Today, I received a copy of a clipping of the poem titled “Human Anatomy” from my dear niece Fiona Devotta Vazirani.
I remember having first read this humoristic poem in the mid-1990s. Since then it had appeared in many newspapers and clippings – sometimes with long titles such as “Let’s call it, unsolved mysteries of anatomy” and at times without any title at all.
The author was William Rossa Cole.
Here is that poem appearing under the title “Foolish Questions” (adapted) from “Oh, Such Foolishness” (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1978) as found in Kids Pick the Funniest Poems, edited by Bruce Lansky (Meadowbrook Press, 1991).
by William Cole
Where can a man buy a cap for his knee?
Or a key for the lock of his hair?
And can his eyes be called a school?
I would think there are pupils there!
What jewels are found in the crown of his head,
And who walks on the bridge of his nose?
Can he use, in building the roof of his mouth,
the nails on the ends of his toes?
Can the crook of his elbow be sent to jail?
If it can, well, then, what did it do?
And how does he sharpen his shoulder blades?
I’ll be hanged if I know – do you?
Can he sit in the shade of the palm of his hand,
and beat time with the drum in his ear?
Can the calf of his leg eat the corn on his toe?
There’s somethin’ pretty strange around here!
William Rossa Cole, an American editor, anthologist, columnist, author, and writer of light verse was born on November 20, 1919, to William Harrison Cole and Margaret O’Donovan-Rossa of Staten Island, New York. He was the grandson of the Irish national hero, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.
William Cole served in the infantry in Europe in World War II, rising to sergeant and receiving the Purple Heart. After military service, he entered the publishing industry. He served as publicity director at Alfred A. Knopf, publicity director and editor at Simon & Schuster, and publisher of William Cole Books at Viking Press. He was a columnist for The Saturday Review, a vice president of PEN American Center and a member of the governing board of the Poetry Society of America and the executive board of Poets and Writers.
William Cole wrote children’s books and light verse. His whimsical poetry appeared often in Light Quarterly and was widely anthologized, He was an author, co-author, editor, and co-editor, of about 75 books of which 50 were anthologies. The American Library Association were honoured three of his books:
- In 1958, “I Went to the Animal Fair: A Book of Animal Poems” which was on the List of Notable Children’s Books of 1940–1959.
- In 1964, “Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls: Poems“.
- In 1965, “The Birds and Beasts Were There: Animal Poems” .
His marriage to Peggy Bennett in 1947 and his marriage to Galen Williams in 1967 both ended in divorce.
William Cole died on August 2, 2000, in his Manhattan home, aged 80.
Seamus Heaney, Member of the Royal Irish Academy and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 memorialized William Cole in a poem.
In Memory of Bill Cole
by Seamus Heaney
As Dante when he entered Purgatory
Was greeted by Casella, and the song
Casella sang sweetened his memory
Of earthly love and music and their long
Afternoons of wine and poetry,
So I, when I heard that William Cole had gone
Among the shades, imagined him and me
Meeting in an earthly paradise
Where we’d never met on earth, in Co. Derry,
On the banks of the Moyola, and his voice
Rising to sing in an Irish tenor brogue
MacCormack might have envied, or James Joyce,
Or Moore in Avoca, by Avonmore and Beg,
River-rhyming, over-brimming, young
At heart again, and younger song by song—
For always Bill belonged in Tir na n-Og.*
*“Tir na n-Og” means “land of youth” in Irish
- William Rossa Cole (en.wikipedia.org)
- Who is the original author of “Unsolved Mysteries of Anatomy”? (answers.yahoo.com)
- William Rossa Cole, 80, Author And Editor of Children’s Books (nytimes.com)
- Goofing Off (brooklynrail.org)
- Books by William Cole (goodreads.com)