Aardvarks

Philip Schultz

It’s summer and the Jitney is packed,
every seat taken, except for the one
five rows up, in which a burly man
has barricaded his window seat
with a briefcase and jacket, an act meant
to confront others with his superiority.
Munching chips and guffawing at
a YouTube video of an obese woman
riding a scooter down a country road,
towing a younger obese woman
in a wheelchair, he reminds me
of a neighbor’s dog that would steal
and bury our dog’s bones, then growl
defiantly on his side of our fence.
He’s the reason I’m sitting back here
next to the toilet, thinking about Pythagoras,
who believed our souls ended up inside
the bodies of animals selected as rewards
and punishments. Well, the three giggling girls
stretching their legs into the aisle every time
the shy attendant passes, making him stutter
apologies in a Slavic accent—orangutans, probably.
Sequestered back here between work and family,
thought and dreaming, I’m slowly evolving into,
say, an aardvark, the last living representative
of a nocturnal, burrowing species hurling down
the highway inside a bus whose shell is camouflaged
as a vodka ad, on its way to a barricaded future
on the far side of a fence where all our significance is buried.

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Philip  Schultz

Philip Schultz is the author of My Dyslexia, a memoir; The Wherewithal, a novel in verse; and seven collections of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Failure. The founder and director of the Writers Studio, he lives in East Hampton, New York. (Author photo by Monica Banks)

In this compassionate new collection, Philip Schultz’s wry and incisive poetic voice takes on both the eternal questions of meaning and happiness and essentially modern complexities—the collective power of women’s marches, the strangeness of googling oneself, the refugee crisis, the emotions associated with visiting the 9/11 memorial. At once philosophical and droll, Schultz explores life’s luxuries and challenges with masterly precision.

Luxury takes its name from the center poem, which has an ironic ring next to Schultz’s Pulitzer Prize–winning collection Failure. The poem is a beautiful exploration of the pull toward life as Schultz examines the question of suicide, intimately probing a familial pull toward that darkness and weaving in the philosophy of Albert Camus and the voices and legacies of Paul Celan and Ernest Hemingway. Using humor, irony, and celebration as ballast against the book’s darker forces, Luxury explores the comfort and sustenance of life, the bittersweet clarity of aging, and the anxiety of existence.

“Philip Schultz’s poems have long since earned their own place in American poetry. His stylistic trademarks are his great emotional directness and his intelligent haranguing—of god, the reader, and himself. He is one of the least affected of American poets, and one of the fiercest.”
—Tony Hoagland

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