The Needle NPR coverage of The Needle: Poems by Jennifer Grotz. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
NPR logo The Needle

The Needle


by Jennifer Grotz

Hardcover, 66 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, List Price: $23 |


Buy Featured Book

The Needle
Jennifer Grotz

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Book Summary

From the winner of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize comes a collection of verse set mostly in Kraków, with poems focusing on the ponies of Ocracoke Island, the clouds in the air, a boy playing a violin and much more. By the author of Cusp.

Read an excerpt of this book


Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Needle


Beginning with gold around the edges
and ending with the eyes’ sorrowful gaze,

the face of a Madonna with child
makes a dark mirror of what you are to feel:

the temporary but desperate way
a part of you is wounded

until the hurt becomes a lens. Inside you is a city
the mosaic spells out with tiny precious stones

across the ceiling and the walls.
And the city has its currency: every tessera is a coin

you must struggle to spend by looking,
the way rain slowly covers every cobblestone on a street.

A camera won’t work: the tourists’ feeble flashes
cannot ascend high enough, cannot take in

the Madonna’s head tilted in thought,
the baby happy and silent like a secret.



One way to survive is to be a little piece of scenery
Among the mirabilia of the square, spending one’s time

In an outdoor café while a weather system of people
Drips ice cream on the ground. At day’s end you leave

Simply for the pleasure of the next morning’s return,
Of rounding the corner to see the jostled chessboard of tourists
Underneath the church’s towers.

Every day the breakdancers come with their pathetic boom box
To spin and convulse and do whatever gymnastics they can muster

Next to the requisite sad accordion-player, and even a gypsy
Who beseeches and curses bewildered passersby.

On one corner, a tiny ancient church keeps its doors open,
Letting a summer carnival enter the dark altar

While, just outside, the soap blowers wave wands long as fishing poles,
Gingerly releasing the huge trembling globes
Which rise fiery and iridescent like souls.

So stubbornly do we congregate that even in lightning and thunder
We sit strangely unalarmed, eating our chilling omelets
While canvas umbrellas flap and the rain sprays our tables in gusts.

And afterward, the wet and gleaming square seems slowly rubbed dry
By the bolt of blue-gray velvet the sky unspools above.

It is hard to know which view is really reality: the square itself, wiped clean
Of all the people, or the incomprehensible shuffling of the people

Who are incomprehensible and shuffling all over the world, all the time.
Either view scours the heart, keeps down its wild romantic notions.



All day the city went on being a city we traversed
as if it could be conquered by touch,

leaning against stone walls and wrapping our fingers
around rails overlooking the river.

And all through the city, the day went on being a day
blazing ruthlessly, even when it started to rain,

and the devil beat his daughter all afternoon
until sparrows stirred the cauldron of sky

and dusk doused the flames in greenish smoke.
That was more or less the recipe to make night,

when the city writes its unspendable wealth inside us.
When a pebble becomes a bright coin on the sidewalk,

where a black ermine scurries under a car
to replace motor oil rushing into the gutter.

And I become a bird squeezed in a boy’s dirty palms
while you digest an iron egg of dread,

the empirical result whenever moonlight
takes shadow to be her lawfully wedded husband.

One’s fate in this city is to come and become and be overcome.
In each of us a mad rabbit thrashes and a wolf pack howls.