Khalisa Rae

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Khalisa Rae

the poet

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.

the poems

Reclaiming our
Phenomenal Bones

For Maya

00:00 / 01:15

              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

              and Lucy.


              Your phenomenal bones are proof that you were

              once here.

              And breathing.

              And everything.


              Our brown bosoms have brought nations to their knees.

              Our open mouths have made even the most

              powerful cower.


              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

              be.

Livestock

00:00 / 01:04

              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

00:00 / 01:09

              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.

Publishing credits

Reclaiming our Phenomenal Bones: Homology Lit.

Livestock: Flypaper Lit

Belly-Full of Gospel: Sundog Lit