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My wife has a sister in law, now in her fifties, who is a very traditional Rwandan Tutsi and thinks almost entirely in old Rwandese proverbs, traditional sayings that contain the wisdom and values and outlook and humor of the culture. She lived with us for a couple of years during the nineties in the Adirondacks and helped my wife with our infant boys. The woman has a proverb for practically everything, any situation that could possibly arise. Except one day in November, as her first cold North American winter was setting in and the brook froze, I watched as she poked at the ice in puzzlement with a stick. What’s in God name is this ? I could almost hear her thinking. She was really at a loss, I realized, not only because this was something she had never encountered, but because it– ice– was something  she didn’t have a proverb.

    Old WASPS who are living according to the English gentleman’s code, in which you don’t flaunt your wealth, you don’t need to because you have it, and you don’t toot your horn, you are modest and self-deprecating and polite and attentive to others to the point of obsequiousness, also have a set of sayings in their welll-brought up heads they can come out with as the situation demands. Some have it down to an art, and a conversation between two of them can seem almost like a word game.  Every culture has its proverbs and saying and ephemeral cliches that captures that zeigeist of the moment, particularly the youth’s, and mainstream America is no exception. Check out David Kamp’s mock interview of Nina Minaj by Thomas L. Friedman in the current Vanity Fair in which she calls him “mustache bitch.” Among the isms of recent years : oxymoron, perfect storm, tipping point. The new one, which my fifteen year old says at least a couple of times a day, is “it’s all good.” So I’ve decided to try my hand at a poem that consists of nothing but proverbs and isms of the moment, a proverb poem. Here goes :

Nature and humanity

I love it all

this is the world we live in

bring it on

it’s all good

it is the way it is

you only go around once

what goes around comes around

I’m the greatest and so are you

God is great

so be here now

this is all there is

it used to rock

it was dope only a few months ago

but for the last year or so


so step up to the plate

look out for number one

go for it


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