Weekly Poem: ‘Sick’
By Philip Schultz
Every Wednesday morning for one year
I volunteered in an outpatient ward
for children too angry for public school.
Ten-to fifteen-year-olds, they wrote about
mothers who boiled their hands to scare
the devil away, trying to scrape the blackness
off their face, fishing for cats on fire escapes
and fornicating in alleyways, why despair
tasted like leather and smelled like smoke —
until a doctor said: Stop coming, these kids
are too sick for poetry. On our last morning
I played the fool (as they liked me to: “White guy
goin’ to fat, no hair to slick, who’s he kiddin’
comin’ so far uptown, playin’ wit’ the downs
an’ outs…”), singing about a nightingale.
The poet was dying, I said, but he wrote
about visions and faery lands. About beauty.
About hope. I said, Please, taste the truth
in each syllable, but their eyes stayed dead
and I left feeling I might’ve helped them
if I had tried a little harder.
Philip 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. See another of his poems, posted last Monday, here.