She held my cheek with one hand
and slapped me with the other, her wedding band
leaving a welt on my face,
and somehow she found the strength to keep it up
for the whole class of thirty students in sixth grade.
In seventh grade, she came to class with a stick
and hit our bottom, taking turns with everyone in the class.
One student stepped aside from the desk
and tried to hold out his hand—
he got the full sting of the stick
and couldn’t write for a couple of days.
By now, most girls had filled out their uniforms
and cringed with embarrassment:
dust was coming out of navy-blue jumpers—
some girls were carefully folding the hems at home
stitching them back to show off their legs
splendid in nylons from the black market.
But nothing compared to Mr. Ionescu’s class:
he instructed every student to recite a poem by heart
and then he asked those who hesitated or didn’t know it
to come up to the blackboard:
he put them in pairs facing one another
and asked them to slap each other.
At first the kids laughed. They brushed
each other’s face like a feather
but then it got harder, louder.
Four pairs stood in front of the class
and we didn’t even realize they were all Roma.
They caressed each other’s face.
One boy, two years older, who started school later
and had already begun to shave, staggered.
The teacher paired him with another tall boy
and they hit each other through their tears,
smiling all along, blushing through the pain.
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