YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts

January 2011

VOL XIX, Issue 1, Number 213

Editor: Klaus J. Gerken

Production Editor: Heather Ferguson

European Editor: Mois Benarroch

Contributing Editors: Michael Collings; Jack R. Wesdorp; Oswald Le Winter

Previous Associate Editors: Igal Koshevoy; Evan Light; Pedro Sena

ISSN 1480-6401


The Organ Grinder

a cycle in 4 parts


Chris Watts

An Organ Grinder, Awake


For the first time, the beating made sense -

rhythm, new noises: connected, messages -

and the crowds,

for a time, did too

overhead that day, it wasn't the first but

somewhere near it, in space at least:

“ask Michel,” he thought, “he will remember,”

but the only thing that changed

was that he knew to ask, and

the little girl came again to hear;

her exasperated au pair dragged reluctant as a rutting horse

rolling eyes and flashing ankles, the smells of hot cotton -

he knew then, before he heard the crows on the battlement

unused, and he put down his drum


It was lonely at first, until he discovered

truly, say what you will,

a monkey gazing into a mirror is not so different:

“even man is confused,” he thinks

there might be a song in there, somewhere if.

One infant finger touches glass

cold spasms under the fingernail

his identity shivers, bleeding first

{knowing is remembrance}

{remembering is high honor}

{honor is for courts, and fools}

{he is a fool no longer}

preservation is the first rule

expansion the second,

especially in time this odd

his feet were first

there before him

countless roads that tore the soles

and splintered bones meant for grasping

eventually flattened, lengthened

the pain kept him awake at night

he didn't see a mirror again for some time

taking for granted that his changes were mostly


he missed his drum dearly, the organ too,

fingered small patterns on the ground

at midnight – on the hard ground –

one cool Mississippi night,

met a man at a crossroads

who mistook him, but

then he perpetually made the same

mistake. Karo’d time spills out, sweet and erratic,

and cornbread across the field, his yesterday far beyond

tomorrow and lonely with it, without the crowds and crows

and her – blonde-small, smelling like a summer pool – all

this a moment between speech and stars

still, he traded, without words mostly

and from behind the fire

all he showed was his hands,

into which were placed

silver spoons still warm


He was unrecognizable,


but strengthened

he had melted the spoons into something more useful,

angry at pretension now, clear

lenses for his eyes held those spoons over his nose

the most useful tools were focused

and intent

on magic, certainly

New York was a festering place

he lost weight but he met people

isn't that always the way

magic was different here too, smaller,

un petit rien, perhaps, buried in garbage and sweat

too many singers

too many percussionists

so his voice was lost

his hands and his voice

learned anew

“keep your eye on the beetle, folks,

oldest trick in the world –

almost oldest, anyway,”

a wink, and the mostly male crowd

chuckled low –

not like they meant it –

their barefoot shifting

the alleyway leaning in

the stray, yellowed underwear held by

clothespins high overhead

and for a minute he remembered climbing walls with these


he lost his beat

and then he ran

if it weren't the same, it could at least

be different

she was the third from the left

grown now, into something

that burned his heart when he stared too long

burned his feet, his heart,

remembering pain and something holier,

the roads traveled and a promise

she spent her face on his eyes,

burning that place newly discovered.

He saw her face and ran.

