Failure

by Philip Schultz

This superb Pulitzer Prize-winning collection gives voice to failure with a wry, deft touch from one of this country’s most engaging and uncompromising poets. In Failure, Philip Schultz evokes the pleasures of family, marriage, beaches and dogs, New York City in the 1970s, revolutions both interior and exterior, and the terrors of 9/11 with a compassion that demonstrates he is a master of the bittersweet and fierce, the wondrous and direct, and the brilliantly provocative. Filled with poems of “heartbreaking tenderness that [go] beyond mere pity” (Gerald Stern), Failure is a collection to savor from this major American voice.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780156031288
  • ISBN-10: 0156031280
  • Pages: 128
  • Publication Date: 04/06/2009
  • Carton Quantity: 68

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book
    This superb Pulitzer Prize–winning collection gives voice to failure with a wry, deft touch from one of this country’s most engaging and uncompromising poets. In Failure, Philip Schultz evokes the pleasures of family,marriage, beaches, and dogs; New York City in the 1970s; revolutions both interior and exterior; and the terrors of 9/11 with a compassion that demonstrates he is a master of the bittersweet and fierce, the wondrous and direct, and the brilliantly provocative. Filled with poems of "heartbreaking tenderness that [go] beyond mere pity" (Gerald Stern), Failure is a collection to savor from this major American poet.

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  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

    It’s Sunday Morning in Early November

     

    and there are a lot of leaves already.

    I could rake and get a head start.

    The boys’ summer toys need to be put

    in the basement. I could clean it out

    or fix the broken storm window.

    When Eli gets home from Sunday school,

    I could take him fishing. I don’t fish

    but I could learn to. I could show him

    how much fun it is. We don’t do as much

    as we used to do. And my wife, there’s

    so much I haven’t told her lately,

    about how quickly my soul is aging,

    how it feels like a basement I keep filling

    with everything I’m tired of surviving.

    I could take a walk with my wife and try

    to explain the ghosts I can’t stop speaking to.

    Or I could read all those books piling up

    about the beginning of the end of understanding . . .

    Meanwhile, it’s such a beautiful morning,

    the changing colors, the hypnotic light.

    I could sit by the window watching the leaves,

    which seem to know exactly how to fall

    from one moment to the next. Or I could lose

    everything and have to begin over again.

     

    Talking to Ourselves

     A woman in my doctor’s office last week

    couldn’t stop talking about Niagara Falls,

    the difference between dog and deer ticks,

    how her oldest boy, killed in Iraq, would lie

    with her at night in the summer grass, singing

    Puccini. Her eyes looked at me but saw only

    the saffron swirls of the quivering heavens.

     

    Yesterday, Mr. Miller, our tidy neighbor,

    stopped under our lopsided maple to explain

    how his wife of sixty years died last month

    of Alzheimer’s. I stood there, listening to

    his longing reach across the darkness with

    each bruised breath of his eloquent singing.

     

    This morning my five-year-old asked himself

    why he’d come into the kitchen. I understood

    he was thinking out loud, personifying himself,

    but the intimacy of his small voice was surprising.

     

    When my father’s vending business was failing,

    he’d talk to himself while driving, his lips

    silently moving, his black eyes deliquescent.

    He didn’t care that I was there, listening,

    what he was saying was too important.

     

    “Too important,” I hear myself saying

    in the kitchen, putting the dishes away,

    and my wife looks up from her reading

    and asks, “What’s that you said?”

     

    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.

     

    The Summer People

     

    Santos, a strong, friendly man,

    who built my wife’s sculpture studio,

    fixed everything I couldn’t,

    looked angry in town last week.

    Then he stopped coming. We wondered

    if we paid him enough, if he envied us.

    Once he came over late to help me catch a bat

    with a newspaper and trash basket.

    He liked that I laughed at how scared I got.

    We’re “year rounds,” what the locals call

    summer people who live here full time.

    Always in a hurry, the summer people honk a lot,

    own bigger cars and houses. Once I beat a guy

    in a pickup to a parking space, our summer sport.

    “Lousy New Yorker!” he cried.

     

    Every day now men from Guatemala, Ecuador,

    and Mexico line up at the railroad station.

    They know that they’re despised,

    that no one likes having to share their rewards,

    or being made to feel spiteful.

     

    When my uncle Joe showed me the shotgun

    he kept near the cash register

    to scare the black migrants

    who bought his overpriced beer and cold cuts

    in his grocery outside of Rochester, N.Y.,

    his eyes blazed like emerald suns.

    It’s impossible to forget his eyes.

     

    At parties the summer people

    who moved here after 9/11

    talk about all the things they had to give up.

    It’s beautiful here, they say, but everything

    is tentative and strange,

    as if the beauty isn’t theirs to enjoy.

     

    When I’m tired, my father’s accent

    scrapes my tongue like a scythe.

    He never cut our grass or knew

    what grade I was in. He worked days,

    nights, and weekends, but failed anyway.

    Late at night, when he was too tired to sleep,

    he’d stare out the window so powerfully

    the world inside and outside

    our house would disappear.   

     

    In Guatemala, after working all day,

    Santos studied to be an architect.

    He suffered big dreams, his wife said.

    My wife’s studio is magnificent.

    We’d hear him up there in the dark,

    hammering and singing, as if

    he were the happiest man alive.

    Copyright © 2007 by Philip Schultz

     

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

     

    Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

  • Reviews
    PRAISE FOR FAILURE
     
    "Philip Schultz’s language reminds me of such modern masters as Isaac Rosenberg and Hart Crane. It’s one thing I’ve always admired in his poetry; that and a heartbreaking tenderness that goes beyond mere pity and that is so present in Failure. It’s as if he bears our pain."—Gerald Stern, winner of the National Book Award

    "Philip Schultz’s poems have long since earned their own place in American poetry. His stylistic trademarks are his great emotional directness and his intelligent haranguing—of god, the reader, and himself. He is one of the least affected of American poets, and one of the fiercest."—Tony Hoagland
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