Philip Schultz

Philip Schultz

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz is the author of several collections of poetry, including The God of Loneliness: New and Selected Poems (2010), Failure (2007), Living in the Past (2004), and The Holy Worm of Praise (2002), all from Harcourt. In addition to the Pulitzer for Failure, his many awards include Fulbright, Guggenheim, and NEA fellowships. He is the founder/director of The Writers Studio, a private school for fiction and poetry writing based in New York City with branches in Tucson, San Francisco, and Amsterdam.


Photograph by University of Rochester

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.

From Failure

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