the first time it happened overnight.
one day we woke up left-handed.
the tanks had come while we slept,
driving on the wrong side of the road.
anyone who drove properly got crushed.
so we learned.
the patriots insisted it couldn’t last
and stubbornly refused to write a word
in that misshapen scrawl.
but it went on, and on.
we gave up hope, and started working on penmanship.
when rescue finally came, and right was restored
we all breathed as if for the first time
everything was easy, natural, effortless.
so we looked the other way at certain things
like how those born left-handed had to leave.
after all, they’d had an unfairly easy time
during the occupation.
when they came next, they promised
it wouldn’t be like last time. sure, all the children
had to write with their left at school,
but the older folk were spared relearning.
they said it would be gently, by degrees,
that we would be eased into civilization
only if the kids didn’t fall in line, their parents paid for it.
people vanished, and their stubborn children
fell into the maw of institutions and guilt.
it was a relief when they lost.
we started to look for the missing, for justice
and arrived at purity. ambidextrousness meant disloyalty,
but that wasn’t so bad, because you could pretend—
be a little less sure than you really were
with that treacherous hand
there was a sentry girl
who became a martyr
when she was shot
she refused to make nice with the invaders.
she spat, and in a calculated insult,
she offered them
her right hand to shake.
the city fought, as she must have wanted,
and was nearly razed
this time would be different, said the right-handers.
they put a few collaborators on trial, true,
but held off on wholesale purges.
people were urged to go on cultural exchanges,
to build understanding,
to even learn both ways of writing.
it had been too awful, last time.
we couldn’t go through that again.
but spies and treason undid us,
and we switched over to left again
this time without as much fuss.
it wasn’t the worst of fates,
and we were tired.
the revanche was swift and incomplete.
they held the city, barely, for a few hours,
before being encircled. the commander
took out his standard-issue knife
and ordered his soldiers
to cut off as many of our left hands as they could,
make it impossible to surrender.
in the city, they still curse him
for the orgy of mutilation that followed.
but he never saw it. he bled out
trying to amputate himself,
trying to force his body to conform
to the righteousness of his mind.