The Song of Salvador

Chelsey Engel

The air is clotted and roasted even in the pale pink morning and under the shaded canopies of the dock.  Brazilians and tourists alike, and nobodies like me, drenched to the bone and bushed from the dawn, wait in the wings of the stone café and on the benches lining the bay.  

The grandmothers are weary, sweating through their long skirts they’ve hiked to their knees.  Parents are trying to entertain their little ones by dangling anything shiny in their sticky faces while lovers’ limbs lace together even though they peel and seethe. A chubby toddler trots by, the back of her legs rolled and red. Her father chases after her as her mother shares her ripe, ample breasts with the wide-eyed bundle in her arms.  

The pier is rowdy, everyone’s tongues bleeding and blending like ink in water. Of course, I can’t understand a damn thing, but I listen anyway.  I pull out my imaginary pen and paper and scribble down the words I imagine they’re saying, stories I create for them, ones I hope I remember. These two are charting their day, arguing about whether to start with snorkeling or sailing, or whether to finally call that lawyer.  This other one is teasing her brother while he sticks out his lips and calls her a liar.  And this one is definitely dishing, in delicious detail, to the woman beside him all he plans to do to her later. 

To be fair, I’m not making this one up.  Every woman has a sign.  And she just hands hers to me as the blush seeps through her copper cheeks, her fingers clenching, her scarlet talons digging into her thighs. When she lets go, she leaves behind small joints in her skin like a row of cobblestone.  

Like the patterned alleys of Praca Terreiro de Jesus. 

Like the columns upon columns of women  who’ve taken to the streets, manifestos in hand, chants in tow. 

I wish to kneel and kiss their cracked feet as they march for their very existence  while we all throw ours to the wind.  Not that there’s even a breeze here to buy.  You can buy the best coconut water, though.  And moequeca.  And all the Itaipava you can swig. The men grab it in bulk and grip the hefty cans as they lean against the railing along Porto da Barra once everyone else has gone to sleep.  They lounge hip to hip on the sidewalk, and lip to lip on the sand.  

They laugh with drunken abandon while drunk on abandoned laughter.  And each other. 

As the speakers boom, the vibrations spread, and soon even the tide begs to join in.  The blind guitar player on the stool in the courtyard  does his part, too, as he weaves his own luscious tale  through his arpeggios and his vibrato and his humble gin.  

The windows are open, and it’s all seeping in. My sheets are already soaked because summer in Brazil means sleeping with Hades even in the hour of ghosts.  I realize now, eyes to ceiling and dreams on deck, that it’s everywhere here. 

This pulse, this love, this fever. 

It’s in every meal, every turn of phrase, every meter.  Every aspect, every translation, every letter of the word itself runs in the veins of this place, the one word that could be printed on their coins, woven in the flag, stamped on your visa.  

It’s the country’s currency. Its philosophy. Its politics. Its language. Its love song. Its eulogy. 


Aching like hunger. Thick like sex. 


BIO: Chelsey Engel is a labor writer and activist living in Pittsburgh, Pa. Visit to learn more.

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