I have recorded the poem for the readers of The Drawbridge to accompany my article of the same name. Please click on the link for the reading. The text of the poem (from New and Collected Poems, 2008) is below.
L'Esprit de l'Escalier (spoken)
Suddenly there we all were, talking together
but not to each other. It might have been I
who had started it, muttering as I do
to myself, or rather to a figure to whom
I have something to say in the manner known
as l’esprit de l’escalier, that ghostly meeting
on the staircase with a person already past meeting
for whom we now have an altogether
brilliant answer, one we have always known
but had failed to produce when required. And now, I
and the others were talking, all of us, to whom
it would finally concern us to talk to, as we do
each day on the bus, knowing just what to do
and to say at this and every other such meeting.
There were friends, fears, ghosts, and past selves whom
each of us had to answer, all of us speaking together
every which one a distinct and separate I
in a world where everything has always been known.
The air was packed solid with voices we had once known
or were ours, it was hard to tell which, for how do
you tell the inner from the outer, or distinguish the I
from the not-quite-I? And soon each intimate meeting
had spilled onto the street, all voices singing together
to make one thundering chorus, each who with its whom,
in doorways, on staircases, singing to whom-
soever could hear and respond to the known-or-unknown
harmonies we were producing as if we were together.
We were ghosts. We were dead. There was little to do
but to listen and sing and be dead and be meeting
each ghost on its staircase. And so it was I
myself spoke to the dead ones within me since I
was their only voice, the lost hum of their whom.
It was crazy this sound, the music of meeting
all of them now, there on the bus, having known
only the steps to the top deck, knowing what to do
only in emergencies when we’re all thrown together
and have to make do as we are, no matter with whom
we travel or have known, these voices with their I,
their you, their singing together at each and every meeting.