Archive for September, 2010

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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


She laughs a lot.  She sings beautifully.


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.


This poem was inspired by her story.




The Mule Sat Down

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder


Mama died last night

on a cotton planting moon.

Eighth grade has to wait

for the pale thin girl,


the oldest daughter

in overalls and braids–

now graduated to

hard-booted woman.


She plows behind

a huge brown mule.


There’s a wake to plan,

chickens to kill, pluck, fry,

biscuits to roll, seven

little brothers and sisters

with knotty hair to comb.


But the mule just sat down

in the middle of the row.


She tries to coax him

with sugar lumps,

pretty honey words.

That fool won’t budge.


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.


There’s Mama’s body

washed, waiting, laid

out in her Sunday best.

Thirty eight relatives

will arrive by nightfall.


Little blue butterflies

swirl like demons

in front of a

young girl’s face.


But the mule still sits

in the middle of the day.


She kicks that mule,

but all he’ll do is make

an indignant UMPH.


She sits on his back, bites

his long ear hard, gets

stinking, nasty, no good

mule fur between her teeth.


His big brown eyeball rolls

toward the dust-red barn.


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.


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.


Now folks riding down

her long hard road

slow down to watch


the skinny little girl

pull a plow

like her life is on fire


while a big brown mule

sits and watches and waits

for another day to die.



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


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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A Tip Of The Hat To Crazy

I wrote this poem just for fun after a relative told me she had joined the Red Hat club.  She said it’s a club where ladies get together, wear red hats and have a good time.


She said I’m not old enough to wear a red hat in their club.  I’m not sure what the age requirements are.  But women who are younger than the red hats can join the club and be little sisters in pink hats.


Well, harumph.


Yes, my indignation is feigned.  I’m not really much of a group person.  I don’t know anything about the Red Hat club.  I have nothing against anybody who wants to celebrate life.  It sounds great.


Plus, I ain’t about to disrespect them and get a zillion women mad at me.  That would be nuts.  The “lady” requirement would probably get me banned anyway.


But it did get me thinking about what my hat will look like…symbolically speaking.  Or what it looks like right now.


I might not be ready for the red hat, but I’m surely not a kid.  Ask the kids who live down the road from me.  They’ll tell you I’m older than the dirt under Methuselah’s toenails.  I think I’ve earned the right to wear it.


This is my daughter’s worst nightmare, because she knows I’m going to do it.  Maybe someday when I’m older.  Or maybe this weekend.


My Hat

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder


When I am old enough

to earn the right

to wear a hat,


I will not join groups

or sip Pinot Noir

in air conditioned

living rooms.


I will wear

a psychedelic

go to hell..hat


lit up with


and spinning

neon pink



I will dance

with stray dogs

down the middle

of Main Street


in the biggest

most bodacious


Super Freak hat



People will say,

The poor old thing

has lost her mind

under that wide brim.


I will just grin

like a rabid

Cheshire cat


shedding sequins

and flames

on their little

same streets.


My hat will have sirens.

My hat will have bat wings,

whirligigs, pink flamingos.


It will play Old School Rock.

Shoot confetti from a cannon.

Quote poetry over loudspeakers.


Crows will fly

out of the top

of my hat

and form the words


in the setting sun.


On that hallelujah

wrinkled cloud

blue vein day


when I have finally

earned the right

to wear my hat,


I will be

a dancing


for the joys

of adulthood,


a statue of liberty,

a cowgirl in the sand,

a one-woman band,


a kiss my ass


of all that is holy,

crazy and aging

and me.



P.S. to My Relatives –

No, I don’t mean I want people to go to hell.   You know good and well what a  go to hell hat is.   You’re from the South.

I mean…Yes, Ma’am.  You’re right.  I’m wrong.



P.S. To Everybody – Symbolically speaking…what does your hat look like?



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Beautifully and Wonderfully Made

What Naomi Told Her Daughter

When the Kids at School

Called Her a Half-Breed

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder.


Take these roots.

Chew them slowly.

They are close to bone,

sinew, tissue, womb.


Braid them in your hair.

Taste the ticking wood,

the synchronicity of cells.

Watch them softly twist

through slices of moon.


No microscope can show

the rings they carve

in your spine, the humming

of particles—each piece


a moving world, a color

singing on the tips

of a blind man’s fingers.


This legacy

is rhizome,

a curling inward,

an umbilical cord

stretching back

across oceans.


Cut them and they

will grow fourfold.

Fight and they will

tighten around your soul.


Listen to the pumping

of rocks that rumble

underground, the lift

of concrete, a drop

of hot wild seeds

in the dark wet earth.


Take these veins.

Give them birth.

Let them birth you.

Melt this twisting river

on your tongue.


You will become

that woman,

cypress strong, covered

in the warmth of blood,


turning to root

only you can name.



Carolina Cypress Swamp by Julie

Spider hanging out – by Julie

North Carolina Cypress by Julie

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