Failure

To pay for my father’s funeral
I borrowed money from people
he already owed money to.
One called him a nobody.
No, I said, he was a failure.
You can’t remember
a nobody’s name, that’s why
they’re called nobodies.
Failures are unforgettable.
The rabbi who read a stock eulogy
about a man who didn’t belong to
or believe in anything
was both a failure and a nobody.
He failed to imagine the son
and wife of the dead man
being shamed by each word.
To understand that not
believing in or belonging to
anything demanded a kind
of faith and buoyancy.
An uncle, counting on his fingers
my father’s business failures—
a parking lot that raised geese,
a motel that raffled honeymoons,
a bowling alley with roving mariachis—
failed to love and honor his brother,
who showed him how to whistle
under covers, steal apples
with his right or left hand. Indeed,
my father was comical.
His watches pinched, he tripped
on his pant cuffs and snored
loudly in movies, where
his weariness overcame him
finally. He didn’t believe in:
savings insurance newspapers
vegetables good or evil human
frailty history or God.
Our family avoided us,
fearing boils. I left town
but failed to get away.

Specimen

I turned sixty in Paris last year.
We stayed at the Lutetia,
where the Gestapo headquartered
during the war, my wife, two boys, and me,
and several old Vietnamese ladies
carrying poodles with diamond collars.

Once my father caught a man
stealing cigarettes out of one
of his vending machines.
He didn’t stop choking him
until the pool hall stunk of excrement,
and the body dropped to the floor
like a judgment.

When I was last in Paris,
I was dirt-poor, hiding
from the Vietnam War.
One night, in an old church,
I considered taking my life.
I didn’t know how to be so young
and not belong anywhere, stuck
among so many perplexing melodies.

I loved the low white buildings,
the ingratiating colors, the ancient light.
We couldn’t afford such luxury.
It was a matter of pride.
My father died bankrupt one week
before his sixtieth birthday.
I didn’t expect to have a family;
I didn’t expect happiness.

At the Lutetia everyone
dressed themselves like specimens
they’d loved all their lives.
Everyone floated down
red velvet hallways
like scintillating music
you hear only once or twice.

Driving home, my father said,
“Let anyone steal from you
and you’re not fit to live.”
I sat there, sliced by traffic lights,
not belonging to what he said.
I belonged to a scintillating
and perplexing music
I didn’t expect to hear.

–Philip Schultz

I found these two poems by Schultz and was knocked out. This is my first exposure to his work. Any other fans out there?

schultzphilip500

Philip Schultz is an American poet and founder/director of The Writers Studio, a private school for fiction and poetry writing based in New York City. He was the recent co-winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his volume Failure.

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