Needle Song

Zulu 1
In prep for offering a free “Telling Our Stories” group at the Harrison Center for Active Aging in Selma this October, I sat in on one of the center’s other classes this summer. The result was a necklace … and a poem. 


The crafts room in the Center for Active Living

is sun-bright. Ladies circle ’round the table

Opening tackle boxes of needles, thread spools,

Tubes of multicolored, multi-shaped beads.

Pulling stoppers, they spill out tiny

Sparkling piles onto foam squares.

A few skitter to the floor.

I squint to guide the bees-waxed thread

Through a needle eye and tie a strong knot.


We are making Zulu necklaces with Pam.

She is patient and positive, though her hip aches.

Soon she will miss classes to have it replaced

At the hospital in Raleigh. I am new, beadless.

Borrowing the glass carafe she calls “bead soup,”

I pour a glistening pile out onto an egg carton lid.

Beads of all shapes and sizes ooze forth like shimmery lava.

They are leftovers from teaching years of projects and classes.

I use a tiny pink spoon saved from Baskin Robbins

To scoop out ones that are canary yellow with orange highlights.

“Pick through and make sure they’re even-sized,”

She instructs. “Watch out for the ones that are

Whopper-jawed.” Whopper-jawed! Bead soup!

The new language fascinates me.

Heirloom! Guilloche [gee-oh-shay]! Filigree! Doublet!


We laugh, share news, ask about those absent;

Worry aloud about the one who won’t take her medicine.

Ladies vie for Pam’s attention as she teaches a new technique.

“Shhh, I can’t concentrate when everyone’s yappin,’”

One admonishes. “Scoot the scissors this way.”

I spear and count a dozen beads; send them flying down

The needle like a firehouse pole, stringing them

In a threaded circle ’round the base rope

Securing them with looping stitches.

Another dozen and I’m working my way outward

From a mother of pearl the size of a wedding almond, braced

With a bead-on-bead at center.


At the half-hour, some leave for pickleball in the gym;

Others, dance fitness in the activity room. Pam mutes

The pumping CD music by shutting the crafts room door.

“Circle round and snug them up tight,” she says,

Talking lovingly as if the beads were children, called home to supper:

Chevron! Flambeau! Iolite! Superduo!

She says she’s already lassoed the medics into giving her

Unused metal clamps from open kits. She can sterilize them

In the dishwasher to use in her craft.


Rondelle! Tigertail! Lavalier! Seed bead!

At class end, I squirrel my unfinished Zulu rope

Into a Ziploc bag. “I’ll show you how to put

The endcaps on next time,” Pam says. I tell her

I don’t wear jewelry like the others. I want to lay it

Just as it is on the kitchen window sill, instead,

Where the beads can catch the afternoon light.

Cindy Brookshire 2017

Bead 1


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