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Pencil Seller
by Oswald LeWinter

He sits in a deserted doorway,
legs folded under him
like Buddha's lotus, a tin
of short green pencils and coins
hugged by his knees. Rain
has stained his frayed blue shirt
and the Phoenix sun turned
his dark skin darker. He holds
strands of beard in his right hand.

Although I've passed every day,
he never speaks, as if
he had no voice, and if I drop a dime
into his tin, his look insists
I take a pencil from his fist.
He never follows noises with his eyes,
not screeching cars, not screams
of children in the nearby park.
Somehow he knows the difference
between danger and delight.

At night he spreads cardboard
deeper in the doorway, and sleeps,
his right palm covering his eyes.
His back to the abandoned street,
his breath rises as clocked vapors
in the cooler air. The cap he wears
is turned then with its peak
covering the nape, over his pony tail,
the legend "Viet Veterans of America"
in yellow letters visible in the cone
the nearby streetlamp casts.

Something connects the two of us.
I don't know what, but I can't turn
my face away or close my eyes.
I only know I carry him in cupped hands
carefully as an egg in my mind. He snores,
waiting for this poem to lift him to the place
he once bestrode, when he placed
himself before us all as bullets swam
through the loud air like starved sharks.

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