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  4. [His mother stepped about her kitchen . . .] by Charles Reznikoff
[His mother stepped about her kitchen . . .]

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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.
At twelve o’clock the boys ran out of school to a lunchroom
    around the corner.
First come, first served, and they ran as fast as they could.
Webber would run up beside him and knock him against the
He tried not to mind and thought Webber would tire of it.   
One day he hit Webber’s side; his fist fell off Webber’s over-
    coat. Webber turned with a glad shout and punched him
    as he cowered.
His home was in a neighborhood of workingmen where there
    were few Jews.   
When he came home from school he walked as quickly as he could,
his head bowed and cap pulled low over his face.
Once, a few blocks from home, a tall lad stopped him.   
“Are you a Jew? I knock the block off every Jew I meet.”
    “No,” he answered.
“I think you’re a Jew. What’s your name?” He told him,
glad that his name was not markedly Jewish and yet foreign
    enough to answer for his looks.   
“Where do you live?” He told him and added, “Come around
    any old time and ask about me.” So he got away.
When he was through high school he worked in the civil
    service as a typist, taken on until a rush of business was
He took the test for a steady job, but his standing on the list
    was low,
unlikely to be reached for a long time, if ever before the new list.
Looking for work, he always came upon a group waiting for   
    the job.
He was short and weak-looking, and looked peevish. He could
    not get work for months.   
At last an old German storekeeper wanted to hire him and
    asked at what he had been working. He told him.
“It doesn’t pay me to break you in, if you are going to leave
    me. Have you taken another civil service test? Are you
    waiting for a new appointment?”
“No,” he answered.   
In a few months a letter came to his home from the civil
    service board, asking him to report for work as a typist, a
    permanent appointment.   
There was no hurry, but his father did not know and so
    brought the letter to the store.

There had been a boy in his class at school whose name was
Kore was short, too, but he had the chest of an old sailor and
    thick, bandy legs. He shouted when he spoke and was
    always laughing.
Kore moved into the block. With Kore he was not afraid to
    stand on the stoop after work or go walking anywhere.
Once they went to Coney Island and Kore wanted to go
    bathing. It was late at night and no one else was in.
They went along the beach until they came to the iron pier the
    steamboats dock at.   
Kore boasted that he would swim around the pier and slid
    away into the black water.
At last the people were gone. The booths were long darkened.   
He waited for Kore at the other side of the pier, watching the   
    empty waves come in.   

From The Poems of Charles Reznikoff by Charles Reznikoff, edited by Seamus Cooney. Reprinted by permission of Black Sparrow Books, an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. Copyright 2005 by Charles Reznikoff.
Source: Poems 1918-1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff (Black Sparrow Press, 1977)
[His mother stepped about her kitchen . . .]

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