David Kirby

The All-Overs, This is Where God Stays When He’s in Town and Mr. Jackson’s Killer
December 30, 2023 Kirby David

The All-Overs

I like words like gallimaufry, tawdry, billingsgate—braggadocio! Rodomontade.


I also like combinations of words, especially if they evoke a lost America: motor lodge, gas
station trading post, finger sandwiches, abandoned amusement park.


I like mistakes, as when people say “sherbert” for “sherbet,” even though most people say
“sorbet” these days the way they say “mousse” instead of “pudding.”


Once I heard a mommy in a supermarket ask her little boy if he wanted her to make pudding, and
he said, “What’s pudding?” and she said, “It’s like mousse,” and he said, “Oh—I love


The kid next door asked if he could spend the night with our kids while his parents went to see a
production of Lame as a Robin, the musical based on Victor Hugo’s famous French novel
Lame as a Robin.


I like proper nouns, especially old-timey ones: Wotan, Anton Mesmer, Sarkon, Inkadu.


I like to think about Prester John, said to be the descendant of the Three Magi and the ruler of a
kingdom filled with riches, marvels, and strange creatures.


I like to think about Prester John so much that I’m going to stop right here, because  to write
about him after this would be disrespectful.


I like musical terminology. To say “eighth-note triplets” makes me as happy as listening to eighth-note triplets.


I like the names old-timey sportswriters gave to boxers. There’s Anthony “Two-Ton Tony”
Galento, for example, as well as Don “Holy” Toledo and Michael “Second To” Nunn.


Chubby English fighter Don Cockell was known as “The Waist of Time,” a better name because
more literary than either of his other sobriquets, “Dumpling Don” and “The Glandular


Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini lost to Livingston Bramble, who didn’t have a nickname and didn’t
need one, since his name sounds like it came out of a Jane Austen novel. He also lost to
Héctor “Macho” Camacho, whose name sounds like Héctor “Macho” Camacho.


Griff Miller Ahlschwede told me there’s a digeridoo in every Australian movie, and when I
asked why, he said, “So you’ll know the movie is set in Australia.”


I like slang terms like “pick-me-up.” You might say, “I sure could use a pick-me-up” when you
head to the bar with your friends after work, and if you overserve yourself and wake the
next morning with a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed, a burning forehead, and a parching
tongue, you might say, “I sure could use a pick-me-up.”


I like “Chicago typewriter” (a Prohibition-era tommygun: think uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh!),
“tonsil hockey” (a kind of kissing practiced by teenagers on Dad’s couch and drunk
adults at parties), and “tailgate martini” (a tailgate martini).


Then there’s “costumer” for a movie with costumes, “oater” for a Western. Even better, “horse


Horse opera—ha, ha! Imagine Quarter Horses, Morgans, and Apaloosas dressed like
impoversished Parisian art students or 13th-century Norse demigods and singing Wagner
and Puccini!


I like tattoos. A woman showed me a French text that had been inked onto the inside of her arm,
and when I asked her what it meant, she said, “In the midst of winter, I learned at last that
there was in me an invincible summer.”


Camus said that, and if it doesn’t sound like Camus, that’s because he himself came up with that
sentence and not one of his downer characters.


I like overhearing people, as when I was walking in the park this morning and heard a girl on a
cell phone say to her friend, “He had the audacity to,” and then we passed each other and
I never found out what the young gentleman had had the audacity to do, though now I can
end that story any way I want.


I like stories about overhearing: when singer/songwriter Jim Croce was stationed at Fort Dix, the
GIs would line up at a phone booth without a door to call their wives or moms or
buddies. He couldn’t help overhearing, and out of that came a lot of songs.


I wonder why the phone booth didn’t have a door, Maybe for national security reasons: loose lips
sink ships, you know. Or maybe the officers thought the GIs would talk faster if they
knew Jim Croce was listening.


Jim Croce couldn’t handle authority. Man had to go through basic training twice! Jim Croce said
he would be prepared for battle if “there’s ever a war where we have to defend ourselves with mops.”


When I told a student about the girl in the park with a cell phone, he said any sentence containing
the word “audacity” is funny.


I like folksy expressions.


He took off like a card shark out of Bible class. She’s so dumb, she could throw herself on the
ground and miss. That old boy’s smiling like a cat eating shit out of a hair brush. Who
licked the red off your candy?


I liked it when Coach Garland saw me changing for practice one time and said, “David, your legs
look like two rat tails hanging out of a cracker box.”


Coach’s first name was “Muriel,” but everybody called him “Boots.”


I hope they call him “Boots” in his obituary. Otherwise people will say, “Myra, it says here this
guy named Muriel Garland just died. I wonder if he was related to Boots?”


