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 1
 
There were several methods:
with a belt on the inverted palms if you came home late,
with a belt on the backside if you fought with your sisters,
with a belt on a random body part (suddenly, in a split second),
if you forgot to dust the living room on Thursdays, right before school,
if one of the orange-colored tea cups they brought from ‘there’ was broken,
if you were caught daydreaming while getting dressed in the morning,
when you read a book (Angelique in Revolt, over and over) in the dim corridor light,
after bedtime.
(Informing was always encouraged.
The sister-informer won a candy, a new shirt, a hint of a caress).
The slap was the worst, suddenly splitting the air, wounding the distance
between stiff palm and soft cheek.
This did not require a special reason.
 
2

And it was said:
honour thy father and thy mother
and they will honour you with twice as much spanking
and with two good blows on the backside  
so that thy days will be long
and pleasant upon the earth
and aching under the blankets; lie still
so the stars will not
jab thy wounds.
 
3

There were two languages.
They said:
“She stupid
he thief
she go with him
anna whore
even back in Russia – whore
mother also – whore
he oy vay, shvartze hayas
the Arabs, tfu yoptfoyomat
no marry with a shvartze
a Romanian a Polish thief a Bukharin
give him an inch want take mile
the freeloaders suffer?
We suffered.”
 
To the crippled doll you said:
“Would you like another cup of tea, dear?
Today is so lovely, isn’t it?”
 
and there was a third language,
but nobody spoke  it.
 
 
 
 

Translator's Note: 1. anna - Russian: she 2. oy vay; shvartze hayas - Yiddish, oh no; black beasts 3. tfu yoptfoyomat - Russian: a curse on your mother 4. shvartze - Yiddish: a black (or any dark-skinned) person