Volume 25, Number 3

Mrs. Whiteside

Standing between lands
in the midst of the Atlantic
on the world map nailed to the wall,
she was a lot younger then,
lecturing with vigorous body movements
that rattled the beaded bracelets, gold earrings
middle-schoolers couldn’t keep their eyes off of.

After the attacks, she couldn’t tell
by my white skin what I was,
but knew the ringleader of hijackers was Egyptian
and what percentage of Egyptians practiced what religion.
Then she searched for the origins of my name
that profiled more background than I knew myself.

It started with detentions in her classroom,
covering my face so I wouldn’t see her thin lips,
broad jawbone protrude too wide for a face,
and scrunched eyes somewhere in the middle
of all that black mascara. The same stare
Arnold flexes in the movies, before being governor.

During tests, she let students heckle me
and when I pleaded with them to stop,
she used stabbing motions with her black pencil
to direct me to the office
where I hoped the right parent would pick me up.

Her pictures were in the paper the other day,
close-ups under the header that read
“Local Teacher Fights Bullying.”
The classroom looked the same,
projector, blurred images on the screen, projects tacked
to the bulletins, the students all facing her
with their back to the cameraman.

—Tamer Mostafa