My mother taught me that if you love language, you’ll love everything. When she didn’t feel
well, she’d say,“I got the collywobbles” or “my copperastus ain’t sagashiating.”


One night after they’d been married about 375 years, I caught her looking at my dad this one
time and  saying, “You still give me the all-overs.”


I like band names: the Grateful Dead, the Butthold Surfers, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, the


Big White Undies. Internet Girlfriend.


Actually, the Subdudes is the best band name, because if you’re a Subdude, that means you were
a dude at some point.


This list is going to need regular updates, a job I may or may not get to in a year or ten years and
should probably leave to posterity—take it away, posterity!


I like when cashiers say unexpected things, like the day Elvis died and I didn’t know about it yet
and when the lady at the dry cleaner’s came out all puffy-eyed and I said, “Ooo, honey,
what’s wrong?” and she said, “The Kang is day-ud, the Kang is day-ud!”


Or just yesterday when I bought some mothballs at the Dollar Tree and the cashier asked if I
needed a bag and I told her I didn’t need a bag and she said, “Enjoy your mothballs, sir.”



This is Where God Stays When He’s in Town


Don’t get mad when I say I lived in Paris once
because I was a student then, meaning that I ate
a lot of pasta instead of the poulet, foie gras,
and escargots I saw other people stuffing
their faces with in the finer Parisian restaurants and even
some of the humbler ones I passed in the course
of my nightly walks, during which I often


passed the Hôtel-Dieu, the oldest hospital
in France and probably the oldest continuously
operating hospital anywhere. Its charter dates
from the year 829 and makes it clear
that the Hôtel-Dieu really was God’s hotel because it
admitted not only the sick and injured but also
the poor and travelers and pilgrims of every kind:


“the citizen and foreigner,” says the charter,
“the Christian and Turk, the Jew and idolater.”
What or who is God? And where, for that matter?
That last one’s easy: everywhere,
according to his devotees, none of whom can agree at all
on the who or what part—why, the Kaballah alone
tells us His name can be composed of as many as


4, 12, 22, and even 72 letters, the latter version,
in addition to being the one Moses used to part
the Red Sea, also granted holy men the ability
to cast out demons, heal the sick,
and kill their enemies, not that holy men should be
doing that kind of thing, but I guess they’re as entitled
to enemies as the rest of us.


Religion has its uses, but it won’t get you
a nanometer closer to an understanding
of what scientists call the holy grail of physics,
that is, the synthesis of the law
of gravity with the other two theories that describe
the remaining forces that govern the universe, relativity
and quantum theory, a merging of which


into a single magnificent equation
will unlock the deepest mysteries:
what happened before the Big Bang? If everything was created
out of nothing, where did the nothing
come from? What’s on the other side of a black hole?
Are there universes other than ours? Is time travel
possible, and, mainly, why are we here, which is what


I was asking myself as I was walking by
the Hôtel-Dieu one winter night, and I’d never been
that cold before, and I was hoping I could get the heat
going in my crummy Parisian apartment
when suddenly I heard “Great Balls of Fire” coming out
of an open second-story window and looked up
and saw interns and residents and medical personnel


of every kind still in their white coats and scrubs
but singing along with Jerry Lee Lewis and dancing
their hearts out. They’d seen every specimen of humanity
imaginable that day—old folks,
young ones, rich, poor, black and white and Asian, man,
woman, boy, girl, criminal, cop, whoever it was
that you are in this world or want to be


in your heart, your soul, God’s children,
every one of you, and these doctors
and nurses and orderlies had stitched you up that day,
held your hand, given you the shot or pill
that will let you live longer or at least better,
and as I made my way across the river and down
the boulevards and the little streets that led


through neighborhoods where people like me
lived, I wondered—no, no, I was sure—if,
after a couple of weeks of forgiving sins and delivering
the oppressed out of bondage
and helping little kids master long division and bringing
true love to those who’d prayed for it and calling lost lambs
home and working day and night on the Mideast


and getting nowhere with that but working,
working, working, that God was staying
in his big hotel that night, either in a double
with St. Peter or just by himself,
and never once calling the front desk to say, “Hey, tell them
to turn that shit down, will you?” and ordering in
and tipping the room-service waiter, tipping big.



