tries to coax him

with sugar lumps,

pretty honey words.

That fool won’t budge.

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He smacks his lips, sits

under a noon-white sky,

breathing slow, as if

all the time in eternity

just rolls down those

hot, gritty rows.

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There’s Mama’s body

washed, waiting, laid

out in her Sunday best.

Thirty eight relatives

will arrive by nightfall.

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Little blue butterflies

swirl like demons

in front of a

young girl’s face.

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But the mule still sits

in the middle of the day.

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She kicks that mule,

but all he’ll do is make

an indignant UMPH.

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She sits on his back, bites

his long ear hard, gets

stinking, nasty, no good

mule fur between her teeth.

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His big brown eyeball rolls

toward the dust-red barn.

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There’s a broke down truck,

potatoes to wash, floors to mop.

Good Baptist girls don’t cuss,

but if she had a firecracker, she’d

shove it up that mule’s fat ass.

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She feels like crying, laying down

on the sand, turning to root,

sprouting cotton from her hands.

Instead, she knows she must

hitch up a woman’s heavy load.

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Now folks riding down

her long hard road

slow down to watch

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the skinny little girl

pull a plow

like her life is on fire

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while a big brown mule

sits and watches and waits

for another day to die.

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This poem was originally posted at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (March 2009).  Be sure to check out their latest issue.

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My mother’s story is good now.  She gave birth to a beautiful, brilliant, talented daughter who never gave her any problems and is always quiet and respectful.  My sister.

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Update:  Read Bob’s essay HERE.    It is excellent!

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I received the most awesome comment this morning from Valerie MacEwan

of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  Our dear friend,

Bob Church, will be published there on June 5th!   Here is the message:

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Found an essay of Bob’s in the submit.mule mailbox this morning. It was sent March 17. He mentioned your blog in his “howdy there” message to me so I tracked you down and did not expect to find such a sad message.

We’ll publish The Ladle on the Mule on June 5th. Not because it was Bob’s and he’s gone – No – we publish it because it’s a great essay and he was a compelling writer, fun to read and wonderful to contemplate.

Good bye Bob.

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-Valerie MacEwan
and the Staff of the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

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What exciting news!  Please be sure to go over and read Bob’s work on

Friday, June 5.   I’m so excited!  I couldn’t wait until Friday to tell

everyone.  It is a well deserved honor for Bob.  I love his writing, and I love

his sweet, gentle spirit, his sense of humor, and his wisdom.

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The link for The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature is HERE.   It is an

awesome journal full of fine writing, and I am thrilled to see Bob in there.

Many of us have been deeply saddened by Bob’s passing, and now this is

something to celebrate.

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Be sure to keep checking Bob’s blog, too.  His family found a poem he

wrote, and it was posted there recently.  I am so thankful to his family for

sharing him with us.  The link for Bob’s site is HERE.

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Nan Jacobs sent me a link for an interview of Bob at Unite-to-Write.  You

can read the interview HERE.   I had never read it, and I was so happy to

receive the link.  As always, Bob makes me laugh.  Thanks, Nan!

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Bob Church will live forever in our hearts…and in his beautiful words.  I don’t

think he would mind if I say Yeeeeeee-ha! ..Way to go, Bob!

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Two of my poems, Lessons in Genetics and They Called Him Cap’n Glass, are published at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  You can see the poems by clicking HERE.

I love The Mule!   Stick around and read it all.

Cap’n Glass is based on a real person who was a colorful soul.

In Genetics, Lesson #4 is dedicated to my daughter.  It’s one of the things I always tell her about family.  My tongue is firmly implanted in my cheek, of course.

Thanks for reading!

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I’m getting ready to tell this elsewhere, but I thought I’d crawl out of the mud and share it here first.  You all have been such a great encouragement to me, and I appreciate it very much.

florida-alligator1

WARNING! ****Shameless Self Promotion****

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-I’m excited to have a chapbook coming out with Backpack Press.  I’m not sure of the date yet.  Crystal Folz is the editor.  She is also an excellent poet and writer.  Crystal is the editor of Shoots & Vines, which you can see HERE.

My chapbook will contain all new poetry, never before seen on the internet or in print.  It will have nothing to do with alligators (I think).  I just dig gators.

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-I will have three poems included in I Can’t Be Your Virgin and Your Mother, which is also edited by Crystal Folz.  It should be out by the end of May and is full of amazing women.  I’m thrilled to be in the same pages with them.  Click on the title and read Crystal’s very thoughtful description.  I love the spirit she intends in this journal.  And…is that a great title or what?

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-I’m also in Crystal’s, The Telling Time, which is due out by the end of June.  Crystal has been learning Chinese book binding techniques.  It is an honor to be presented by an editor with such high artistic standards.

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-Three of my poems will be in the next edition of Big Hammer.  I’m so excited about that!  Dave Roskos is an awesome poet and editor.  To order any issues, you can contact Dave at PO Box 54, Manasquan, NJ 08736.  I’m not sure of individual pricing, but I know it is affordable.  I will give more information soon.

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-Three of my poems will be in an all-woman project for Literary Mary.  Go, sistahs!  What a beautiful journal!  This will be an online edition, with many more to come.  I’m very happy to be included.  More info. soon.

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-Two more of my poems will be in the May issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  Click the title and look at that totally cool picture of the mule and the little one.  All of the the April poetry and fiction is excellent.  April also includes one of my favorite North Carolina poets, Shelby Stephenson.   My poems will be out in May (next week, I think).  I’ll post the link here.  You know how I love the mule!

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-One of my poems will be in Plain Spoke this summer.  Fine folks.  Another beautiful journal.  I’m assuming it’s in the print edition, but I will let you know for sure.

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I was going to turn off comments, because I’m heading out for the weekend and won’t be around much to chat.  But I’m too dense (and in too much of a hurry) to figure out how.

So please don’t worry about commenting.  You need a couple of days to rest, too!

Thanks so much for all of your support.  It means the world to me.  Have a beautiful weekend, y’all.

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I have a poem published at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  A couple more of my poems will be there in the coming months.  I’ve been a big fan of theirs for a long time now.

But I was too chicken to send them anything in the past.  Rejection doesn’t usually get me down for long, but I would have been crushed if The Mule had rejected me.  Crushed.

The Dead Mule has a beautiful layout.  It contains a wide spectrum of people and some of the most innovative writing I’ve seen anywhere.  Period.  I am thrilled to be included.

You don’t have to be Southern or have Southern roots to get published at The Mule.  But you do have to submit a Southern Legitimacy Statement.  I had fun with my statement.  You can check it out HERE.  Click on my name for the poem.  It’s in honor of a very special lady and is a true story.

Or if you’re tired of hearing me talk and want to go straight to the poem, it’s HERE.  But please do stick around the Mule to read it all.  You’ll be glad you did.

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