Issue 27: Burgess Needle

My Name is Needle

On the playground of my school

     I was Needle in the sun

  and shade beaten near the tree

                  my blood as red on asphalt

                  as if it mattered then

My family lit no candles

My father said we were a tribe

                        yet saw no need to pray or follow

Why do we have to be Needle             

I asked Grandpa Harry

                        who slurped his borscht with gusto leaving

                        a trail of sour cream on his clipped mustache

                        his clean-shaven chin beaded with red drops

                        of beet juice that stained his shirt

Who laughed and sighed

                        better Needle than Nudel or Nodel

                        or even Noodle

He was a tailor and they were

                        all tailors, all those Nudels

And Nodels who somehow

Spun life from a common

                        thread handed them from

                        Cohen and Levy and Moses that was just as strong

As Ariadne’s string

                        that led from maze to sea

Stories came to me one by one

Stanzas from my people’s own great woe

Yitzhak of Bludow

                        breadwinner for Gitel

                        born in the Nudel clan

                        and like his father    a tailor

All the gold in his teeth collected and melted

It seemed to me that over there

                        all the Nudels and Nodels

                        stitched clothing and sheets until

The thimbles fell and the wheels stopped turning

                        and then there were none

                        or too few to count

Someone later counted those piles

                        of shoes and divided the number by two

There was Josef Nodl

a tailor from Kremenets

                        or was it Krzeimieniec

Every decade seemed to change the word

                        changed the world

And whether Abram Nudl who married

                        Bila and died in Treblinka

                        alone because      he was alone

Sewed shirts for the mayor

                        or peasants didn’t matter

                        because dead always meant dead

And the jumbled piles of clothing

                        along the railroad tracks remained unclaimed

These days his synagogue

                        is a bus station     only

                        the old cemetery’s stones remain

Cracked tombstones with flowered motifs

                        one with a pitcher that meant

                        a Levite rested below

All on a hill overlooking the bustling town

Where no one can read Yiddish

                        inscriptions carved for the ages

Shlomo Nudel

                        Rachel Nudl

Saul Nodl

Decorated with

                        griffins, birds, bears and grapes

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha‑olam, bo're p'ri ha‑gafen

Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the

fruit of the vine.

On the playground of my school

                        I was Needle in the sun

                        And shade      jumped petty hurdles

Compared to some      then danced

                        With those who got away

A whirling gyre of freedom.

Doors and Windows

Screws dropped in sighed release.

Nine doors sagged, fell, were carried away.

The old truck’s springs groaned.

Lilac branches reached, but failed to slow the abduction.

Nine cracked and pitted doors stacked;

     bound to be stripped in an acid wash

Their hinges flapped wagging tongues.

Slam! One still shudders in anger.

Creak! Another opens for love.

Who now remembers all their entrances

     and exits, the slinking in

     or the stumbling out?

Dumb, two-way glass windows remain.

They shared everything, both ways, of life’s drama:

     kisses, slaps, embraces, lingering despair,

     creative ecstasy and slow death.

They are free of memory and collective guilt.

Look in, look out, blood on the floor, scream

     sounds filter through, but no evidence.


Only the doors retain in flaked lead deposits

     centuries of you, us and them.

In the acid wash it will all be stripped

     decades and days of human imprint

     swirl clockwise down and away forever.

Watching wide-pine doors being driven away

     the mute, neutral windows

     resolute in rippled pane silence

Catch the image of the truck’s tail light

Flicker then go blank.

Burgess Needle was born in Boston and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. He worked as a school librarian in Tucson for thirty years. His poetry has appeared in Connotation Press, Blackbox Manifold (UK), Concho River Review, Raving Dove, Iodine, Blue Lake Review, Nutshell (UK), Liquid Imagination and DeComp among others.

Publications include: Every Crow in the Blue Sky (Diminuendo Press, 2009); Thai Comic Books (Big Table Press, 2013); Faded Photo Brings it Back (Kindle, 2014) and Sit and Cry: Two Years in the Land of Smiles (Wren Song Press, 2017). He lives not too far from Middlebury, Vermont with a hazel-eyed woman of wit, charm and beauty.

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