Mule Driver Chronicles

tow motor
         lift truck

            fork truck

what most folks know as a forklift
and as many drivers call a mule
mule drivers exploited dumb


                 of burden
trading the whip's quick sting for stiff knees and jolted kidneys,
the drivers are the mules
drive your car between home and work,
maybe half an hour each way, each day
but eight,

            on the mule

quitting time, parking lot, slump behind the wheel
and click on your left turn signal
as if shifting into reverse
leaden sheet chilly as leaked propane, rain
breaching overhead apron's gap
upon your brain (which concocts a roof for the mule)
half-devoured tires whizzing on the wet brow plate

crabbing sideways with a wet-browed worker's life (if fortunate)

each countless pallet, the cracker
on which comes served a daily

                of drugery

gorge and purge semi trailers,

         straight box trucks,

rail cars, swaying and braying
(tipping eerily as wood-less planks creak and groan)
sending rats scurrying along train tracks below
but tail-less breed above

         (Rattus managericus)

rarely come down here anyway
more full platters of galvanized roll in
intact for a change (no unloading by hand)
and not twenty-foot this time, only ten
so leave the short forks on

no prob, boss

these slings will double-stack
stock way up in the rack
push the limit of the stability pyramid
after all, floor space is more precious than a mule (driver)
so, two big guys cling behind the cage to counterbalance
steel toes in the exhaust ports, human ballast

profanely praying through clenched jaw-cogs not to be catapaulted to heaven

while even the mule driver leans all


in her adrenaline-drenched saddle

   Jerry W. Sears

Runners Up

Names Of The Dead

JOHN fitzown, Co.B 52d N.Y.-heart
SEYMORE lyons, Co.H. 7th Virginia-face
Union Killed at Antietam September 17, 1862

The New York Times

I collect the Names of the Dead American

service members killed in the Iraq war

published in The New York Times

Each morning, I carefully cut out the names,
creating a hole in the page & heart of survivors.
Faceless names engraved in paper tombstone.

No images of charred bodies in burning Humvees,

severed limbs, bone chips and dog tags,
a medic in desert camouflage leaning over a young GI,

tying a bandolier tourniquet on a shaking bleeding stump.
Image of a man wearing Kevlar helmet, dusty goggles,

flak jacket, covering a comrade's body with a poncho
next to ruins. A GI with bandaged eyes being led
to friendly lines.

I reverently stack The Names of the Dead

on my desk in the den. Today a breeze from a cracked
window scattered them like dead leaves in the room:
MILCZARK, Matthew G. 18, Pfc.,
Kettle River, Minn. First Marine Division
THIGPEN, Thomas R. Sr., 52, Master Sgt.,
Army National Guard; Augusta, Ga.;
151st Signal Battalion
JIMENEZ, Linda C., 39, Sgt., Army;
Brooklyn; Second Squadron Combat Support
Aviation, Second Armored Calvary.
SCOTT, David A., Master Sgt., Air Force;
Union, Ohio; 445th Communications Flight.

One wonders if any of the Names of the Dead

will be chiseled in a wall of black stone?

   Gerald R. Wheeler

The Tree Climber's Husband

after Dorianne Laux

Dusk brims over the side of the horizon
during her long drive home.
Spurs and lanyards clang like giant keys
when she drops her gear at the door.
He waits until her boots are off before opening.
Carefully, they only let lips touch:
her clothes are thick with poison
oak oil; he helps her out of them.
Fir and fern wash over like a breeze.
Her socks still wet from sweat.
He slides her pants from her legs.
Her arms spread like branches as he lifts her shirt
and reveals her breasts hidden
like nests where voles and owls live.
She wraps her limbs around him

and guides him through her understory.

The forest floor under her fingernails,
her hair smells of dried twigs,
her ankles lock as she readies
for the long drive home and the dusk
brimming over.

    Eric Wayne Dickey