The woman from the end of the paved road by Burgess Needle

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Narrated by Burgess Needle

The woman from the end of the paved road by Burgess Needle
Illustration by Sue Babcock
I. I See True North

An afternoon’s nap took my bearings.
True north could have been anywhere.
Forceps-delivered babies
     Like me     with crushed
Rarely know their own locations.
Living with the woman from the end
     Of the paved road oriented me to:
A clear, nearby river, land falling
     Away behind her house, passing trucks kick
     Up pale dust, a dog named Sherlock loves
          To eat cat food     even cat feces.
All these my new directions.
Placing a cap on my head gave me authority.
Fine. I would find my own way to the egg lady’s
     House, but that’s when the woman from the end
     Of the paved road creaked a gate open, holding
          Dozens of rhubarb stalks, saying
You decide. Plain rhubarb pie or rhubarb
     And strawberry crisp or even rhubarb,
     Strawberry and custard pie. Your thoughts?
My thoughts?
My thoughts were as unfocused as magnetic north
     During heavy sun spot activity.
All around, dropped in an exquisitely random pattern
      Were soil-filled tires sprouting
      white and red flowers
With stems alternating up each stalk following
     A ratio echoed in the curve of a snail shell.
Everything vibrates celestial tunes
     Caught by river water picked
     Up by some fine filaments in my ears
More than compensating for my loss
     Of bearing or passage of time
And the browning rhubarb/strawberry pie
     Orients far better than any compass.
I see true north reflected in the hazel-green eyes
Of the woman from the end of the paved road
Who murmurs: There! There!
And I know exactly where I am.

II. Still Falling

This morning’s snow hid everything
except the wide-mouth snake of my dream
who came at me with galaxies in his mouth
and enough cold, dark matter
to muffle nuclear fusion.
Still, locally, it’s all under heavy whiteness
though the kale remains firm,
primed for salad with lemons and walnuts.

These are some of my day’s thoughts:
metaphor and actual.
Sometimes the moon is just the moon.
Dream snakes are phallic said Siggy;
but, what of a cold-blooded reptile
whose jaw opens black and wide
enough to encompass alpha centauri?

Trick will be to mimic our visitor—
the one who made kale salad
from our garden.         In truth,
had she not dropped by, 
we’d be on tomatoes and lettuce alone.
In the snake’s mouth we are all stars
seemingly close in the past
far off in the future.
Truth lies beneath snow
that’s still falling.

III. Stay in the Present

At the end of the paved road lives
A woman of several lives
Who knew me well before
Cuba was blockaded
And now again
With familiar arms and a smile
Just as winsome
Strange. As in uncanny or puzzling.
She now fancies curry
And an Iranian bread called barbari.
When we caress, my jealousies
Drift through the window
Are eaten by passing ravens.
Later, briefly alone, I look
Down at a carpet of bloodroot leaves, and,
Because it is mid-summer,
          the white petals with yellow stamens
          have fallen away        still,
The reddish rhizome remains just below—
Sweet syrup runs from local trees
But bloodroot’s orange sap is poison.
The woman at the end of the paved road
Reclaims windows, saws rectangles
In blank walls     welcomes new light
As I do my best to welcome her embrace
And stay in the present—
I do not know why that is easier now
Than when my blood was newer
A time of full sun
Uncompromised lives.
I am far happier to be here
In many other ways
Easing me to see
White trillium, day lilies
And leaves of ginger rather
Than Sanguinaria Canadensis
It is called     with a sap
That leaves a scab on bare skin.
She is walking through bluebells now
The woman from the end of the paved road,
Looking up at me     with a rushing river
Behind her     with a past that has brought
Her to this form
I love so well
Here at the end of the paved road
Near the river
Easily seen through panes 
Of a recently installed window
Reflecting orange crested irises
And my breath—even in July—
These early Vermont mornings.



Bio: Burgess Needle was a school librarian in Tucson before retiring and moving to New England. His poetry and fiction has appeared in Connotation Press, Blackbox Manifold (UK), Concho River Review, Raving Dove, Boston Literary Magazine, Centrifugal Eye, Iodine, Blue Lake Review, Nutshell (UK) 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 taught English for two years in northeast Thailand for the Peace Corps and currently lives in Ripton, Vermont with a hazel-eyed woman of great wit, charm and beauty.