NaPoWriMo: 30 poems in 30 days (day 22)

Day 22 prompt: write a poem inspired by an idiomatic phrase from a different language or culture.


How about both? I selected avoir l’esprit d’escalier (or avoir l’esprit de l’escalier), a French phrase that means to have the wit of the staircase. In English, we say escalator wit or afterwit. It refers to not making a repartee or a quick, witty reply, or clever comeback. The French admire and train for avoir de la répartie (the witty comeback) as part of their national sport: arguing and debating (so said dame de l’enseignement du français, Camille Chevalier-Karfis).

This idiom refers to thinking of your comeback after leaving and reaching the bottom of the stairs. The philosopher Diderot wrote about it around 1775, so it’s not a new thing.

Credit: Jim introduced me to this phrase a several months ago. Thanks hombre.


Right Back

I enjoy arguing. I even took argumentation
in college and I still twiddle with logic. But, I no
longer can find that safe place or person to engage
in a bit of désaccord amical. Is it me?

Am I sensitive to condescension or the ad hominem
manner I dismissed in my youth? Have I lost my edge?
Do I fear my own cuts to the core? I wish no harm.
In the past, I assumed my words were salt seasoned.

Am I more concerned with keeping the peace and less
with truth or finding fact? Can I call it at all, much less
like it is? Can we drink and swear, and point or turn
the voices up, yet go home friends who share more?

Is it my own l’esprit de l’escalier which forces me toward
and another thing … an hour later? Do you mean more to me
now than back then? Am I protecting you from me, me from you,
or is it some witness to the kerfuffle of wisdom and wit?

Or perhaps my heart and soul, my being me has fallen
into an age of mellow. Maybe I am diluted by political
and religious sensitivity, and by correctness of a culture
that wraps truth in euphemisms. Me? No way, José.


Look both ways in the world for cultural differences and similarities.
Mind the gaps, but know we are all connected.

Poetry: In the Stacks

Circa 1890

Some things I’ve always known,
like where the Library was,
especially the one with a funny name,
the Osterhout Free Library,
in my hometown, which to me
was and is The Library.

Looking like the Presbyterian church
it first was in 1849,
with (now gone) ivy covered walls,
hinting of mysteries, adventures,
and the wisdom within;
a mile to walk was nothing
for a keen young lad to go
for a book or two.

Through church doors that open
into the vast, once Calvinistic,
nave with colorless unstained leaded glass,
now with desks and shelves filled
with books and things,
one finds it all.
Hush! Whisper please.
People are reading.

Off to the left dim dark stacks
beckoned like a secret
church transept and silent choir loft.

The true spirits of the library’s haunted
dark and dingy, yet welcoming,
old book-scented stacks, silent
dust and maybe mischief,
with muffled giggles of children
or lovers, each playing with
resident hushing ghosts.

Long ago—a place of prayer,
now a sanctuary
of human wisdom and happiness.

***

Comb the dark stacks of old libraries looking both ways for dusty old history.
Mind the gaps and giggles of the ghosts.


Note: Because this was my first community library during my formative years, it was what I expected all others to look like. Not a bad standard.

Click the image to link to library information.

 

Wisdom

Definition from Psychology Today.

“It can be difficult to define Wisdom, but people generally recognize it when they encounter it. Psychologists pretty much agree it involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as its ups and downs. There’s an awareness of how things play out over time, and it confers a sense of balance.

Wise people generally share an optimism that life’s problems can be solved and experience a certain amount of calm in facing difficult decisions. Intelligence—if only anyone could figure out exactly what it is—may be necessary for wisdom, but it definitely isn’t sufficient; an ability to see the big picture, a sense of proportion, and considerable introspection also contribute to its development.”

WIn my lifetime I’ve been called a wise-guy, wise-ass, and a wise-you-name-it. I don’t recall denying any of it. But until I lost a significant amount of hair, gained a lot of scars (and weight), and dealt with a good bit of life’s experiences, no one has used the words wise or wisdom (without suffix) regarding me. So, as I was running through the w’s (women, walking, wine, wild, Wilde, and why) in search of an ‘a-to-z challenge’ blog topic, my wife says, “How about wisdom? You should know about that.” (Her birthday is tomorrow.)

wisdom3To me, the word wisdom has much in common with the word quality. Both are generally positive; we recognize them (or their absence) when we see or encounter either. But, precise definition for both eludes us. We are willing to take on as much quality and wisdom as possible, but with one condition. We want to know the cost. What price must we pay for quality? Can we afford it? What price must we pay for wisdom? Are we willing to pay the price?

wisdom8As a college student, I would walk into the Seven-Eleven store and eyeball the beer coolers. I looked only at price per six-pack. Texas Pride was 86-cents for six cans. I still can’t believe I managed to drink that horse piss, but price mattered more on my tight budget. I ignored quality. Little did I know then that years later I would gladly pay eight-to-twelve times as much for top-quality, locally brewed, craft beer. My taste and budget have both matured in quality.

wisdom7I had a conversation with a friend who was a wonderful, doting, and loving mother to her children. As I listened to her rant-on one day concerning some problem that her son was having, I asked her this question. “You love your son. Why do insist on preventing him from learning life’s lessons simply because they are painful? Be there for him. Protect him from serious harm. But allow him the dignity of learning his own lessons.” Before she got over her hurt feelings about what I had said, she backed off (he owes me). Hard for her, good for him.

Our wisdom sponge is dry at birth. It may be the only thing that is. As we age, that sponge soaks up more wisdom with each life lesson. It seems to me that the more painful the lesson, the better we learn it. I’m not sure that I accept the proposition that there is much intelligence in wisdom. We only need to be smart enough to learn from our best life-long teacher – experience. But I do think that the quality of our intelligence improves as we gain wisdom.

Wisdom4We are wiser when older because we have been schooled in life longer.