"The Sweet Undertaste"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
March 30 2010 6:58 AM

"The Sweet Undertaste"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear  Philip Schultz read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
.

What accounts for the sweetness of human beings?
For the fragile, inexhaustible longing in the eyes
of the slowly dying, the sweet undertaste of
a tune sung in a moment of unutterable delight?
For the gentle, whimsical blue in Uncle Sigmund's eyes
after he kept falling on his one leg and was told
to stop drinking? For the strength to crawl bleeding
to the phone and open the door? For his bewildered,
bloodied hospital smile? Irony gets us only so far.
Bitterness exhausts the heart. Disappointment loves
only itself. What accounts for the ignorance and hate
that chased him from the German side of Poland
to the Russian side, from the honeycomb of innocence
to the boomeranging cold of a cattle car rushing through
the moonless Siberian night, from the wrong side of fate
to the unalterable fact that once a man has run for his life
never again can he sleep through the night, that once salvation
is torn out of us we continue to run, on one leg and two,
to crawl like a worm through the stony anonymous earth?
Yes, what in this tumultuous infinitely regenerative world
accounts for the sweetness of his pious smile though my wife,
two boys and I will soon leave and take our happiness with us,
and he'll remain here, in this childless hospital room, his liver
blackened with whisky, his left pant leg pinned at the knee,
surrounded by the ravenous dreams of the lost and misplaced,
and the ricocheting echoes of the world eight floors below?

.

Philip Schultz's memoir, My Dyslexia, came out last fall. He founded and directs The Writers Studio, a private school for writing, now in its 25th year.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.