There Was an Old Man of Shamokin…

You can read online about coincidences – Irv Kupcinet’s tie, George D. Bryson checking into a Louisville hotel room, the man in Detroit who caught the same baby falling out of a high window on two different occasions a year apart. The other night, not long before dawn, I experienced my own (much less dramatic) coincidence, which began when, finishing up some work, I happened to glance over at a large book poking out from a low shelf maybe six feet away from my computer desk.

I could just see the last two letters of the title, CK, and I have no idea where or when I got my copy in the first place – but I knew it was The Limerick (1969), edited by George Legman, more than 500 pages that contain 1,700 almost entirely obscene and/or disgusting limericks. And as I sat there staring at the book these words came into my head: “There once was a native of Maine, who was traveling Down East on the train…”

A poor thing, perhaps, not so exciting as the man from Nantucket or that famous hermit Dave in his cave, but mine own. I got a paper of paper, set to work, and within a few minutes had finished:

There once was a native of Maine
who went riding Down East on the train.
“I have no great bias
against visiting Machias,”
he said. “But it’s starting to rain.”

True, these days there are no trains in that direction, but in any case I’d done it. While celebrating, I realized I hadn’t opened The Limerick in at least 20 years, and ignoring the fact that I don’t even like limericks all that much, I went over and took it off the shelf. The volume fell open to page 415, and the very first word I saw, in large type, was “MACHIAS.”

This reference cited a variant of limerick #717, on page 147, which begins “There was a young girl of Machias, whose bloomers were cut on the bias” (and we need not say more about her). The odds, though, of opening any book in my library to the exact name of Washington County’s shire town, seconds after finishing a poem about the same place, seemed so enormous that I did the only thing possible. I went off to bed.

About RPS
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