Khalisa Rae is a poet, activist and journalist in Durham, NC. Author of Real Girls Have Real Problems, she has poems in Frontier, Rust and Moth, Damaged Goods, Hellebore, Flypaper Lit, Sundog Lit, PANK and Luna Luna, among others. Khalisa has won several poetry prizes, and serves as founder of the Think and Ink BIPOC Collective, and the Women of Color Speak Reading series. Khalisa is also Writing Center Director at Shaw University. Her debut collection Ghost in a Black Girl's Throat is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in April 2021.
When did we lose our phenomenal?
I think we left it on the back stoop,
abandoned it like a baby on steps for anyone
to pick up and call their own. I think we tucked
it under our tongues, let it dissolve, and melt
away. But the taste of it still lingers.
I think we spread our phenomenal across beds,
in the backs of cars where we opened it for anyone who said
the magic word. I think we smeared it on countertops
and couches, and made it like jam or a marmalade
to lick off for satisfaction.
But woman you have been phenomenal and everlasting
since the beginning of time,
since the Nile and cradle of civilization
Your phenomenal bones are proof that you were
Our brown bosoms have brought nations to their knees.
Our open mouths have made even the most
Our brick and mortar skin has always been a phenomenal
destination—brown-stone thighs, hand-crafted cathedrals
of a waist,
sweltering temple lips,
a museum of a mind,
we will find our phenomenal
when we stop looking and just
When they come for me, I am neither
girl nor boy, I am neither clam nor cock.
I have neither hooves nor snout.
But I do have claws; I can grunt and growl
and show my teeth. I do not need wings
to create a windstorm, I do not need talons
to break skin; I can snarl and scrape.
I can unhinge my jaw to fit a head twice
the size of mine inside. I can be razor-backed
and spiked edge when he tries to skin me,
to unscale my silvery back, debone my brazen
hen-hide. I will be foul-mouthed and crooked-necked.
I will be the chicken head they know me to be,
if it will save my life. When he comes for me,
I will remember the coop, how they gathered the fowl
girl up by the feet with warm hands and cooing.
How her brown hung low when they entered her
into the guillotine and severed her head. How they plucked
her body until it was bare. I will remember the blood
and what happens when they want to make you food.
Belly-Full of Gospel
Each morning my grandmother rises to find her Bible
still breathing, belting her favorite aria. A lion,
a well, a sacrifice. Crack-of-dawn, coffee-stained,
scrolls making music at 6am. Each page turn a chord
she knows better than hot water cornbread and collard
greens. Wailing Blessed Assurance, What a Friend to crackling
bacon— all a belly-full of gospel summoning spirit to be there
in the midst. Her back buckle and hand wave awaken
a holy ghost— Bash-sha- Shadrach, Meshach- tongue-speaking
spells cast out the demons haunting this old house. 'While
I’m on this tedious journey'— a sovereign song soothing her
aching, calligraphed hands. Walk with Me, she asks,
inviting Him in the room. What a meditation, a ritual
to welcome Holy in a place held together by broken bread.
A sacred invitation to dine with her and the browning
hash. Nothing but the Blood and sunrise slicing sound—
stirring a tent revival lasting till nightfall across
her wobbling kitchen table.