Where Did You Come From; Vagina is a Province in China; There Are Philosophers Everywhere; The Last of the Mohicans

Where Did You Come From

	My four-year-old nephew says, “I wish girls had penises, 
Uncle Dave,” and when I say, “Why’s that, Bertie?” 
	he says, “So I can look at them” (emphasis his). Makes sense. 
The doggie, the cup of milk, the sky: we just glance at these 
	and then turn away. But the doggie who has our daddy’s face 

	rather than its own, the cup spilling over with blood 
instead of milk, the sky covered from one side to another
	by the space ship sent from Pluthor by the Pluthorian 
High Council and probably not with our best interests
 	in mind: these we’ll look at forever or at least until 

	we stop screaming. Still, the things kids don’t know 
about the human reproductive system is just abysmal
	in its magnitude. Developmental psychologist Susan 
Carey reports that a child who was asked to explain 
	reproduction said parents buy a duck which turns 

	into a rabbit which turns into a baby. Okay, laugh 
at the silly child if you will, but my guess is that 
	he or she would rather talk about ducks and bunnies 
than all the icky stuff that goes into sex: the overpriced 
	drinks, the begging, the stubble and bad breath. 

	Besides, the kid’s explanation makes perfect sense 
embryonically: first there’s the duck with its beak 
	and webbed feet, then the mammal, then little Ricky 
or Karen. Maybe that’s where you came from. It’s not
	like you were there when it happened—okay, you were, 

	but you don’t remember, although there are not only 
people who say they do remember sliding down 
	the birth canal but also others who’ll try to sell you 
a course that promises to retrieve all the memories 
	you’ve forgotten, most of which should stay that way, 

	if you ask me. If your parents never told you 
you came from a duck, that’s probably because 
	they thought you'd get a better start in life believing 
you were the result of their excellent love and not 
	a quick trip to the pet store. And then you grew up. 

	Last week there was a photo going around 
of this college girl with a swastika on her shoulder. 
	My guess is that she’s probably a decent kid, just 
stupid and clueless, but everybody on social 
	media says nope, she’s evil, and when I say I bet 

	she volunteers and helps disabled kids and does all 
the other stuff that sorority girls do but that 
decent people can still do stupid things, which is 
why rental car companies don’t rent to drivers 
	under 25, everybody I say this to says, nope, 

	nope to the nope-ety nope-nopes, off with her head.
Didn’t they ever make a mistake? And this girl’s 
	probably not finished with hers. Actress Sue Lyon’s 
film career was going great guns when she married 
	Gary “Cotton” Adamson, who was doing time 

	for second-degree murder and robbery in the Colorado 
state  penitentiary. A year later, Sue announced 
	that they were divorcing because of the effect 
the marriage had on her career. “I’ve been told 
	by people in the movie business, specifically 

	producers and film distributors, that I won’t get 
a job because I’m married to Cotton,” she said. 
	Maybe she just wasn’t a good actress. Or didn’t 
want to be. In an interview, the young star said 
	she didn't want to act in movies for the rest 

	of her life: "I'd like to teach school and I'd like 
to get married and have children." Just not 
	with Cotton, I guess. Sue Lyon was in Lolita. 
She and three other actors in that movie as well as 
	director Stanley Kubrick were all nominated for 

	Golden Globe Awards. Guess who won.
Everything went down hill after that, damn it.
Too bad Sue Lyon didn’t live in Europe. 
In Hollywood, they say “What have you done lately?” 
	whereas in Europe they think you're as good as 

	the best you've ever been.  The rest is up to you. 
Well, a lot of the rest, not all of it. Bertie and I are 
	fishing off the end of a dock as we are having this 
conversation, and when I say, “What do you like most
	about fishing, Bertie?” he says, “I like everything.”

Vagina is a Province in China

	In Norway, they say “Hvofor?” instead of “Why?” so when 
		you’re watching a Norwegian spy movie and a man in a fedora 
	tells a slinky blonde in a pillbox hat to “get closer to Colonel 
Hauptmann” and she says “Hvofor?” that means “Why?” 
		which sounds like “What for?” which is what we say here in
	the South, although down here it sounds like “Whuhfor?” 

	Anyway, that’s what we say in Tupelo and Itta Bena when 
		someone says they’re going to throw a brick through their boss’s
	window or run for sheriff or order six hot fudge sundaes 
and six whiskey sours and go back and forth them until they’re done 
		and run into traffic and start yanking people out of their cars, 
	and you say “Whuhfor? You’re doing okay just as you are.” 

