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Image by Caroline Forbes

Esprit de l'Escalier

Julia Copus


Esprit de l'Escalier

Julia Copus


Poem introduction

There's a French expression, ésprit de l'éscalier, which roughly translates as 'staircase wit', and it's used to describe that brilliant, cutting remark you think of just a little bit too late, after the conversation's over and you're on your way out and down the stairs. The poem imagines a whole heap of these witty comments literally squirreled away under the stairs where they can easily be dug out and concealed about the person - ready for use.

Esprit de l'Escalier

Esprit de l'Escalier

There's bits of sticky underlay
beneath my nails, splinters and carpet fluff
lodged in my hair - it's close-up work
requiring surgeon-like precision to maintain
the saw-blade at exactly the angle I need
to lift one neat-edged slice of stair
but leave the words intact, nestling like eggs
I'll scoop out and slip carefully into my pockets.

And this is what I have in mind
for afterwards: a scarlet-sequinned dress,
a sweeping staircase to descend
with you at the top of it watching the sway
of my neat little red-spangled arse getting
smaller and smaller, the words that I'll throw at you,
stomping their way up the steps of your heart,
slamming the door shut and settling there, growing
harder, ounce by ounce, like wet cement.


'Esprit de l'Escalier' from In Defence of Adultery (Bloodaxe, 2003), © Julia Copus 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher

Recordings

Julia Copus Reading from Her Poems

1Love, Like Water

2In Defence of Adultery

3Hymn to All the Men I'll Never Love

4Topsell's Beasts

5A Soft-edged Reed of Light

6This is the Poem in which I Have Not Left You

7The Back Seat of My Mother's Car

8Digging the Pond

9Easter Reunion

10Lamb's Electronic Antibiotic

11Forgiveness

12Glimpses of Caribou

13Cleave

14Moderate Restaurant Clatter

15Atrophy

16Miss Haversham's Letter

16Soft Parts

18Wardes

19Stars Moving Westwards in a Winter Garden

20Esprit de l'Escalier

21An Easy Passage

22Impossible As It Seems