Okos,” my grandmother used to call me in Hungarian

When I was young and trying to sound profound

“I see what you’re trying to do; you’re trying to sound smart,”

My writing coach told me much later in grad school,

“Sometimes you carry if off brilliantly.”

A couple people even thought me a genius, though I.Q. tests have not validated the presumption

“I think that is a low reading; they have better tests, now,” my psychologist said

And I wondered why make a test if you don’t trust the results

Me, skeptical of the whole notion of genius


And now the degrees I carry certify me smart

And I don’t have to try


It’s easy to impress when to go for the intellect

It’s so measurable, quantifiable, easy to see

It’s all so easy

Witness the admiration our social structure bestows upon the smart

You’ll endear yourself to any mother by saying her child is smart

It’s all so easy

I had a hard time explaining to a man deprived of education

That knowing a lot isn’t intelligence; that you can be smart without school


Wisdom is a fine acquisition

Deep insights devolve from learning, coupled with reflection

As naturally as an ancient tree grows summer fruit from spring blossoms in due season

And learning can be acquired by anyone through application and motivation

The ambiguous ambition to be okos

Not necessarily smart


The wash and impression of intelligence drowns out

The song of simple goodness

What of kind, caring, good-nature, nicety?

What of love?

“Now I’m among dumb, nice people

“Instead of cruel intelligent people,”

A Yale grad told me at a church convention

I don’t know why brilliant academicians want to be so cutting

Why they don’t want to be kind, caring, good-natured, nice guys

What of soul? Of Blues?

And Miles Davis Freddy Freeloader

Lives in the same world as Bach fugues

And people love Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise more

Than his mighty 3rd Symphony

And I love Bist Du Bei Mir,

Written for his wife, as much as

Bach’s Great G-Minor Fantasy and Fugue


And what of savage Nietzsche?

What of aristocracy’s progeny and their will to power?

Cutting comments twisted from intellectual cleverness

As if slave morality gives birth to

“sympathy, the kind, helping hand, the warm heart, patience, humility, and friendliness”

As if the good must be

“the safe man: he is good natured, easily deceived, perhaps a little stupid, un bonhomme

Yes, un bonhomme—a good man

No.  It does not all come down to Nietzsche.  and in this Nietzsche is dead wrong

Though he describes so well the desiderata I advocate and so desire to be and become

“Nice guys finish last,” they used to say

And I’ll finish last if that’s the necessary legacy of being


I don’t know what the Hungarian word is

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