I first came to the work of Charles Reznikoff in 2008 when I read his terse “poems” in Holocaust. He had read thousands of pages of war crimes trials transcripts to produce condensed, jarring, essential “scenes of disaster,” like something out of Goya. I returned to him in 2010, and read several volumes by and about him. Reading this Objectivist poet that summer prepared me for a breakthrough in writing the following spring.
I recommend By the Well of Living & Seeing: New & Selected Poems 1918-1973 for anyone who might be interested in exploring the vision and sensibility of this Jewish American poet. To whet your reading appetite, I offer for your consideration the following poems…
If you ask me about the plans that I made last night
Of steel and granite—
I think the sun must have melted them,
Or this gentle wind blown them away.
The Old Man
The fish has too many bones
And the watermelon too many seeds.
When I was four years old my mother led me to the park.
The spring sunshine was not too warm. The street was almost empty.
The witch in my fairy-book came walking along.
She stopped to fish some mouldy grapes out of the gutter.
With your face’s beauty
On others, not on me.
In your green eyes two leaves
Of the forbidden tree.
With broad bosom and hips, her head thrown back,
She parades, her high heels clacking,
Having conquered troublesome youth and not yet afraid of age.
In a strange street, among strangers,
I looked about: above the houses
You were there, sole companion many a night—the moon.
The sun shining on the little waves of the bay, the little leaves of the hedge—
With these I school myself to be content.
I charge you, lips and teeth,
Keep watch upon my tongue;
Silence is legal tender everywhere.
Not the five feet of water to your chin
But the inch above the tip of your nose.
My grandfather, dead long before I was born,
Died among strangers; and all the verse he wrote
Except for what
Still speaks through me