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Philip Schultz

Philip Schultz is the author of The Wherewithal (W. W. Norton, 2014) and received the Pulitzer Prize for Failure (Harcourt, 2007). He is the founder and director of The Writers Studio and lives in East Hampton, New York.

By This Poet

4

The Silence

for RJ

You always called late and drunk, 
your voice luxurious with pain,
I, tightly wrapped in dreaming, 
listening as if to a ghost.

Tonight a friend called to say your body 
was found in your apartment, where 
it had lain for days. You'd lost your job, 
stopped writing, saw nobody for weeks. 
Your heart, he said. Drink had destroyed you.

We met in a college town, first teaching jobs, 
poems flowing from a grief we enshrined 
with myth and alcohol. I envied the way 
women looked at you, a bear blunt with rage, 
tearing through an ever-darkening wood.

Once we traded poems like photos of women 
whose beauty tested God's faith. 'Read this one 
about how friendship among the young can't last, 
it will rip your heart out of your chest!'

Once you called to say J was leaving, 
the pain stuck in your throat like a razor blade. 
A woman was calling me back to bed 
so I said I'd call back. But I never did.

The deep forlorn smell of moss and pine 
behind your stone house, you strumming 
and singing Lorca, Vallejo, De Andrade, 
as if each syllable tasted of blood, 
as if you had all the time in the world. . .

You knew your angels loved you 
but you also knew they would leave 
someone they could not save.

Grandma Climbs

Grandma climbs a chair to yell at God for killing
her only husband whose only crime was forgetting
where he put things. Finally, God misplaced him. Everyone
in this house is a razor, a police radio, a bulging vein.
It's too late for any of us, Grandma says to the ceiling. 
She believes we are chosen to be disgraced and perplexed.
She squints at anyone who treats her like a customer, including
the toilet mirror, and twists her mouth into a deadly scheme.
Late at night I run at the mirror until I disappear. The day is over
before it begins, Grandma says, jerking the shade down over
its once rosy eye. She keeps her husband's teeth in a matchbox,
in perfumed paraffin; his silk skullcap (with its orthodox stains)
in the icebox, behind Uncle's Jell-O aquarium of floating lowlifes.
I know what Mrs. Einhorn said Mrs. Edels told Mr. Kook about us:
God save us from having one shirt, one eye, one child. I know
in order to survive. Grandma throws her shawl of exuberant birds
over her bony shoulders and ladles up yet another chicken thigh
out of the steaming broth of the infinite night sky.