She hit herself he insists, with her own hand
And now I’m in here. For three days, he proclaims
innocence while he sings old R&B love songs
in the middle of class “I get so weak in the knees”
Everyone in jail is innocent
He broke into truth today
She was sitting on the toilet
Her and her university self
And I said to show me her hand
and I went whack, whack with it.
Don’t you ever disrespect me again.
She was like O. Surprised,
sometimes I forget that students
become so used to the teachers
they, too, forget we are alive.
They imagine us as walls, which hear and do nothing,
or stones or maybe insignificant ants.
Sometimes, they remember we stand
shocked, listening, wondering how to direct
them to the work. Yo, Ms. León, how do you feel
about a woman-beater? Another student pushes.
He’s just a woman-beater. After a while, under my breath,
I whisper-slip No woman likes to be hit, because the first
student argues that it was her fault again, that some women
like to be abused. No woman likes to be hit. I know it.
I still dream of my devil’s face, the man who choked
when he wanted love. I think that I have gone to hell
with the face of the devil all around me, taunting from the bodies
of children, of angels.
Raina J. León is a Cave Canem graduate fellow, CantoMundo fellow, and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective. Her collections of poetry include Canticle of Idols, Boogeyman Dawn, and sombra : (dis)locate. She is a founding editor of The Acentos Review, an online quarterly devoted to the promotion and publication of LatinX arts. She is an associate professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California and currently a student in the MFA-Poetry program there (expected May 2016).
“The mouths of babes” originally appeared in Boxcar Poetry Review in September 2007.