Rigorous
Volume Four, Issue 3



MEH


Little Africa

             they called it. the heart
of darkness. the dark continent
in the middle of the cafeteria’s sea
where all the Black kids sit. just as
drs. livingston and Tatutm
would rightly presume.




an open letter to the young man on the subway platform, looking back, hurt and disgusted

carrying a book with its spine unbroken
is the new Whistling Vivaldi
a safer way to assuage
the angst of white women
who walk in a world
of Black men in public spaces.
more powerful than a smile
or an expensive suit.
it catches them off-guard.
reflexively unclutches
their purses. try it.
see how their eyes train
on your hands
to sate their curiosity—
to judge the tatterless cover—
before they track up
and refocus:
the apparition
on a Brown bough
transforms
into your face.




Honesty in Advertising

“travel back in time to a more gracious era.”

our antebellum manor is refreshing
as mint julep or stolen milk, perfect
for your destination wedding.
400 year-old southern live oaks
obscure acres of unmarked graves,
as tea lights suspended in mason jars
twinkle the blank eyes of slowly bucking ghosts.
we have restored its rustic charms
without sacrificing modern amenities.
even our re-varnished surfaces preserve
the original stains. the effect is completely
captivating. call or email to schedule a visit.
on your way out be sure to visit the gift shop
for souvenirs. an ear. a lip. a testicle,
dried and shriveled. we guarantee
you will not be disappointed.




the conversation with my pastor, after she posted my bail

Solomon says

singing songs to one in pain
snatches off her coat, allows
cold shards of sorrow to slice
wrists, forearms, inner thighs.
in the spring she must invest
in cotton sleeves, woolen pants
of concealing colors.

such joy throws lye in the face
of a father holding the fishbowl
he bought to soften the blow
of mommy’s diagnosis, goldfish
left gasping on the concrete.

so you, of all people,
should understand

why.




exposure therapy

when the police arrive they will ask me—probably at gun point—
why I broke that chair over your back, and I’m afraid
of my most honest answer. you were already doubled over
from the kick to testicles you proudly proclaimed
you’ve had since birth. an observation made
while grabbing your crotch, underscoring the stream
of discourteous comments flung at this fine gentleman—
quips about rubber balls and strap-ons, clearly knowing nothing
of phalloplasty and silicone implants—and your question
of whether his bulky sweater hid breasts that were bandaged
or surgically removed. both less painful than the bruised ribs
you’ll nurse for a least three months.

I have to ask: what first caught your swelling eyes?
put that smirk on your bloodied face? was his frame too slight,
his hair too perfectly coifed, his features attractive enough
to confuse you, make you question yourself
after a familiar pulsing, a flowing made uncomfortable
realizing your mistake? a feeling different than
the internal bleeding you should get checked at the hospital?
what was it about his way of quietly drinking coffee,
eating a scone, and minding the sports section
that offended your delicate sensibilities? he didn’t owe you
a definition of manhood, which ironically includes
far less sobbing than you sluice from the urine soaked floor.

but now I’m left in a quandary. your bigotry has stumbled me
into an existential crisis. do my actions make me transphobic?
did I see a damsel in distress before I dislocated your jaw?
a woman in need of rescue as I vigorously applied my foot
up your ass? did you catch these hands because
of patriarchal paradigms I have not fully overcome?
this will keep me up at night. perhaps I should apologize
to him—take him out to replace the coffee we spilled
and ask how I can be a better ally.



MEH: "I am Matthew E. Henry, the author of Teaching While Black (Main Street Rag, 2020), and editor-in-chief of The Weight Journal. My recent works are appearing or forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, Bryant Literary Review, Frontier Poetry, The New Verse News, Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, Poemeleon, Porcupine Literary, The Radical Teacher, Rejection Letters, Solstice. I am an educator who received my MFA from Seattle Pacific University, yet continued to spend money I didn’t have completing an MA in theology and a PhD in education from other institutions. You can find me at www.MEHPoeting.com writing about race, religion, and burning oppressive systems to the ground."




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