There's a French expression, Esprit de l''scalier, 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


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.

from In Defence of Adultery (Bloodaxe, 2003), © Julia Copus 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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