Two Beautiful Poems from Featured Artist Khalisa Rae

When we asked Khalisa Rae for some of her poetry to feature on the blog, these two stood out - they have the most beautiful, haunting voices.

Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash
Black Boy Painted as Butterfly (previously published in Still Harbor)

It is your back that compels
them to gawk, transfixed, as they follow you
flutter away like a ballerina gliding on ice.
It is a dance you do. How you pirouette across
ponds on to plant-life, your angles symmetric
and sharp, your stained skin
geometric shapes splattered with
vibrant pigments.

Watch how the orange of your cape glimmers
in the sun, the way your wings wave so gracefully
it makes them dizzy. Landing on the edge of leaves
softly as if to kiss them. Then leaving again,
never settling in your last spot
for fear of being land-locked
by glass walls.

Your dance a gentle opening and closing,
widening and spreading,
as if to invite them to watch,
but you are not here to stay.
You are merely an eyelash batting.

They want to make you a show pony-spectacle,
a painted play toy, a circus animal with playful face
each wing-tip lined with rouge, each dot a
place for more blush.

You always run before
opening night, always looking for the next
street to make your stage.

Ghosts in a Black Girl Throat (previously published in Willawaw Journal)

The South will birth a new kind of haunting
in your black girl-ness, your black woman-ness.

Your body becomes a poached confection—
honeyed enigma pledging to be allegiant
The muddied silk robe waving in their amber grains of bigotry.

Your skin—a rhetorical question, a
blood-stained equation no one wants to answer.

You will be the umber, tawny, terracotta
tongue spattered on their American flag,
beautiful brown-spangled anthem that we are.

You will be the bended knee in the boot of
their American Dream, and they will stitch your mouth
the color of patriarchy and call it black-girl magic
when you rip the seams.

Southern Belle is just another way to say:
stayed in her place on the right side of the pedestal.

Your sun-kissed skin will get caught in a crosshair
of questions like: Where are you from?
No, where are you really from?
You will be asked, where are you from?
more than you are asked, how are you doing?

Like this name, this tongue, this hair ain’t
a tapestry of things they made you forget.

The continent they forced to the back of
your throat. And that’s what they will come
for first – the throat.

They know that will be your super power,
your furnace of rebellion.

So they silence you before the coal burns.
Resurrecting monuments of ghosts on your street
to keep you from ever looking up.

Building a liquor store on every corner
so you don’t notice the curated segregation.
They will call it ‘redistricting’.

Muzzling the men with gallows for tongues
and calling it ‘obedience school’.

Synthesizing our ghettos, graffiti-ng them in gold,
calling it ‘urban development’.

They will make bitch a sweet exaggeration
of your name: sit, speak, come
when spoken to.

The leash will always be taut, always
gripping around a word you never said.

Your body will be an apparition—
hologram of your former self.

Too much magic in one room—sorcery,
witch craft, and we will be witches, reassembling
the chandelier of our reflection.

We will spin a web of shade and make it a
place to rest under—broad oak that it is.

They will suck the mucus from your jubilation,
our gatherings now a cancer.

Clap back with shaking hands, ‘cause that’s all
we’ve got. This voice, this throat, this righteous indignation.

They start with the muzzle—always a taut muzzle to melt
the hard metallic of your wills, always a bit in the mouth
of this horse that was too stubborn to ever be spooked by ghosts.