Charles Reznikoff

A D N S T [

Autobiography: New York


It is not to be bought for a penny
in the candy store, nor picked
from the bushes in the park. It may be found, perhaps,
in the ashes on the distant lots,
among the rusting cans and Jimpson weeds.
If you wish to eat fish freely,
cucumbers and melons,
you should have stayed in Egypt.




One night in April or May,
his daughter saw someone's hand
make the curtain which was drawn tightly across her window bulge
and ran to the adjoining room in her night clothes
where he and his son were sitting.
He ran around the house one way
and his son ran the other way
and they found a Negro
under a workbench
within six or eight feet of the window
holding a piece of plank before his face —
begging them not to shoot.


Slave Sale: New Orleans

To begin with, the slaves had to wash themselves well,
and the men who had beards had to shave them off;
the men were then given a new suit each,
cheap but clean, and a hat, shirt, and shoes;
and the women were each given a frock of calico
and a handkerchief to tie about their heads.
They were then led by the man selling them into a large room;
the men placed on one side, the women at the other;
the tallest at the head of each row
and then the next in size
and so on to the shortest.

The Lamps Are Burning

“The lamps are burning in the synagogue,
in the houses of study, in dark alleys....”
This should be the place.

This is the way
the guide book describes it. Excuse me, sir
can you tell me
where Eli lives, Eli the katzev —
slaughterer of cattle and poultry?
One of my ancestors.
Reb Haskel? Reb Shimin? My grandfathers.

This is the discipline that withstood the siege
of every Jew;
these are the prayer shawls that have proved
stronger than armor.

[His father carved umbrella handles...]

His father carved umbrella handles, but when umbrella
handles were made by machinery, there was only one
man for whom his father could work.
The pay was small, though it had once been a good trade.
They lived in the poorest part of the ghetto, near the lots
where people dump ashes.
His father was anxious that his son should stay at school and
get out of the mess he himself was in. “Learning is the

[His mother stepped about her kitchen...]

His mother stepped about her kitchen, complaining in a low
all day his father sat stooped at a sewing machine.
When he went to high school Webber was in his class.
Webber lived in a neighborhood where the houses are set in
lawns with trees beside the gutters.
The boys who live there, after school, take their skates and
hockey sticks and play in the streets until nightfall.