Khalisa Rae

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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 / 01:15

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

© original authors 2021

inspired by

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