Monday 4 March 2019


Seven sevens?
Forty- nine!
The teacher’s stick waves like a baton in an orchestra
Is there a rhythm to multiplication tables?

Agnes Donnelly falters on seven eights.
Agnes is five students down the line.
Two whooshes, the rise and fall of the baton,
The descent- of shorter duration.
If teacher side-angles the stick
And your hand makes contact with the edge
The slap is searing.
Agnes lets out a wail.
Her left hand cradles her wounded palm
She raises it to her lips and tastes blood.

Seven eights?
Fifty six- like a greyhound out of the trap.
The cane dances to the tune of a Strauss’ waltz.

Seven nines?
Alice Casey never knows
Her palms are hardened to the cane
She says if you rub vinegar on them before the performance
You feel nothing
The baton descends

Seven nines?
Two classmates between me and the cane
Seven ones is seven
Seven twos is fourteen
Seven threes is…


Seven tens is easy
Seven elevens is easier

Seven twelves is me.
Add seven to seventy- seven
Seven fours is…
seven fives is...

A warm trickle between my thighs
The teacher is pulling out my hand.
My arm is numb. My fingers clenched
She is prising the fingers out one by one
But they curl inwards again
She is standing at her full height
The trickle has reached my knees, my calves

The baton dips but the knuckles dive
The swish of loose sleeve
The back of her ringed hand 
Strikes my cheek bone

Seventy seven plus seven is eighty- four
My ears are ringing

Too! Slow!

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2019


  1. I can sense the panic rising as the teacher gets closer! Brings back lots of memories for many of our generation!