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The Portuguese Dictionary

Each morning Charley
the house painter
came to work, he left
his clenched face
holding its unlit
cigar, and his old hands
moving in their dream
of painting pastel colors
on new houses that stood
in cow pastures. He
was selling sewing machines
in Brazil, just as if
thirty-five years
had never happened. This
was why each afternoon
he looked right through
the baffled landowners,
come to imagine
their twiggy sticks
would soon be trees.
Why when he got home
he never even saw
his wagging, black
habit of a farm dog,
or thought about his mother
nodding in the far room
among the water-stained
explosions of roses. Already
Charley was at his desk
down in the cellar,
waiting for his slow
legs and hands to come
and get the index cards
out from the shelves of dead
pickles and jams. Already
he was thinking
of the name for sky
with no clouds in it.
Or of the happy words
the women of Brazil said,
working the treadle.
Or of the lovely
language of the face
and legs and hands he learned
from a boy one night
beside the dark sea,
in some other life
of his lost body.

-Wesley McNair