an open letter from the boy i was to the Man you have become

i don’t remember what we even said. something

about your lack of femininity. tomboy at best.

lesbian at worst for a sixth-grade lunchroom.

you weren’t a threat to me. had never attacked

my cultural insecurities. the new kid with too much

and too little of everything. the one used to richer whites

and poorer Blacks. having Rosenfelds and Ramsundars

as allies or buffers. your silence never made me feel

less than because my clothes, my music, my slang

weren’t fly enough. you were sitting when i followed them

to slap the sandwich from your mouth. a dare. a bet.

you barely flinched. this was an average Tuesday:

chicken tenders, american chop suey, fruit cup, and

chocolate milk with side of abuse familiar to us both.

but i saw the flash of surprise seeing my face with theirs.

before you dropped eyes to plastic tray, did you see the shame

only one of us still carries?

Matthew E. Henry (MEH) is the author of the Colored page (Sundress Publications, 2022), Teaching While Black (Main Street Rag, 2020) and Dust & Ashes (Californios Press, 2020). The editor-in-chief of The Weight Journal, MEH’s poetry and prose appear or are forthcoming in Barren Magazine, Fahmidan Journal, The Florida Review, Massachusetts Review, New York Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, Poetry East, Shenandoah, Solstice, and Zone 3. MEH’s an educator who received his MFA yet continued to spend money he didn’t have completing an MA in theology and a PhD in education. You can find him @MEHPoeting, writing and tweeting about education, race, religion, and burning oppressive systems to the ground.