TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT

I am there, a classroom,
elementary or middle school,
Charleston, West Virginia
1930’s, girls in proper skirts,
saddle shoes, the old woman
at the front of the room,
first day of a new year.

“Jones”, a hand goes up,
“Murphy”, another rises slowly,
“Padlibsky, what kind
of name is that, Jew, or
some kind or Ruskie maybe?”
A small voice answers
Lithuanian, ma’am.

A scene that never
happened, a name changed
so that day the teacher
called out “Wells”
and she smiled and
quickly raised her hand.

First Published in Culture & Identity, Vol. 2, The Poet (2022)

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