Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mule Team and Poster

(Mule Team and Poster, 1936 by Walker Evans, 1903-1975,
photographer and writer)

Walker Evans was a photographer who took both realistic and abstract pictures of American life as he went from city to town to rural communities and farms.

During the Great Depression, he worked for the federal Farm Security Administration in the South. In the summer of 1936, he recorded the lives of three cotton sharecropping families. (Those photographs, together with words by James Agee, were published in 1941 to great acclaim in a book entitled
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.) Later that year, he took this picture in Demopolis, Alabama, of two mules standing in front of a poster left over from a show from New Orleans that had come to town two months before.

Donald Justice’s poem continues the story.


Two mules stand waiting in from 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 pealed 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 (1925-2004), American poet

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