Betsy Sholl

Hurdy Gurdy
March 18, 2019 Sholl Betsy


Like a grumbler who claims a five year old
could paint a Jackson Pollock,

I’m out of sync with this club’s special guest,
who’s set up in a half-walled alcove.

His “hurdy gurdy” is no little fiddle-shaped thing,
but a huge electronic console with wires

and switches, all making a tuneless drone
sound of tires hitting the rumble strip,

buzzy mutter of cartoon ghosts in a wall,
trapped there among the batting and slats.

The man turning the wheel, twisting the knobs
doesn’t even try for rhythm or song.

He wears a wizard hat, so it’s easy to think
he’s toying with us, making us listen

to this noise with no arc or purpose or end.
And I do want it to end, want sheetrock and studs

between me and this inscrutable mumbling.
Maybe my ancestors are ghosting me,

those four-square types who didn’t even like
Sinatra coming in a single beat behind the band.

And Elvis? Oh, shudder! It must be them in me
this noise unnerves, the way it mocks, saying

lyrics lie; melody’s a made-up dream of order;
the world’s a chaos box of static and squawk:

make up meaning, if you must, but it won’t be true.
On and on it goes, this rhythm-less din,

as if it’s the sound underpinning the world
what we’d hear if we could really quiet down.

“Without form and void,” the Bible says,
before God separated light and dark,

the first wall: Chaos on one side,
shape, meaning, music on the other, the words

I’m putting to the scratch and groan of this machine,
while it’s feeding me the need.


Betsy Sholl’s ninth collection is House of Sparrows: New & Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin, 2019).Her 10th collection, “As If a Song Could Save You,” will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in fall of 2022. She teaches in the MFA Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.