	But that’s language for you, not to mention people. Whenever 
		I wander into an Italian mass and the priest is talking about 
	peccatori or “sinners,” I always hear the word “pecker” 
or “male body part often if not always inplicated in 
		the commission of sins.” Because there are other sins.
	Like, you know. Arson. Embezzlement. Yet these require 

	other tools such as accelerants and shady accounting practices. 
		Speaking of body parts, I was sitting in my office the other day 
	when a student who’d just given a paper at a conference 
on female horror movie protagonists dropped by to tell me 
		about it. “My argument is  that all of these characters have 
	an experience where someone tries to assault or harm them, 

	so their body spontaneously manifests this powerful 
		supernatural response, like fire or teeth coming from 
	their vagina or a magically manifested snake appearing 
out of nowhere. Fun!” When I asked her how it went, 
		my student said it was funny to say the word “vagina”
	over and over. “I think I said it like 17 times. People really 

seemed to like it, though. I think it broke up the expected 
		pattern of rhetoric that's typical at these conferences.” 
	I bet. Do you think the clinical names for our private parts 
sound dirty? My mother-in-law did. That woman was more 
		obsessed with cleanliness than anyone I ever knew. 
	Somewhere deep in her mind were buried all the old 

	synonyms for the verb “to clean”: absterge, deterge,
		decrassify, depurate, despumate, elutriate, lixiviate, 
	edulcorate. Some people think “vagina” is an ugly 						
word, also “penis.” “Penis” is not exactly up there 
		with “eloquence”  and “aurora” and “summer afternoon,”
	you know. My wife likes the Spanish word “pinga” 

	because it doesn’t sound so textbook-ish, though maybe 
		it does to the Spanish. Maybe they prefer our word. 
	“José, what a lovely pinga you have.” “Oh, don’t call it 
that, María—say ‘penis’ instead.” When the press says 
		the president brags about grabbing women by their genitals, 
	it sounds ugly. But when Whitman writes in “Song of Myself”

	of the wind whose soft-tickling genitals rub against him,
		I get kind of giggly. Or what if you were speaking
	to the general, and you called him the genital. Good morning, 
Genital. Or if yours is a genial host and you called him 
		a genital host. You’re a genital host, Herr Bieblemeyer. 
	Then again, any word sounds goofy if you say it often enough.

	Puberty. Puberty, puberty, puberty. Try saying “meine 
		kleine vagina” three times. Trying saying it to a cop if one 
	pulls you over for a busted taillight or expired tag. 
I wouldn’t say “meine kleine vagina” three times to a cop 
		if I had a body in the truck, but I would for an expired tag.
	Once I walked through this park and noticed that all

	the trees were labeled with their Latin binomials, though 
		the only one I remembered later was the one for the tulip tree
or  Liriodendren tulipfera, but every time I saw one after that, 
I’d say, “Oh, look, that’s the Liriodendren tulipfera,” 
		and people thought I knew the Latin names for all the plants. 
	Context is everything, isn’t it? If you were in Oslo or Bergen 

	and someone said they’re going to throw a murstein through 
		their boss’s vindu or run for konstabel or order six iskremer 
	and six whisky and alternate them until they’re done and then
run into trafikk and start yanking mennesker out of their biler,
		you’d say “Hvofor? Du har det bra akkurat som du er”
	and people would know exactly what you were talking about.
There Are Philosophers Everywhere

Nor have I ever met one who wouldn’t share his or her opinions.
All you have to do is toss your chin and say, “What's your job like?” 

Today a taxi driver said, “Look at the other guy’s wheels”—
not his eyes or hands, because he could be looking one way 

and turning the other. There you are daydreaming, and the light 
changes, and you look at the other guy’s wheels, and they tell you 

everything you need to know. It’s better to think too much than 
too little, to be afraid of imaginary snakes than to ignore real ones.

Thinking can make you believe that your neighbors are space aliens
or that there is a God above us and a devil below, but most 

of the time it’s just itself. A week earlier, I was reading John Dewey 
in a diner and chatting with a crossing guard who said kids want 

to be good but don’t pay attention (“well, half of them don’t”), 
although he can see them take in the world bit by bit and process it. 

Dewey had just said the same thing: “As with the advance 
of an army, all gains from what has been already effected 

are periodically consolidated and always with a view to what 
is to be done next.” Joni Mitchell says if you’re not telling stories, 

you’re sleeping through life. Over time, says the crossing guard, 
the kids change, often in ways he never expects.

The Last of the Mohicans

When will I see you again? Or what if I never see you again?
Wait—what if I had never seen you in the first place?

What if luck and circumstance had turned me left instead of right 
that day and I hadn’t seen you sitting there? What if you had 

decided not to sit there at all but to walk around the corner and get
a drink of water? In Florence once I passed two men in the street, 

and they had tossed their expensive jackets over their shoulders, 
and one was saying to his friend, “Siamo gli ultimi dei mohicani,” 

although neither was any more Mohican than you or I.
When I’m away from you, I feel like Hadad, who says to Pharoah 

in First Kings, Let me depart, that I may go to mine own country, 
and when Pharaoh says to him, What hast thou lacked with me 

that thou seekest to go to thine own country, Hadad replies, 
Nothing, howbeit let me go in any wise. Hadad’s wife 

was Mehetabel, whose name means "God makes happy,” 
not that it would have to mean anything, since “Mehetabel” 

is a happy name already. Surely luck and circumstance will part us.
But they brought us together once. Who knows what’s next?

They don’t. Thank you, Luck. Put her there, Circumstance! 
I see the path ahead. And some trees, too. A little hill.


David Kirby’s collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” His latest poetry collection is Help Me, Information, and he is also the author of a textbook called The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them. He teaches English at Florida State University.