essay for history B
I’m not a duly elected representative of Niggerdom
who’s authorized to speak for all my people everywhere. but that’s
exactly how you see me, expecting house negro hands to eagerly raise
and answer your every classroomed question. to play mammy and educate massa’s children.
to do your job in the shortest month, or when topics turn to Atlantic currents,
brown sugar and people. Harriet and Sojourner. Booker T and W.E.B..
Malcolm and Martin. Obama and Ben Carson. Biggie and Tupac. you see me
when convenient. when you want me to drink your 2% curriculum,
say thank you, and smile showing all my teeth. but when I won’t consent
to be your magic negro— when I raise my hand to discuss the beast
on my block, the knees which find our backs for walking in your neighborhood,
the pistols pointed center mass because my father’s taillight was out—
you silence me with threats of slipping grades, or calling officer whitman
without seeing how this too sings of America. sometimes, it seems,
you do not want to be a part of me, or learn from me— younger
and Black and somewhat less free. you should know, the feeling is mutual.
Say the blues were apocalyptic— Black
expressions of eschatology, hues
uniting rugged cross with lynching tree.
to keep our swaying bodies on the ground
we gathered ‘round juke joints every Friday
and Saturday night for worship. bright eyes
marking time ‘till that Great Sunday Morning—
souls free of “The Man” and being Jim-crowed,
free of Judge Lynch and supposed brother
wrongly robed. with drum and strings, peel of horns,
voices raised like grasping arms, we plucked, strummed,
shook and stomped devils we could see and name
in song. the rhythms of the world to come
resound in hymns revealed like broken seals.
an open letter to an american institution
when first i visited “Fort Robinson”—
where four stanzas croon casual slaughter,
average hands about most savage work—
i saw the American Dream thrown face down
in the grass. a knee in its back. beaten
like nestling magpies. a clot of feathers. blood-
matted beneath rope-like limbs. from porches,
mothers keen for the breathless fallen. as some
flee before a most blue and red winter,
others turn their backs to capture selfies.
tell me Ted, does your boy— safe in your car
and color—cry when he sees the same today?
MEH: "MEH" is Matthew E. Henry, a multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated poet with recent works appearing or forthcoming in various publications including Amethyst Review, The Radical Teacher, Rise Up Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Third Wednesday, 3Elements Literary Review, and Spiritus. I received my MFA from Seattle Pacific University, yet continued to spend money I didn’t have completing a MA in theology and a PhD in education. My first collection of poetry— Teaching While Black—is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Publishing Co.