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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