Carl Sandburg

How Gimme the Ax Found Out About the Zigzag Railroad and Who Made It Zigzag

    One day Gimme the Ax said to himself, “Today I go to the 
postoffice and around, looking around. Maybe I will hear about 
something happening last night when I was sleeping. Maybe a 
policeman began laughing and fell in a cistern and came out 
with a wheelbarrow full of goldfish wearing new jewelry. How do 
I know? Maybe the man in the moon going down a cellar stairs 
to get a pitcher of butter-milk for the woman in the moon to drink 
and stop crying, maybe he fell down the stairs and broke the 
pitcher and laughed and picked up the broken pieces and said 
to himself, ‘One, two, three, four, accidents happen in the best 
regulated families.’ How do I know?”
    So with his mind full of simple and refreshing thoughts, Gimme 
the Ax went out into the backyard garden and looked at the different 
necktie poppies growing early in the summer. Then he picked one 
of the necktie poppies to wear for a necktie scarf going downtown 
to the postoffice and around looking around.
    “It is a good speculation to look nice around looking around in 
a necktie scarf,” said Gimme the Ax. “It is a necktie with a picture 
like whiteface pony spots on a green frog swimming in the moonshine.”
    So he went downtown. For the first time he saw the Potato Face 
Blind Man playing an accordion on the corner next nearest the postoffice. 
He asked the Potato Face to tell him why the railroad tracks run 
zigzag in the Rootabaga Country.
    “Long ago,” said the Potato Face Blind Man, “long before the necktie 
poppies began growing in the backyard, long before there was a necktie 
scarf like yours with whiteface pony spots on a green frog swimming 
in the moonshine, back in the old days when they laid the rails for the 
railroad they laid the rails straight.”
    “Then the zizzies came. The zizzy is a bug. He runs zigzag on zigzag 
legs, eats zigzag with zigzag teeth, and spits zigzag with a zigzag tongue.
    “Millions of zizzies came hizzing with little hizzers on their heads and 
under their legs. They jumped on the rails with their zigzag legs, and spit 
and twisted with their zigzag teeth and tongues till they twisted the 
whole railroad and all the rails and tracks into a zigzag railroad with zigzag 
rails for the trains, the passenger trains and the freight trains, all to run 
zigzag on.
    “Then the zizzies crept away into the fields where they sleep and cover 
themselves with zigzag blankets on special zigzag beds.
    “Next day came shovelmen with their shovels, smooth engineers with 
smooth blue prints, and water boys with water pails and water dippers for 
the shovelmen to drink after shoveling the railroad straight. And I nearly 
forgot to say the steam and hoist operating engineers came and began 
their steam hoist and operating to make the railroad straight.
    “They worked hard. They made the railroad straight again. They looked 
at the job and said to themselves and to each other, ‘This is it—we done it.’
    “Next morning the zizzies opened their zigzag eyes and looked over to 
the railroad and the rails. When they saw the railroad all straight again, and 
the rails and the ties and the spikes all straight again, the zizzies didn’t even 
eat breakfast that morning.
    “They jumped out of their zigzag beds, jumped onto the rails with their 
zigzag legs and spit and twisted till they spit and twisted all the rails and 
the ties and the spikes back into a zigzag like the letter Z and the letter Z 
at the end of the alphabet.
    “After that the zizzies went to breakfast. And they said to themselves 
and to each other, the same as the shovelmen, the smooth engineers 
and the steam hoist and operating engineers, ‘This is it—we done it.’”
    “So that is the how of the which—it was the zizzies,” said Gimme the Ax.
    “Yes, it was the zizzies,” said the Potato Face Blind Man. “That is the 
story told to me.”
    “Who told it to you?”
    “Two little zizzies. They came to me one cold winter night and slept in my 
accordion where the music keeps it warm in winter. In the morning I said, 
‘Good morning, zizzies, did you have a good sleep last night and pleasant 
dreams?’ And after they had breakfast they told me the story. Both told it 
zigzag but it was the same kind of zigzag each had together.”