Depression

So proudly she came into the subway car
all who were not reading their newspapers saw
the head high and the slow tread—
coat wrinkled and her belongings in a paper bag,
face unwashed and the grey hair uncombed;

simple soul, who so early in the morning when only the
poorest go to work,
stood up in the subway and outshouting the noise:
'Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, I have a baby at home who
is sick,
and I have no money, no job;' who did not have box or cap
to take coins—
only his hands,
and, seeing only faces turned away,
did not even go down the aisle as beggars do;

the fire had burnt through the floor:
machines and merchandise had fallen into
the great hole, this zero that had sucked away so many years
and now, seen at last, the shop itself;
the ceiling sloped until it almost touched the floor a strange curve
in the lines and oblongs of his life;
drops were falling
from the naked beams of the floor above,
from the soaked plaster, still the ceiling;
drops of dirty water were falling
on his clothes and hat and on his hands;
the thoughts of business
gathered in his bosom like black water

in footsteps through a swamp;
waiting for a job, she studied the dusty table at which she sat
and the floor which had been badly swept—
the office-boy had left the corners dirty;
a mouse ran in and out under the radiator
and she drew her feet away
and her skirt about her legs, but the mouse went in and out
about its business; and she sat waiting for a job
in an unfriendly world of men and mice;

walking along the drive by twos and threes,
talking about jobs,
jobs they might never get and jobs they had had,
never turning to look at the trees or the river
glistening in the sunlight or the automobiles
that went swiftly past them—
in twos and threes talking about jobs;

in the drizzle
four in a row
close to the curb
that passers-by might pass,
the squads stand
waiting for soup,
a slice of bread
and shelter—
grimy clothes
their uniform;
on a stoop
stiffly across the steps
a man
who has fainted;
each in that battalion
eyes him,
but does not move from his place,
well drilled in want.

by Charles Reznikoff

Other poems of REZNIKOFF (7)

Comments (1)

How differently we would write about Kensington Gardens today; but the last line still stands.