Read an Excerpt
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.
Talking to Ourselves
A woman in my doctor’s office last week couldn’t stop talking about Niagara Falls,
the difference between dog and deer ticks,
how her oldest boy, killed in Iraq, would lie with her at night in the summer grass, singing
Puccini. Her eyes looked at me but saw only the saffron swirls of the quivering heavens.
Yesterday, Mr. Miller, our tidy neighbor,
stopped under our lopsided maple to explain how his wife of sixty years died last month of Alzheimer’s. I stood there, listening to his longing reach across the darkness with each bruised breath of his eloquent singing.
This morning my five-year-old asked himself why he’d come into the kitchen. I understood he was thinking out loud, personifying himself,
but the intimacy of his small voice was surprising.
When my father’s vending business was failing,
he’d talk to himself while driving, his lips silently moving, his black eyes deliquescent.
He didn’t care that I was there, listening,
what he was saying was too important.
“Too important,” I hear myself saying in the kitchen, putting the dishes away,
and my wife looks up from her reading and asks, “What’s that you said?”
I turned sixty in Paris last year.
We stayed at the Lutetia,
where the Gestapo headquartered during the war, my wife, two boys, and me,
and several old Vietnamese ladies carrying poodles with diamond collars.
Once my father caught a man stealing cigarettes out of one of his vending machines.
He didn’t stop choking him until the pool hall stunk of excrement and the body dropped to the floor like a judgment.
When I was last in Paris
I was dirt poor, hiding from the Vietnam War.
One night, in an old church,
I considered taking my life.
I didn’t know how to be so young and not belong anywhere, stuck among so many perplexing melodies.
I loved the low white buildings,
the ingratiating colors, the ancient light.
We couldn’t afford such luxury.
It was a matter of pride.
My father died bankrupt one week before his sixtieth birthday.
I didn’t expect to have a family;
I didn’t expect happiness.
At the Lutetia everyone dressed themselves like specimens they’d loved all their lives.
Everyone floated down red velvet hallways like scintillating music you hear only once or twice.
Driving home, my father said,
“Let anyone steal from you and you’re not fit to live.”
I sat there, sliced by traffic lights,
not belonging to what he said.
I belonged to a scintillating and perplexing music
I didn’t expect to hear.
The Summer People
Santos, a strong, friendly man,
who built my wife’s sculpture studio,
fixed everything I couldn’t,
looked angry in town last week.
Then he stopped coming. We wondered if we paid him enough, if he envied us.
Once he came over late to help me catch a bat with a newspaper and trash basket.
He liked that I laughed at how scared I got.
We’re “year rounds,” what the locals call summer people who live here full time.
Always in a hurry, the summer people honk a lot,
own bigger cars and houses. Once I beat a guy in a pickup to a parking space, our summer sport.
“Lousy New Yorker!” he cried.
Every day now men from Guatemala, Ecuador,
and Mexico line up at the railroad station.
They know that they’re despised,
that no one likes having to share their rewards,
or being made to feel spiteful.
When my uncle Joe showed me the shotgun he kept near the cash register to scare the black migrants who bought his overpriced beer and cold cuts in his grocery outside of Rochester, N.Y.,
his eyes blazed like emerald suns.
It’s impossible to forget his eyes.
At parties the summer people who moved here after 9/11
talk about all the things they had to give up.
It’s beautiful here, they say, but everything is tentative and strange,
as if the beauty isn’t theirs to enjoy.
When I’m tired, my father’s accent scrapes my tongue like a scythe.
He never cut our grass or knew what grade I was in. He worked days,
nights, and weekends, but failed anyway.
Late at night, when he was too tired to sleep,
he’d stare out the window so powerfully the world inside and outside our house would disappear.
In Guatemala, after working all day,
Santos studied to be an architect.
He suffered big dreams, his wife said.
My wife’s studio is magnificent.
We’d hear him up there in the dark,
hammering and singing, as if he were the happiest man alive.
Copyright © 2007 by Philip Schultz
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.