Monday, May 2, 2011

Magpie Tales #64, "Ten Mules Died Today"

Photo courtesy of Tess Kincaid
Ten Mules Died Today

What will become of this infant my tired hands hold?
Laughter and smile absent; his sweet face resigned.
Death and destruction swirl about my protective arms,
trying to invade and conquer.  He coughs and rests his head
upon my shoulder. I won't put him down; can't bear another loss.
I will my strength to seep into his body; he must survive as
this mountain of coal's burning anger has extracted enough revenge.
My heart rebels "I can give no more", yet continues its beating,
its bleeding.  I pray to God for my son's breathing to clear;
I've had enough of bad air and death.  His father's last thoughts
written in hell's belly were, "My dear wife and baby,
I want you to go back home and take the baby there, so good-bye.
I am going to Heaven so meet me there.
Love, James A Brooks."  Oh, dear James,
I will heed your words.  But first, I feverishly await
news of the twins, Jimmy and Johnny.  Did our little spraggers
suffer the same fate as you?  My strength is ebbing, but I promise
I will soon flee this porch; the train, the dust, the ever-present danger.
Human replacements will be easy to find; God help them.
Ten mules died today; perhaps this will be seen as a real tragedy after-all.

by Margaret Bednar, Art Happens, May 2, 2011

This is for Magpie Tales # 62.  Please click HERE to be read other amazing entries.

I entered this into One Stop Poetry's "One Stop Poetry Form".  The subject is "blank verse" - but does that mean I was supposed to keep it to basically a ten syllable count per line?  If so, I can always try and rewrite this and put the second attempt below...  (Post Note:  It isn't blank verse!  :)

One Stop Poetry "One Shot Wednesday, Week 44" is another place you will find this very free verse poem.  Maybe this really isn't a poem... is it TOO free verse for that.  If it isn't a poem what is it called?  (Be nice! )

I also entered this into Steve Isaak's "3 Word Week #9"  The 3 words are: infant, porch and train.  Submissions need to be 600 words or less.

The letter from James A Brooks is real - written in a 1902 Tennessee Coal Mining Tragedy.  For photos and chilling details of what life was like for children working the mines back then, please click "United States Department of Labor".

An excerpt from the highlighted sight:

Note:  Boys worked underground as nippers and spraggers.  The boys holding the pieces of wood were spraggers.  Only the fastest boys could be spraggers because they controlled the speed of the mine cars as they rolled down the slope.  They worked in pairs.  Each boy had about twenty or thirty sprags.  As the mine cars rolled downhill the spraggers ran alongside the cars and jabbed the sprags into the wheels.  The sprags worked as brakes, slowing the cars down.  The job was dangerous.  The car could fly out of control and jump the track and crash into the mine wall if the wheels were not spragged properly.

Photo courtesy of US Department of Labor (see highlighted site above)
Another horrifying thought is that people were often considered less of a loss than the mules by the mine owners.

Photo courtesy of US Department of Labor (see highlighted site above)
* * * * *

The following photo is for the "Creative Exchange".  My little boy, splashing in a puddle in Charleston, SC.   Thank God he will never know such awful living conditions experienced by the mining children of the early 20th century.  I added a b&w version and I think it gives it a timeless appeal.  Those sweet faces above aren't much older than my little guy below...  This will be for "Black & White Wednesdays."

I wasn't sure which one to submit.  A boy stomping in a puddle is classic.  But the following one is filled with fun, too.  I will be posting about our spring vacation to Charleston, Hilton Head, and Savannah soon. 


texwisgirl said...

wow. no matter what occurs in our lives today, we have not right to complain...

Elise Ann Wormuth said...

I love both of the pictures. The one of your son is especially nice.

Rosie said...

I love both photos, too, but this second one is so amazing with fun written all over their faces - adorable!

Kathe W. said...

aren't our children of today living here in this land so very very blessed. My heart goes out to those children who are still working in conditions not unlike the spraggers.
well written

Kay L. Davies said...

My mind can barely conceive of the working conditions those children (CHILDREN!) endured.
It was a relief to move from those thoughts to the photo of your little fellow jumping in a puddle. That's what children should do.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Matt Coughlan said...

Makes me appreciate how wonderful my kids are.

Thanks for sharing! :D

lisa said...

This photo is wonderful Margaret, as is each of the others here!
Wonderful (but sad) poem. You are amazing in that it took you such a shot period of time to write!

Thank you so much for being a part of The Creative Exchange this week.

Have a beautiful evening!


Greyscale Territory said...

A chilling reminder that once children were used so abysmally to satisfy society's needs! Adored the photos! Both capture the childhood spirit exquisitely!

Lui said...

I love your literary piece.

Mules now connotes people who ferry drugs and recently we mourned their deaths too. I mourn the mules and mine workers, then and now.

I love your photographs.

forgetmenot said...

Margaret, What a "chilling" poem to read. I always consider something "good" if it moves my emotions--this one certainly did. Well written!! The picture of your son puddle splashing is a delight, as is the picture of the girls having fun. Ah, if only life could be that way all the time. Mickie :)

Beachanny said...

