A Mule In Anthracite Country, Circa 1895

They were always there, though there was no reason

To notice them—gray grunting creatures

Whose entire existence was spent underground

Hauling carts full to the brim and then some

With what we’d pulled from rock walls

With pick-axe and profanity.

Kindred spirits of a sort, really,

The biggest difference between them and us

Being they walked on four legs.


One day, one of the mules slipped out of a bridle

Which had finally succumbed to age and disrepair

And, before he could be corralled,

Slipped through a scrubby woodlot and into an open field.

It was right about the time the shifts changed,

So a foreman was able to press-gang a dozen or so of the boys

To head after the beast, who was running, bucking,

And rolling on his back like a colt or puppy

Or some other of God’s newborn creatures

Just delivered of the realization

That there was a world of sunshine and dandelions

Of which he was a fully-endowed citizen.

Eventually the boys were able to corner the animal

And grab hold of him—but once that happened

He apparently took possession of the notion

That he was going to be the very Platonic image of his species

And go absolutely nowhere; indeed, a goodly bunch

Of strong and stubborn men could not budge the beast an inch,

As he remained rooted to the spot like he’d driven pilings

Twenty feet deep into the ground, and eventually the boys,

Dinners and soft beds waiting, came to the conclusion

That the damn fool mule was the company’s problem

And if they wanted it back underground,

Let them find a way a do so.


They never did get the mule back down in the pit

(One or two of the foremen made an attempt

To bring the mule to justice, as it were,

But neither man nor beast had much of a stomach

For it), and so he carried on above ground,

Often in sight of the mine entrance,

Living on grass and the occasional carrot or potato

Tossed his way by sympathetic miners.

After a while we didn’t see the mule anymore;

It turned out he’d been shot clean between the eyes.

We never found out who took down the poor animal;

Most likely kids, some said, or some damn fool hunter

Who decided that a rustle in the brush had to be a deer,

Though one day Joey Raitis, listening to the theorizing

As to the mule’s demise, stopped swinging his pick for a moment

And, looking thoughtful as he leaned on the handle,

Spoke up—No, I’m thinking the company did it.

I suspect some of the animals saw him

Havin’ big fun above ground, and decided they had rights too.

Hell, they probably started talking union.

Company ain’t about to have that,

And with that he went back to pickin’ at the wall.

It is a possibility that there’s something to what Joey said,

Though the mules have remained silent on the question.


5 thoughts on “A Mule In Anthracite Country, Circa 1895

  1. I know you are a poet, but apparently, you are a short-story writer as well. I’d like to read some of your prose.

    This poem drew me in because I am a mule lover. I’ve pestered my husband for years about buying a mule.

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