Issue 3: Burgess Needle


field reports were in

his jaw ached          revere’s damn teeth hurt

more than the enemy

at long island he'd lost 400 men

and that imbecile howe was laughing

the evening they broke camp

from brooklyn heights nightmares again

pickett's gray wave smashing

against a blue bulwark          fertilizing

green fields with their blood

he sipped wine just before trenton

christmas eve they crossed

the delaware       so cold the hessians

never knew who they were until too late

captured and given civilized quarter

they were amazed at the rebels’ restraint

demanding a higher moral ground he took

another drink and a later nap that

brought ypres and the gassed kicking

figures falling like sacks of flour

the general's face for days

a patch of birch against the evergreens

colored at brandywine creek

defeat         it had come unexpectedly

blindly he pushed on near saratoga

where burgoyne puked up a white flag

victory was not enough to prevent

blooming mushroom clouds that left

silhouettes imprinted on walls

red-eyed he planned a southern thrust

from new jersey falling at midnight into

the lushest foliage beyond

anything american then to witness

napalm fondle a flaming child to ash

morning found him frenzied packing

swinging into the saddle intent on leaving

dropping the whole damn enterprise

when they told him of an officer

blundering at monmouth courthouse

word had it that general lee felt

his troops would never withstand british regulars

sir they are able and by god they shall do it  

calling him an idiot before the men

saving at least their retreat

he'd given himself another reason to stay on

finish it up

the pride in him was                              unyielding

thomas paine though not his class

still was on the mark        writing

what we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly

it is dearness only that gives every thing its value

he wondered if his nightmares were

too dear a price for mere success

               victory at vincennes beyond his knowledge

               leaving february’s birthday cold dismal

closing his eyes on stars

he saw el salvador death squards salute him

the raped starved and bleeding reach for his hand

george  clutched his gut lying

               face down, thinking         oh no, not tonight

dear martha let me dream of you alone

then religious lunacy triumphant

wasted those iconic towers

                blind rage turned us into them

               hammering grief to secrecy

slowly drowning the others as if non-human

and so successful they became

as the liberty bell cracked again at the shame

spying on our very selves setting loose

christmas bags of cluster bombs        

though cornwallis stood stunned between continentals

and the french fleet           did not the stars and stripes

mean something after all

george ground his ivories until

his mouth drooled

red rivulets that so suited

the white and blue of his quilt

not for that he thundered      we did not do it for that

field reports continued to arrive

but the general was indisposed

seeing it all as it might be

and not for the first time swore an oath against

the great juggernaut he’d so ably helped launch

Burgess Stanley Needle is a Tucson poet whose work has appeared in or will soon appear in the The Hiss Quarterly, Origamicondom, Kritya (India), Zafusy (UK), Black Mountain Review (UK) Free Verse, Concho River Review and Raving Dove. He co-edited Prickly Pear/Tucson [a poetry quarterly] and has been a co-director of the summer program of the Southern Arizona Writing Project. Diminuendo Press will be bringing out a collection of his poems in 2010.