Summer 2020

Matthew E. Henry

an open letter to my well-intentioned white educators: past, present, and future



thank you for always seeing me as one of the good ones—

a safe bet for your efforts. a burden worth lifting. your attempts

to connect and encourage—like the educators whose movies

were mocked in the faculty lounge—didn’t go unnoticed. but

I never wanted to be the first Black president. or the second.

I wasn’t interested in attending Harvard or those special summer programs

sure to broaden my horizons. there’s a reason why I grew tired

of Crispus Attucks, George Washington Carver, and the Rev. Dr. King

being your only assignment suggestions. why I read Othello while the rest

suffered through Salinger’s unreliable narration. why I later asked

if you knew Sojourner Truth, Lucile Clifton, Octavia Butler—

the other dead having as much to offer. it’s why my recital piece

was “Sir Duke” instead of Chopin. I know how I looked at times:

the baggy pants, the bandanna, the toothpick. the code-switching

which made you more uncomfortable than my racially charged questions.

but I can be loud without being angry, just like everybody else.

can fail without being a reflection on all who share my shade,

at least in theory. don’t worry: at the time of this writing, I am not dead

or in prison. five diplomas and decades of my own students

say I turned out alright. feel free to take your share of the credit,

but understand your dreams weren’t in color and I didn’t need saving.




MEH is Matthew E. Henry, a multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated poet. The author of Teaching While Black (Main Street Rag, 2020), his recent works are appearing or forthcoming in Amethyst Review, Baltimore Review, Bryant Literary Review, Ploughshares, Poemeleon, The Radical Teacher, The Revolution (Relaunch), Solstice, Spiritus, and Tahoma Literary Review. 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. His work can be found on


Robert Carr

I’m Reminded of What I’ve Forgotten


Squirrels scatter nut chunks

From the giant hickory tree above the drive.

Walking the dog, you remind me

Of little things I’ve failed to do.

I hold a braided lead. You slip on bitter shell.


Could you sweep this up? you ask,

Have asked for several decades.

(It takes bristle to care for other than yourself.)

The oven heated to 350

After dinner’s done: You want this on?


Bedroom windows as we leave

The house: You want these open?

Back door unlocked the morning after

I’m home late: Could you do something about that?

I answer, Apparently not.


I’ve learned a few things over years.

The toilet seat is always down.

The three-ply paper over, not under.

Lies have consequences

And more than one chest beats with a pulse.


On our walk, you stoop to pick up shit.

Fresh shaved head, spots of red on a fair scalp.

I’ll miss the reminders, so please don’t die.

I have never brushed a bath.

Nothing will be swept, meals will burn.


Wind and rain will pour through every opening

In the house. Glass picture frames

Exploding in the hall. My bleeding fist.

The sink filled with coffee mugs, rot in the fridge.

Even my body will smell different if you go.



Robert Carr is the author of Amaranth, published in 2016 by Indolent Books and The Unbuttoned Eye, a full-length 2019 collection from 3: A Taos Press. Among other publications his poetry appears in the American Journal of Poetry, Massachusetts Review, Rattle, Shenandoah, and Tar River Poetry. Robert is a poetry editor with Indolent Books and Deputy Director for the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Additional information can be found at


Jennifer Met

Stranger on a Nude Beach

—On Woman Combing Her Hair (Alexander Archipenko 1915)


Breaking, water on skin

bells to the wind—fresh water

pearls breaking, clattering

to the floor. Now gloss bronze,


wet sand sticking, she breezes

comb from tote. Tosses it across,

knock-kneed. But here her arm frosts

over, in love with a single, brunet


need—best these sea-wet curls.

Airhead! A full moon’s beacon

bubbling—the beach we seek

in abysmal night’s swell. Forever


vain! Me rising to jaw, borrow comb,

breech her arm’s confines—but her brain

empty. One to talk. Moon as double

exposure. Mirror missing, you comb


in front of me instead. Do we address

our breasts unbound, face the why

of our legs shut tight? Ah, Cubism, we

sound in tandem, not ceaselessly


standing to self-stare as sculptor

might have us, but so airy, so carefree

quick your gaze has already turned,

left before the long exposure


completed. Breaking free, sovereign

arm raised to a vacuum, pulling

my open gape, but break too this

flesh-faced fantasy—just that—


already gone. And now void, I am

left reaching—caught peeping—head

left forever circling the invisible

thought—its moon—its feminine





Tabula Rasa


Start from the beginning—not clay, as they teach,

but marble—mineral recrystallized in an interlocking

mosaic. Call it a miracle. Call it family. Call it to you

like a lap dog—the Earth as recycled art. Now do

like your mother. It would have been easier to work

in the positive—adding mud to form feather—shape

created around nothing. Easier to pack & pressure

geological rings as you go—linear as time. Laboring

in the reverse is a more difficult birth. But chisel this

hidden bust that already exists—smooth, white & nipple-

less. This is your classical. Form by punishment—

take away what is already there. In this way the creation

myth is not tortured, but in mistake you cannot go back

to add more stone. Instead, the Earth becomes smaller &

smaller—a mere mote in the block of available space.

Smaller still—until today seems almost forgivable—just

an insignificant speck in the timeline of the universe.

My whole world, she shrinks as I try to reconstruct her—

whittling, whittling too far & finally losing the project

with a careless exhale above the work table. But know

this is mother Earth’s gift to motherhood. Together we

are a Shinto God of Destruction—giving our daughters

the opportunity our original creator did not—a stone heart—

a clean slate. Spring’s rebirth—to add—to build largely

in the positive.



Jennifer Met lives in a small town in North Idaho. She is a nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology, a finalist for Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and winner of the Jovanovich Award. Recent work is published in Gone Lawn, Harpur Palate, Juked, Midway Journal, The Museum of Americana, Nimrod, Sleet Magazine, and Zone 3, among other journals. She is the author of the chapbook Gallery Withheld (Glass Poetry Press).


Jeremy Rock 



And I know you are out there, tasting

acacia gum and starch, fifth in line

at your local Postal trying to speak with cardboard


a cipher so elaborate it cannot fit

in a phone line. You are packing used

underwear, a non-rewritable disc labeled for when


I can’t (be there), and my sweat-

shirt you’ve taken to sleep for a week. The tape

smells of old book binding, the flat-rate pennies


of a blood older than the address

to which you send. A stamp still wet with your spit promises

eternity, but you know better. You know domestic, you know


priority, but when you tell the clerk non-machinable hand-

sorted, you wonder if you ask too much.



Jeremy Rock is from Frederick, Maryland, and is currently a student at Salisbury University. He has work published or forthcoming in Waccamaw, The Shore, Stonecoast Review, The New Mexico Review, and elsewhere.


Jeffrey Perkins 

The Way Things Are Now


Find us in the crooked trees

above the wide river. A horse,

a wolf, a lion without kids.


Forget what you once knew.

We’re nothing but charades

with new mouths.


We destroy what we touch

dancing on tiny stages, falling

into crowds coming down.


We live to kill futures. Call us

mad, call us for a good time.

We all need a big night out.


Like what you see? Leave a big

tip with your shot. Everything

has a price now. You made it too—


the decision to sell your name,

your time—whatever you could

manage—to the hungry man.


 Jeffrey Perkins received his MFA from Bennington College and his poems have been published in Memorious, The Massachusetts Review, The Southampton Review, The Cortland Review, Mid-American Review, and The Adroit Journal, among other journals. His first book of poems, Kingdom, was released in April 2020 from Spork Press. He was a 2019 Artist-in-Residence at the Watermill Center and lives in Los Angeles. You can find more of his writing online at



  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.