Per Contra Spring 2009 Light Verse Supplement


Back to Archives


David R. Slavitt

Nu, a Sestina

“According to Sol [Steinmetz], one of the world’s great lexicographers . . . a data-bank search shows klutz to be among the Top 10 Yiddishisms in English. The others: glitsch, kosher, bagel, maven, mensch, schlock, schmooze, tush, and chutzpah.”
--On Language, by William Safire, New York Times, 8/28/05

With a half a dozen words, you think you can schmooze
in Yiddish? You think that makes you some kind of maven,
to hold forth to one and all, with maybe a bagel
(blueberry? chocolate?) in your hand, a mensch?
Face it, what you are is a pain in the tush,
light in the knowledge department but heavy on chutzpah.

Not that that’s irrelevant. Some chutzpah
is useful now and then. To be a mensch
you can’t just wait around, sit on your tush,
and expect the world to bring you a toasted bagel
with your morning coffee. You have to learn to schmooze
with the right people, and find yourself some maven

to learn the ropes from. You may not be a maven,
or at least not right away, but if your tush
has any sitzfleish, and if you are a mensch,
you’ll pick up some of the basics, learn to schmooze,
and, less and less relying on sheer chutzpah,
you’ll know which is the lox and which is the bagel,

and maybe even learn that, beyond the bagel,
there are byalies and salt sticks that a deli maven
might prefer. But a goy would need some chutzpah
to order one of those to show he’s a mensch
who can fit in well with anybody and schmooze,
a guy who, in the dark, can find his tush.

A silly exercise? You say, “Pish tush!”
But who are you? And where do you get your chutzpah?
A few Yiddish words, and you think, with your toasted bagel
with Lite cream cheese you become right away a maven
of the griefs of the Jews, entitled now to schmooze
with rabbis and scholars, a kenner now, a mensch?

It isn’t so easy, boychick, to be a mensch.
It requires patience and faith as well as chutzpah.
For suffering, there isn’t any maven
from whom you can pick up tips. A kick in the tush
is what you’ll learn from. That, and a toasted bagel
will get you a place at the table to sit and schmooze:

Oy veh! A naarishkeit! A mensch? A maven?
A chutzpadickeh gonif! A pain in the tush!
Thus will you learn to schmooze. Another bagel?

“Nu, a Sestina” first appeared in Light, and it will be in a collection of David Slavitt’s poetry, Seven Deadly Sins (LSU Press, Spring 2009).

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren
drank his own urine.
William Dean Howells
thought that was disgusting.



David R. Slavitt - Click Here for Bio

© 2005-2009 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas