On the day I dared myself to speak in fourth grade
my apple was taken from the class tree
I was given a corner to sit in
and a letter for my mother
detailing my excesses and failures.
Mrs. Eaton did not recognize the fear coloring my voice
my legs shaking beneath the desktop
the sweat on my palm when I raised my hand
or the hope she would see past the olive to
something other than a stony core.
Later, my mother dried my palm with her own
as I stared at the line beneath my teacher’s chin
her painted-on face ended abruptly
as did their conversation
when Mother pulled me along after her to the principal
where she spoke of racism and my tear-laden lashes.
The man nodded. He smiled. He patted my head.
Once, he championed me when Jeff, unable to force
a kiss, slammed my head into a window
and I bloodied the boy’s mouth
on the bus after school, offered no apology.
Still, no amount of makeup could hide Mrs. Eaton’s revulsion
or her efforts to part me with the wealthy, blonde Natalie,
(my best friend, last name White).
I learned there are places you keep your head down.
I never asked a question again.