Margaret your work is incisive, reflective and important. It is not blank verse as I think you guessed but don't rewrite it. You will lose the immediacy that this one has and the passion in it as well. I had planned to rewrite my Sand Storm poem in blank verse to submit but found it lost something vital in the change. If you want to send me something later to look at just for form, I will be glad to have a look. As I stated in the article I'm not sure it HAS to be in pentameter but the usual definition is pretty strict iambic pentameter counting feet and counting stresses; but then over an entire poem taking a few licenses for rhythm, for emphasis and/or for effect.

In this poem that structure was not used. The poem is worthy in its present form. I don't recommend changing it.

Ruth said...

I thought blank verse was just unrhymed and unmetered. Beachanny sounds like a good teacher, I should listen in . . .

I was arrested by your poem too, and the last line gave me chills. Having just ridden 8 miles last evening training for a long bike ride later this month, I keep worrying about my brakes and passing cars. Thinking of those boys in the path of mining cars and having to slow them down is terrifying.

You've really created a beautiful post coming back after your vacation. Your two photos of the kids are gorgeous, just so crisp and fantastic. The lighting and mood of the one of your boy is awfully sweet. The girls in the fountain is downright contagious! I love the frozen movement, wow. They are adorable.

Margaret said...

Texwisgirl - As I read the US website and looked at the photos, I felt so sad. This was slavery.

Elise Ann Wormuth & Rosie - Photos of children enjoying life are always great topics!

Kathe W. - And we BUY items from these countries!

Kay L. Davies - It boggles my mind as I can't imagine allowing my children to do that even back then...

Matt Coughlan - Nothing like such horror to appreciate the NOW.

Lisa - Thanks for hosting the CE! It has made me rethink the way I take photos :)

Greyscale - yes, but labor camps still exist in this world and many of the products we use probably come from some of these places. Although, mining, going into the belly of the earth... that has to be the worst. ?

Lui - Yes, drudgery and poverty are still with us. But such young children doing hard, hard labor and ruining their health... hard to comprehend.

Mickie - It has stayed with me all day! (the emotions) I just had to end the post with children being children. Glad you were moved.

Beachanny - Thank you and I will attempt to do a blank verse this week. I appreciate your offer to take a look at it and I will contact you.

Ruth - Thank you for your praise. The image of mother and her face haunts me. I can't wrap my mind around the fact that they let their children do such dangerous work... I can't wait to share my photos of Charleston, Hilton Head and Savannah - Seems I need to get up earlier! :)

Reflections said...

I'm not familiar enough with blank verse to know if it truly qualifies, yet held deep within the heart of loss. Still a powerful share.

Pat said...

I love your photos - so full of carefree fun! Such a contrast to the tone of your poem.

Penny said...

Please don't change it.
This work should make us think what we own to the people of the past who underwent so much, what we own to the people of the present who work ing terrible conditions to provide our cheap goods and what we owe the children of the future; freedom from such horrors.

Martin H. said...

A powerful reminder of far we've travelled. But we have such a distance yet to go.

Alan Burnett said...

Magnificent. It matters not whether it is "poetry" or not. Whatever it is, it grabs you, it educates you, it moves you. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I love how this prose touched the heart and educated the mind.

Tess Kincaid said...

Excellent piece. Love the fountain pic.

Helen said...

Margaret!!! Your entire post is amazing. I so enjoyed the Magpie.

Isabel Doyle said...

an excellent response to the prompt - and fabulous photos too

Margaret said...

Reflections, Pat, Penny, Martin - yes, such loss! And atrocities like this still happen today... I just can't shake the sadness of this post.

Alan - Let's hope education really helps move things forward and greed doesn't grab too big a hold.

Honeyhaiku, Tess, Helen and Isabel - Well, thanks to Tess for supplying the prompt. I am glad you all were moved by my post. And "refreshed" a bit with the happy photos at the end! :)

Ginnie said...

I have already seen your fabulous images from Charleston and now come to this mining sadness...this awakening to the horrors of life as they knew it then. But you have ended with the incredible images of your children. The one of the girls needs to be blown up and framed. They will love it forever. But that little boy of yours has totally stolen my heart!

wanderer said...

My heart rebels "I can give no more", yet continues its beating, its bleeding.

reminds me of a great song: "Keep Bleeding with love"

Jinksy said...

There are such things as "prose poems", you know? But what struck me most as I read your words, was a wish that you had let more statements be sentences, that ran on from one line to the next. It would have made for a smoother read, I think? The many full stops at line ends I found disconcerting... (Well you did ask, blogpal! :))

Elizabeth Young said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece that is filled to the brim with angst and suffering, because it tells it like it is, no sugar coating. People like to turn away from pain or become so desensitised to it from T.V., films, video games etc. they are unable to feel anymore. This brilliant piece makes people feel. Congratulations!

LauraX said...

so much to absorb here...beautiful, tragic, authentic.

Jinksy said...

Thank you so much for your 'tweaks' - I think the impact is even greater now. :)

Brian Miller said...

loved your verse a very moving and real write...and i love the pics of the kids at the fountain...big smiles.

Linda Makiej said...

Lovely B&W photos!! Happy top have found you to follow!!

Tumblewords: said...

Wonderful post! Well-written.

Steve Isaak said...

Effective, terrific tale-telling work.

Thanks for playing with me on 3 Word Week #9, and your past/continuous support. =)

Jingle said...


Happy Mother's Day.

Jingle said...


Happy Mother's Day.