an open letter to a classmate on a conversation we never had

you sat across from me on the Red Line. somewhere
between Park Street and MGH— as the morning crush
of suits and scrubs dispersed—I noticed our book
in your hands. the grey cover held together
by a rainbow of “used” stickers, the pages jaundiced
by highlights, the time-wrinkled spine all matched
the one in my bag. I smiled, but only to myself.
I knew we were on the same track, heading toward
our first day of ice breakers and imposter’s syndrome.
I knew our cohort would spend semesters sharing study notes
and nightmares. discussing quantitative approaches
to statistics and religion. complaining about qualifying
papers, while celebrating pregnancies. we would support
each other through dissertations and divorces, diplomas
and deaths. but I kept all of this to myself. I knew better.
just as I knew how long I should wait before exiting the train
at our stop and to use a different door. knew to eschew
getting my steps in to make you more comfortable, enduring
the glacial ascent of Porter’s escalator. knew to ignore
how you clutched your purse and sped up when—entering
the same building— my presence behind you was unavoidable.
knew how to bite my tongue when you teared-up explaining
the implicit bias and micro-aggressions discussed in our grey book.


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 poetry and prose are appearing or forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, Barren Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Frontier Poetry, Massachusetts Review, Mineral Lit Mag, The New Verse News, Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, Poemeleon, Porcupine Literary, Rejection Letters, Saint Katherine Review, Solstice, Versification, and The Windhover. His second collection—”Dust and Ashes”—is forthcoming from Californios Press. 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 writing about race, religion, and burning oppressive systems to the ground.