Weekly Poem: ‘Attention’

BY Lea Winerman  June 7, 2010 at 11:50 AM EDT

By Philip Schultz

More often than not, my wife deserves more
than I can give her, a balancing act of knowing
when to be visible, given her importance
to our complexity. My sons need less as they
grow older, one always less than the other.
My friends need more as they grow older.
The dead ones, especially. Even while asleep,
our dog needs some, tail beckoning. The more
our house gets, the more it needs. The walls
need to be thanked for their loyalty and patience,
the floors for suffering the weight of indifference.
I try not to feel too bad about my students.
Guilt is essential to our relationship, guilt,
persistence and a great serenity. My poems
poach nearly everything, my fears, schemes,
conjectures and astonishments, after evidence
of infidelity, scraps of inspiration. Indifferent to
the suffering they describe, they dislike everything
I love, believe only in their insularity. Because
I never really had one before, my career never
used to ask for much. Now, disguised as letters,
emails, phone calls, it never lets me forget it’s there,
a new best friend whose only purpose is to prove
its inevitability. There’s our town, its politics, scandals
and obligations, and all the fine, inescapable privileges
of citizenship in an idea no one understands anymore.
And, yes, the wars, of course, their constant scraping
fork-tongued self-aggrandizing exaggerations. Also,
my happiness, its stubborn, perverse vulnerability
that tries not to call attention to itself. Sometimes,
late at night, we, my happiness and I, reminisce,
lifelong antagonists enjoying each other’s company.

Philip SchultzPhilip Schultz won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2008 for his book of poems, “Failure.” He is the founder and director of the Writers Studio in New York. Schultz’s latest book, “The God of Loneliness: Selected and New Poems,” came out in April. His work has appeared in a number of magazine and journals, including the New Yorker, Poetry, the New Republic and the Paris Review. We’ll have a conversation with Schultz posted in Art Beat soon.