The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Sheila Wellehan



Far away from rainbow-ribboned
canned goods and vegetables,
prize-winning chickens,
and fluorescent carnival rides,
the pulling shed had the feel of a strip club.
It was clear that what happened inside
should not be seen by everyone.

Pairs of yoked oxen toiled together
to pull tons of concrete on sleds.
Some teams look well cared for,
sleek and impressively muscled.
Others were great white ghosts,
dull-eyed and slack-skinned,
with protruding rib and hip bones.

Two men struck their animals so harshly
that I gasped. I heard the oxen’s low moans.
Spectators gawked and snapped photos
when the team lunged forward
after feeling the sting of the stick.

The pulling monitor told me the rules allow hitting,
but not so hard that blows wound or cause pain.
She assured me she’d inspect the injuries I reported
and write up violations –
but paperwork moves slow.

I left the shed for the sunshine.
Outside the bullies joked
and drank whiskey from flasks.




SHEILA WELLEHAN's poetry has been featured in The Fourth River, Poetry East, Prole, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Whale Road Review, and many other journals and anthologies. She lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Visit her online at



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