Mr. Jackson’s Killer


If you’re like me, when you’re at the movies
and you’re watching one of those big-studio
Renaissance costumers and the sun’s just coming up
and the queen is yawning and stretching and a dozen
ladies-in-waiting are standing by nervously and hoping


the queen’s in a good mood and not backing out
of some dream that revealed what a shit her husband
the king is and realizes she can’t take her fury out
on her husband the king and decides instead to fire
the ladies and turn them into scullery maids,


don’t you wonder how they all managed to get up
and appear at the queen’s bedside with their hair
and gowns and minimal Renaissance makeup perfect?
I do. Or at least I did until I looked it up and found out
that servants in those days drank massive amounts


of water before going to bed the night before
so they’d wake up to answer the call of nature
and think, oh, better get dressed and be upstairs
when Her Highandmightyness awakes if
I don’t want to end up scrubbing pots for the rest


of a life that’s probably going to be cut short
by typhus or cholera anyway. This is probably
something you could have figured out on your own,
but there’s so much else to figure out and it takes
so long to do so unless you’re a character in


an English whodunit that’s set in one of those villages
that has a name like Foxbridge, Foxhill, Foxburne,
Foxgrove,  Foxham, Foxby, Foxford, Foxheath,
Foxville, Foxthorpe, Foxvale, Foxdale, Foxwell,
Foxmont, Foxwood, Foxport,  Foxmouth, Foxglen,


Foxside, Foxmore, Foxcombe, Foxdon, Foxridge,
Foxminster, or Foxborough, a charming hamlet
where the person who solves all the murders
or finds the kidnapped baby is the village priest
or the old busybody who lives down the lane


and identifies the killer or finds the kidnapped baby
when the local constabulary can’t because the amateur
has just the one case to solve whereas the coppers
have tons: traffic tickets, domestic disputes,
loud parties, school truancy, and petty theft


in addition to to the evisceration of the baker
who just happens to make the best scones
in six counties or the schoolmaster who,
in the opinion of a startling number of villagers,
should have been eviscerated several Whitsuntides ago.


The pure fact of the matter is that most of us
are not all that great at figuring stuff out anyway
or anyways, as the sophomores say, In Sex, Drugs,
and Cocoa Puffs, cultural critic Chuck Klosterman
says, “Everybody is wrong about everything


just about all the time.” Ha, ha! I’m so sure, Chuck!
I wonder if Chuck Klosterman was thinking
of Arthur John Priest, who was born in Southampton
in 1887 and who, upon attaining his majority,
became a stoker or one who shoveled coal into t


he furnaces of such steamships as RMS Asturias,
RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic (yes, that Titanic),
HMS Alcantara, HMHS Britannic, and SS Donegal.
All six of which sank. You know what happened
to the Titanic.  The others either collided with


other ships or were attacked by the Germans,
and after the Donegal was torpedoed by a U-boat,
Priest retired, claiming “no one wished to sail
with me after these disasters.” It sounds
as though his feelings were hurt.


Mine would be, too! It’s not as though he fired the torpedo.
Just because something sounds good doesn’t
mean it’s true: Marjory Kinnan Rawlings says,
“Here n Florida the seasons move in and out
like nuns in soft clothing, making no rustle


in their passing,” but try telling that to someone
who lived through Hurricane Michael.
Most of the time you sit around remembering
you’ve forgotten something but being unable
to remember what you’d forgotten and then


remembering something you’d told yourselfy
you were going to do earlier and then wondering
whether that was the thing you’d forgotten
or not—that or else trying to figure out
why the person you mentored and wrote


glowing recommendations for and opened
doors for is now trying to destroy you,
which is when you realize that it’s not that
you didn’t mentor or write recommendations
or open doors for them but that you didn’t mentor


them enough or write enough glowing
recommendations or wrote recommendations
that didn’t glow enough, and the same goes
for the doors you opened, which you are
only just now realizing were far too few


in number if not in actuality at least in
the mind of the ungrateful wretch who
at one point gave every indication of adoring you
but now goes around telling everyone that
you are right up there on the Mt. Rushmore


of evil with Hitler and Mussolini, Little prick.
When I was a kid, my favorite films were
those grainy black and white Warner Brothers
movies where the gumshoe or dick or frail
or keyhole peeper cornered the guy who knew


who did what to whom, only to hear him say,
“Mistah Jackson have only one killah,
and name of killah is—.” Pwphht! With that,
a poison dart flies in out of nowhere and kills
the snitch instantly. Well, not out of nowhere,


because the aerodynamics of poison-dart flight
being what they are, it had to come from
no more than, say, six feet away, although
neither the dick nor frail nor gumshoe
nor keyhole peeper can tell whence,


and the guy who talked that way was always
a foreigner whose accent was the studio’s way
of making it clear to skim-milk us
that he was from a country whose
inhabitants were not to be trusted—


that was the only thing you could count on
except for the identity of Mister Jackson’s killer,
and even that wouldn’t be revealed until the orchestra
played the outro and a sign popped onscreen with
big white letters that spelled, you got it, THE END.

David Kirby teaches at Florida State University, where he is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English. His latest books are a poetry collection, Help Me, Information, and a textbook modestly entitled The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them. Kirby is also the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement described as “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” He is currently on the editorial board of Alice James Books.