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.]

Copyright © 2009 by Burgess Needle, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.