(In memory of Jose Santos Cox Cheley)
"My country," you'd say,
with sorrow, as if Guatemala
was a place
you'd abandoned and betrayed.
One Saturday, in 1991,
after a hurricane,
there you were, helping me "clean up"
the wreck of a cottage
I'd just bought after a recession.
You lived across the street
in your wife's adopted mother's house,
owned by a rich younger woman
she cared for, an absurdity
that somehow made perfect sense.
Suddenly: a new roof, fenced-in yard for my dog,
a studio for my sculptor wife,
and a deck to dream my poems on (yes,
a grown man writing poems for a living,
a hilarious idea). You dreamed
of being an architect, your wife, Rosy, said,
but in Guatemala one earned calluses,
not degrees. The me you liked
wasn't privileged, educated
and assimilated, but someone
who honored memory, a property
you also owned. For hours
we'd watch Penelope catch frisbees,
entranced by the idea of passion
being rewarded by pride.
Often you knew before I did
that something needed to be fixed,
replaced, or pardoned, as if
the world of order you esteemed
didn't tolerate the insolence
of neglect. After Rosy died
of a heart attack as you drove her
to work at Stop & Shop,
you came by one last time,
asking for work. Crippled by liver disease,
too broken to stand, the money
I gave you broke both our hearts.
You once asked why I insisted
on going with you to see a man
who refused to pay you. I didn't really
understand why. But I do now.
I wanted to see what your opposite
looked like, someone so lacking
in wonder, humor, and elegance.
Philip Schultz won a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his poetry collection "Failure." The founder and director of the Writers Studio in New York, he lives in East Hampton.