By Charles Reznikoff 1894–1976 Charles Reznikoff

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.


The Negro was dead
when the doctors examined him.
They found upon his belly   
he died, the doctor said, of peritonitis.

The jailer testified that the Negro had been brought to the jail
charged with burglary;
but no warrant for his arrest was produced
and the jailer did not know—or tell—
who brought him.
The Negro said that a crowd of men
had taken him from a store to the woods
and whipped him
with "a buggy trace."

He was not treated by a doctor, the jailer, or anybody:
just put into the jail and left there to die.
The doctor who saw him first—on a Monday—
did nothing for him
and said that he would not die of a his beating;
but he did die of it on Wednesday.

From Testimony: The United States, (1885-1890) by Charles Reznikoff. Reprinted by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. Copyright 1965 by Charles Reznikoff

Source: Testimony Volume 1 The United States (1885-1915) Recitative (David R. Godine/Black Sparrow Press, 1978)

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Poet Charles Reznikoff 1894–1976

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Subjects Living, Death, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Charles  Reznikoff


Emerson remarked that the best writers often have the shortest biographies. The genius “draws up the ladder after him,” and the world, which had consigned him to obscurity during his lifetime, “sees the works and asks in vain for a history.”
Whatever judgment may ultimately be passed upon him, not much more than his works is ever likely to be known of Charles Reznikoff. He left no fervent disciples. The record he wished to . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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