Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Mule


On the way to work today,
I passed the same old man
tugging at the same old shaggy mule,
only today, a small knot of watchers
puffed in the February air.
The crust of snow still hugged the pond
and the mud was frozen hard,
except for where the mule moved forth and back
like some clumsy dancer learning his steps.

The old man tugged and tugged,
then got behind to push.
The watchers swiveled hatted heads
like spectators at a game:
Front, then back, then front again,
but the creature held his place;
only the old man moved.
From my car, I watched the watchers
turn to one another in disgust
as if they had bet on the old man to win.

I wonder, what was the point of all this fuss?
Yesterday it was the same, and so the day before.
For days, the mule has stood his frozen ground,
the old man has tugged and pushed,
and I have gawked in my slowing car
as I pass on my way to school.
Today, a knot of men stamped the ground
and blew on frozen hands and watched.

What is it they had come to see --
the man, the mule, or the match?
Tomorrow, will the masses grow?
Will the mayor come along?
Will he bring a marching band?
Will reporters flood the field with artificial light?
On the news, will the old man spit and chew
and, toothless, talk about  the "dangedest
stubborn mule he ever seen" ?
Will the watchers place their bets,
and will I pass on by --
or tomorrow, will I stop?
Will I join the frosty group
as we stamp our frozen feet
and stubbornly resist the ropes
that tug us daily in an inexorable attempt
to move us from the frozen mud?


  1. Hi, I couldn't resist the mule! I really
    enjoyed your descriptions- people swiveling
    hats- Thanks.

  2. I would stop today and have good rubbernecking time of it, sharing in the conversations and get the answers from the mule why he prefers that spot to any other. Then with question answered i would have no more ropes to resist.

    You know Karen there is never an answer until it is framed by a question.

  3. Hard to explain the curiousity of mankind, I'd probably be hoping the mule would win the battle, but I guess it is about us all being somewhat stuck, good or bad.

  4. Marvelous poem! We are, after all, all mules, aren't we?

  5. What a moment, what a tussle, what a fine pause on a snowy morning. It's nice to see you again, Karen.

  6. I love it! And I think that the sofas are there for all the spectators.

    I should visualize my struggles in this manner - perhaps God is on the other end of that rope & here I sit futilely trying to resist...

  7. I'm up for the mule. But, as you very skilfully point out, aren't we all mules?

  8. It probably shouldn't, but this poem makes me sad, Karen. I have a soft spot for mules (being one myself).

  9. Wow, wow, WOW! Karen, I love this poem for so many reasons! You know how I love mules! You've done an awesome job portraying their character...and the scene of people watching, the snow hugging the pond. The mud is frozen hard, except where the mule steps back and forth in its stubborn dance. That is an excellent image, and it makes me love that mule so much more. The form is fantastic, too. The questions are great, especially the last one. You've got a winner here, Karen. Big applause!

  10. this is excellent, both for the story it tells and the metaphor it offers of the human condition

  11. This is wonderful and most definitely about the human condition or nature of life and at times, the struggle, the wonder and the strength that keeps us tugging away.

    Very nice write, Karen and a belated Valentine's Day!


  12. Very original and well thought out. I particularly loved these last few lines...

    'as we stamp our frozen feet
    and stubbornly resist the ropes
    that tug us daily in an inexorable attempt
    to move us from the frozen mud? '

    That is so true Karen.Great work.

  13. izzy - Thanks!

    TWM - Knowing the right question is the important thing, Mark. Thanks for your insight. You always have a fresh way of looking.

    120 Socks - Isn't it curious that we all root for the mule? I guess it's that independent spirit in us.

    Muse Swings - Mules...yes. Thanks!

    Enchanted Oak - Welcome back, Chris. I hope you're feeling better, and I'm glad to see up "up and about" in Cyberland.

    Bug - Thanks for letting me on the bus, and thanks for finding a relation to the prompt. Your comment about God being on the other end of the rope gives me ideas for revising the poem. Great thinking and an added dimension. Thanks, Dana.

    Peter - I'm with you, and yes, I think we are.

    Kat - It makes me sad, too.

    Julie - I actually thought about you when I posted this, knowing how you love mules and how well you have portrayed them in your own poems. Thank you for your comments on form. I wondered if there were too many questions, but they had to be asked. (I think with revision, I might eliminate at least two of them.) Thanks for your very effusive praise!

    Crafty Green Poet - Thanks, Juliet!

    Calli - Hi! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Happy V Day to you, too!

    TFE - Thank you, and thanks for keeping us going with the Bus!

  14. I got so involved with the fate of the mule that I forgot about the poem - that has got to be about the best possible compliment I could conceive. A five star "Wow!"

  15. Love this. So charmingly earthy. Nice piece, Karen.

  16. But where do the sofas and chairs come in? Or was thia not intended for the Poetry Bus? :)

  17. youre talking to a society that pays out millions to watch two men beat the tar out of each other for ten rounds and being disappointed when one doesn't lose consciousness.
    of course we'll watch a mule resist
    hoping he'll kick some teeth out

  18. Lovely written karen, it has given me a lot of inspiration and I look forward to more like this in the future.

  19. Dave - That's a wonderful compliment. Thanks!

    Tess - Thanks!

    Jinksy - I'm just tagging along with my bus poet friends on this one. Thankfully, they're a non-judgmental group who are willing to let me ride around with them!

    Rick - You're probably right.

    Dirty - Thank you.