If you are of a certain age, say over fifty (and certainly not much under it) you recall (for better or worse) Johnny Weissmuller as Hollywood’s Tarzan. Perhaps (like me) you were credulous and a bit romantic and saw nothing silly at all in those paleo-Darwinian leitmotifs to nature-meets-nurture. (When I was 8 I broke a broom stick and whittled it sharp with a kitchen knife to make a spear.) Perhaps (if you were a certain kind of boy) you rose from your latency in love with Maureen O’Sullivan as “Jane” and by God was there ever anything as sexy as Jane teaching Tarzan how to use a fork?
Ah me. And today, browsing my dusty book-shelf I found an old poem by John Bowie, a poet who died young (at 27) and whose only book of poems “Screen Gems” is long out of print. Bowie, who was a big fella, who probably felt as hopeless in the public square as any customary person with a disability–Bowie wrote a fine little “Ode to Johnny Weissmuller” which carries its schadenfreude rather gently and is well worth reprinting here.
Ode to Johnny Weismuller
Why are there never thorns
On your jungle floor, Johnny?
Why no mango stains on your loincloth?
The rain-forests you slip through
Are too free of ants, of flies,
Of all the eager microbes
That must grind a visitor down.
Crocodiles and thick-headed lions
Are too easy to slice up,
Too easy to trample
With the help of a few restless
Try to think of Cheetah
Nursing a green banana
Through his intestines,
Johnny, or Jane picking
Tree-lice from her arm,
Daydreaming of a freshly-painted
Tract home in San Berdo.
Try to think of yourself
Laid up in the tree-house
With ringworm, while your eyes
Follow the pattern of a
Sluggish mosquito on the dry