The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Patricia L. Hamilton

Bad Word

Red spots flaring on her copper cheeks,
raven-haired Rosa spat a single word
into the playground dirt,
raising a small puff of dust.
It sounded like an arrow whooshing past
to stick in a rough-barked tree trunk.
After recess some pint-sized prosecutor
charged Rosa before our frowning teacher
and called me as a witness. 
Did I or did I not hear her say a bad word?
I hardly knew. I tried to conjure its sound:
a sigh with a fishhook on the end.
Which part was bad?
I weighed my choices: snitch or shrug?
Rosa remained mute, smoke-black eyes
giving nothing away.

Years later I recognized the word,
realized she was guilty. Did her escape
from the fierce tether-ball slap
of schoolyard justice tame her tongue?
Or did she take up target practice,
arrow-straight epithets hitting every mark,
final consonants pinning their victims
with the precision of a knife-thrower?

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