What we call poor must be more than a little red silt collected in the lungs, a harder kind of breathing. The men in the mines listen. Their questions, the private ones they keep buried deeper than the shafts they sweat or shiver in, are answered only by their own voices, echoing back at them, the nervous laugh at a blue remark, reverberating through tunnels. Instead of a bird and it's yellow singing, captive and sad in lamp-lit darkness, someone has brought his dog, a dirty white muzzle lying mostly in sleep. When the mutt sits up, barks at the flickering of shadows on stone walls, hacked and jagged, it's not annoyance the men feel, but relief. They pause to gawk at the yellow teeth, to stare into the well of open mouth, to mutter, to close their eyes and watch their women. They remember the breasts beneath the blouses, hands washing fine baby hair, cradling a soft skull, fingers dipping dishes into water,  pulling shreds of meat from bones, peeling skin from fruit so much sweeter in absence, palms warming to cheek, chest, ridge of hipbone, all that touching. When the dog, the last huff and grumble of the dog, goes dormant, the men turn back into their back-breaking work. One man hands a tool to another. The only human sounds breaching the damp air, ringing above the clanking and wheeling, are words. Is this what you wanted?


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