Mule Team and Poster

                 on a photograph by Walker Evans (Alabama, 1936)

Two mules stand waiting in front of the brick wall of a warehouse,
            hitched to a shabby flatbed wagon.
Its spoked wheels resemble crude wooden flowers
            pulled recently from a deep and stubborn mud.

The rains have passed over for now
            and the sun is back,
Invisible, but everywhere present,
            and of a special brightness, like God.

The way the poster for the traveling show
            still clings to its section of the wall
It looks as though a huge door stood open
            or a terrible flap of brain had been peeled back, revealing

Someone's idea of heaven:
            seven dancing-girls, caught on the upkick,
All in fringed dresses and bobbed hair.
            One wears a Spanish comb and has an escort . . .

Meanwhile the mules crunch patiently the few cornshucks
            someone has thoughtfully scattered for them.
The poster is torn in places, slightly crumpled;
            a few bricks, here and there, show through.

And a long shadow–
            the last shade perhaps in all of Alabama–
Stretches beneath the wagon, crookedly,
            like a great scythe laid down there and forgotten.


Donald Justice, New and Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.