An Organ Grinder in LA 1. It was as far away from it all as he could get, the sidewalk ends in sand and waves for God’s sake: “not sure, old man, that I know you’re there, but it can’t hurt to cast would-be’s on the wind not here, with these hands,” one of which held a gift the little sliver he kept if you looked at it just right, it shone something fierce obsessed with the twin ideas of pain and loyalty, he began seeking more mirror; one piece the same size, from the same kind of glass to embed under each nail; LA is all about PR 2. He was offered his first role in a film, ironically handsome now and fully man, where you can’t even see him doubling for Grant and really it’s all feet, all along, it was all in his feet he always wanted to be paid at night, showing at the stage just before the bookkeeper left, mostly because he enjoyed the instinct, revulsion?, the mirror nails caused others, humans knowing he was not really one of them but so convincing his second part was better – a puppet theatre, some crazy white man with a woolly face asked him to sit for a minute and play, time did its Karo slide, his face trembled, they wanted to record his face, he fled to the streets. 3. Not so different here, only a different hunger “why am I so possessed by my belly,” he thinks? “it was never like that anywhere else,” and drifts to sleep, hearing the faintest sound of caravansary harness on the wind beneath the overpass, among disease and distrust, his only treasure the red coat “Cardboard and drainspouts pretty much cover it, Officer.” the blue man in his blue suit carrying weight badly but unable to put it the fuck down anywhere but at the end of this billy or the waist of these pants: “How do ya?” “Lucky you’re not a girl,” he thinks anything can happen here and no one notices he’s drawn to the beach, and it’s there he goes for his dailies: bum shower, and a salt shave for the beard he cannot seem to be rid of hairless as an oyster otherwise his face betrays him.
An Organ Grinder Picks His Teeth 1. He sits still now, at rest and in shock his legs still thrumming from the run and the scare he had stepping through an opaque bubble in the air screaming soundlessly for minutes that cataract to nothing and he's there, again wherever there is, this time “…and that's just it,” he thinks, “time is the issue, time and pressure.” And the golden hair that spills from her head changing to silver forward and blonde backward each and every instant he sees her, his memory blows free like petals of some rare flower growing only in Crete maybe. The last time he was there he was blinded by the washed-out, bestial sun/rock/waves maybe. But here he sits again, counting on one much grown hand, manicured and almost covered in red to the elbow on the right thinking and panting, his monkey lungs the only thing monkey about him anymore: “It's a revelation,” it was bound to be nothing else, and suddenly he’s aloud and remembering all the momentum, “Why else would she remember,” run to him once and shy/afraid/run another, those familiar twins, parallel or intersecting, his brain is larger now: balmier and capable of computation, the sun sets over the road. He can't stay awake any more 2. Sound and light, it's always like this sound and light and the uncontrollable urge to run to mate, toread/toeat/todance his feet were the first to go, and he still remembers what it was, cracking bones on the backs of unforgiving asphalt, to crank the box and wait for a song, to play the drums, the spoons, the organ, the pin on his lapel is made of silver and it takes the shape he remembers if the light hits it right {the orphan} the city on the hill is called Avalon he remembers and an Elton John song springs forth, was it the diner counter or some burned out hulk with wheels and an eight-track? Somewhere he heard something burning down the streets of Avalon and he remembers poignancy, a scene, a debacle: the Catholicly-promised head exploding on a beautiful summer day, and he says to no one in particular, in the crowd standing next to a young man the rest of the country will soon know all to well, "now you know how I feel, man" These three things are intertwined now, eidetic memory faded and roseate with confusion, swollen like worn tissue: Avalon, that song, that President so he feels the shot and he feels Vietnam and he feels hate at circumstance, and he grins sheepishly, even when he sleeps; the whores tell him so when they wake him the next day apologetic at their successes of the night before. He apologizes too, that is who he is, what he has always been, apology in song and change, and he cries for no reason in the arms, vaguely remembered chalk white arms but the city of the hill beckons him far more effectively and he steps lightly from the transom plane he has come to love that bubble of oddity no longer screaming in the Technicolor daylight no longer reminding him of Karo and cornbread, and he wonders which hall will hold the table whether she will be there, and who she will be, who he will be 3. The truth is, Lancelot laid his sword down at the foot of the man he named brother on his lips, and father in his heart, he laid his sword down and he swore to forsake her in this life and any other he would travel the land sad but always second to the King, always the fool who lied to the King Who Died the Grinder picks his teeth, one much grown hand, manicured and almost covered in red to the elbow on the right thinking and panting, his monkey lungs the only thing monkey about him anymore: remembers just like it was yesterday because it was, in a way, yesterday he grabs his valise and starts down the road again, this time revoking.
An Organ Grinder Goes to Hell 1. Woven plant life juts between the stones of the path, solid blood-colored petals and thickly green stems humming under the Grinder's bare soles; where broken glass remains the idiot child, the bone-blond orphan has not been - only in moonlight, crying for his brother, does he emerge to care: the path well-tended weaves through patches of damp weeds and towering scrub growth the smell of gasoline is cut by occasional gusts of honeysuckle The oak at the bottom of the hill has been struck by lightning, yes, and clinging plant life nearly dead on the lee side, away from the cliff face its dark opening amplifying the contrary echoes of the sea, and bees feasting on the muscadine that props the tree upright Daylight crests the top of the path, and the soiled prints of the Grinder glow greenly; “another depression to add,” and “what strange mathematics here,” he thinks 2. Above the gate, the arch, the glen open below and leading to the path, is an old sign, in a sad song script, a twist of fate, written in a forbidden Gaelic denied to all but the bone-blond idiot who emerges cat-like from his hollow to braid and think - but mostly to whisper to the flowers knowing no salt but tears knowing no wind but breath they shudder there, rising again from the careless press of a misshapen foot; green sap spoils quickly His fingers fold the strands, and thousands of feet away, on a still-dark hickory stump, the Grinder watches a mystery answered but he fears movement undecided, he waits Conversation isn't all it's cracked up to be, he thinks, much like this path to Persephone or whomever she might be now. The day is full of birdsong, but not here over the hills, yes, and from beyond the cliff, but not here There are only green things here, and ill-tended elsewhere "I'd blaze a trail, had I light," he says - quietly - but the bone blond child hears anyway despite the hum and crash from the cave despite the distance between them “Have you ever seen.” 3. Closer to the opening now, and under a false bit of hair hiding a hollow shaped like a chalice - dog's hair, he's sure - the Grinder removes something precious; heavy and smooth, cold and slick with dew, two pieces eyes to a statue Rattling the cup was his only job the only thing he had, once, in New York and elsewhere, the same motion as the crank that finally broke, he and the small Vietnamese man faking abbreviated limbs like the picture from an old movie, a skateboard, a gapped-tooth grin and no one pays attention - their money thrown absently so they need not look "The first mistake I made," he thinks, aware this time that noise is meaningless but afraid of miscalculating again where the child is concerned, timeless care of the plant life that would otherwise destroy the way to this place, "the first mistake I made, was caring" He leaves his hat, his grandfather's hat, against all accounting in the smooth hollow, covered with hair again, but taller now and takes his first steps down 4. There is no truth serum to be had you can count the bee stings though which he should have seen there was fleabane above, just outside the cave but the angry flare above the cliff hurried his movements too much daylight and the portal closes Complete darkness, the only points of light from under his nails, the muscadine bites from above shattering his composure, what little he owns, with a pulsing beat of his heart Slippery floors slippery truth he no longer has the body only memory and pain, alternating the price of entry, something the oracle did not foretell 5. A leveling place, shattered statuary just out of sight a gash on the inside of his right foot no other anything but a shallow bowl of stone a shrine in the center one lock of hair and a shell mirror to take back Above and outside, the bone-blonde smiles and stands removing her cloak and turning to walk, her hips grow fuller, her figure spreading, breasts bud and rise, her jaw grows smooth and the weeds begin to die, "up and out," she says - one small finger, missing its last joint, raises to her lips, and all sound stops - "up and out," for the last time.


The Organ Grinder (c) 2010 by Chris Watts


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