Reading Time: Approximately 3 minutes
"self-evident" by Matthew E. Henry, or MEH, caught my attention with its multiple and powerful layers. Told as an adult memory, it enters the moment when a child is asked to believe their own history isn't real but to focus instead on a cleaner, more inspiring narrative. For me, Henry's poem tackles rock-hard truths with personal experience and simple questions, and in so doing reexamines what we teach our children.
Matthew E. Henry (MEH)
as a kid from Boston, the Revolutionary War
was my favorite subject in fourth grade.
a Tea Party I could respect. class trips vainly
searching for musket balls in Lexington treetops.
reading of decapitation by cannonball on Breed’s Hill.
even the sights in Southie— unsafe for me to visit—
were a source of tribal pride. like rooting for the Patriots.
we were told to don our colonial imagination caps
and tell our story of emancipation from the British.
where would we be? the Old South Meeting House?
the Old North Church? what would we see as we rose
to American greatness? our teacher should hear freedom
ringing in the streets through our words. I dropped my head
to begin— oversized pencil in hand— until I remembered.
seeing my inaction, she crouched and began to re-explain.
I patiently waited for her to finish, eyes on her lips,
then asked if she wanted me to pretend to be white,
or to picture myself for sale on the steps of Faneuil Hall,
or stacked in one-half of the Harbor ships heading to
and from the West Indies, explaining my parents’ patois.
after the vocal static— the hems and haws of white noise—
she suggested Crispus Attucks: the hometown boy, the Black
hero of the Boston Massacre. my siblings had taught me
the “one-drop rule,” and when to nod my head politely,
so I pretended he was not half Wampanoag, that Framingham
was not his master’s home, and imagined myself being
the first unarmed Black man shot on these urban streets.
reprinted with the permission of the poet
Matthew E. Henry (MEH) had this to say about his work:
Truths that should be obvious often go unconsidered. Like how racial minorities endure school curriculum which is uncritically “white.” They can feel the wrongness, even if they don’t have the language to explain it in elementary school. Some raise their hands and ask uncomfortable questions. I kept asking throughout middle and high school, through college and multiple graduate schools. By the time I was teaching future teachers, I grew sadly less shocked at the number of educational professionals who had never considered the diverse experiences within American history, or how quickly the Black experience is ghettoized into a few chosen figures.
Mr. Henry has requested that we publish his updated bio in this excerpt format. You may notice it is different from the one which first appeared in Issue #16 of Tahoma Literary Review. We're happy to publish his good news, and we offer our sincere congratulations for his soon-to-be-published collections.
MEH is Matthew E. Henry, the author of Teaching While Black (Main Street Rag, 2020), and editor-in-chief of The Weight Journal. His recent works are appearing or forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, Frontier Poetry, Mineral Lit Mag, The New Verse News, Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, Poemeleon, Porcupine Literary, Rejection Lit, The Revolution (Relaunch), Solstice, Versification, and The Windhover. By some miracle, two of his other collections of poetry have recently been accepted for publication. MEH is an educator who received his MFA from Seattle Pacific University, yet continued to spend money he didn’t have completing an MA in theology and a PhD in education from other institutions. You can find him at www.MEHPoeting.com writing about race, religion, and burning oppressive systems to the ground.