a poem for Veteran’s Day by Charles Reznikoff d. 1975

Charles Reznikoff was part of a small group of American poets, of the Modernist era, who tried to write in what became known as an objectivist manner. This poem is like a couple of snapshots: clear, sincere images of human encounter and interaction without comment, emotion, metaphor, rhyme, or other meaning written-in by the author.  Some of the power of a poem like this one lies in what is not written.

“[During the Second World War . . .]”

During the Second World War, I was going home one night
along a street I seldom used. All the stores were closed
except one—a small fruit store.
An old Italian was inside to wait on customers.
As I was paying him I saw that he was sad.
“You are sad,” I said. “What is troubling you?”
“Yes,” he said, “I am sad.” Then he added
in the same monotone, not looking at me:
“My son left for the front today and I’ll never see him again.”
“Don’t say that!” I said. “Of course, you will!”
“No,” he answered. “I’ll never see him again.”

Afterwards, when the war was over,
I found myself once more in that street
and again it was late at night, dark and lonely;
and again I saw the old man alone in the store.
I bought some apples and looked closely at him:
his thin wrinkled face was grim
but not particularly sad. “How about your son?” I said.
“Did he come back from the war?” “Yes,” he answered.
“He was not wounded?” “No. He is all right.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “Fine!”
He took the bag of apples from my hands and groping inside
took out one that had begun to rot
and put in a good one instead.
“He came back at Christmas,” he added.
“How wonderful! That was wonderful!”
“Yes,” he said gently, “it was wonderful.”
He took the bag of apples from my hands again
and took out one of the smaller apples and put in a large one.

Charles Reznikoff 1894-1976

 

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