Philip Scultz’s Failure

The latest and Pulitzer Prize winning work of Philip Scultz deserves every accolade it has thus far garnered. Schultz explores his home life, his faith, and his relationship with other writers and works of art, among other things with a gift for making the simplistic poignant. Throughout the collection, the central theme remains the inevitability and positive and negative connotations of failure. In “My Wife,” Schultz juxtaposes the loving devotion of his wife to their children with the premature loss of her brother due to heroin. In “My Dog,” he describes the deep bond he shares with his dog who “knew it was time to die/but wanted to wait two weeks for me to come home.” Throughout Failure, Scultz illustrates not only the bond everyone experiences to some extent with failure, but also the beauty to be found in things as simple as sitting by the window and watching the leaves and as life-affirming as taking his children to the beach, the memories only he and his wife can share. Below are a few of my favorite poems from Philip Schultz’s Failure:

“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.


My wife is happier this morning.

Valentine’s Day, the kids and I went all out,

candy, cards, heart-shaped cookies.

Gus, our smooth Fox Terrier,

mopes around, tail down, grieving

for our black Lab mix, Benya,

who still sleeps in our boys’ room.

Gary, my wife’s younger brother,

no longer lives in his photos on her dresser.

He prefers to stand behind our maple,

hands in pockets, trying not to interfere.

My friend Yehuda still drops by without calling.

Right now, he’s marching backwards

around my study, making the sound

of every instrument in the Israeli Philharmonic,

hoping to cheer me up. I used to think

the dead preferred their own company.

They don’t. They prefer ours.


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