Mind of Missing Parts
These second hands inside our mind tell
more than time. Each hour whispers
our demise, each racing thought a spinning
facet off track. My brother’s unhinging
framework and all my unwinding,
parts discarded; others pawned off
never returning. I do not know us anymore.
I do not recognize our unassembling
brains. These days when I feel hollow,
with no steel wheel or release
I think of Hemingway, Van Gogh,
and Twain, how their brains tiptoed
on razor’s edge. Each of them winding
into a delicate marvel of mechanics,
their sanity balancing on hairpin-thin
bolts—twisted timepieces that keep
in sync, whose lost minds
are brilliant, still.
There should be a special place in the jewelry
shop for watches whose faces split
into gorgeous fragments,
whose missing numbers give them character,
and rusty hands are exposed. Turn them over
and see how imperfectly meticulous.
I wish my brother could be seen as a functioning fossil,
with intricate movement. I wish we could find a shelf
that appreciates us for all our unwinding.
A shop where we are valued as gadgets
that measure moments, that capture
time with a broken gasp
Making Counterfeit Again
This great America be street vendor,
peddling our identity like flea market,
haggling our genius to passersby, selling
hand-me-down inventions and gently used
designer genetics. Why you keep stealing
our blues and calling it a pop song?
Convincing the masses you made our pain
fashion statements. Our twerk be copywritten,
you get no royalties from our two-step.
Our lingo isn’t for sale, so stop plagiarizing
our hood-speech, mainstreaming our “broken”
English. This America be mass producer
of appropriation, factory full of our features, ripping
our packages open searching for damaged goods.
This black be authentic. This black be original.
This melanated music be off-market.
This slang be sold out and never returning to shelves.
This dialect be discontinued, this black too high.
Out of reach.
Buzzwords and Banned Books
I learned them on the page first. Fell
apart and assembled notions of suicide,
held brilliant pain, Beloved, in the hands
of a mother saving her baby from slavery.
Felt the throb of each purple bruise
on Miss Celie’s back blister and turn blue.
Heard the silence that consumes a man, proving
Black Boys are invisible—still. Knew caged birds
would sing their way to freedom as long as their eyes
stayed on Him. Prayed Pecola would discover the beauty
that stretches beyond her skin. Learned compassion
is the greatest lesson before dying, and all that lies within.
And yet we still omit stories, black-out pages, broken
fragments in a forgotten land. We should cement
these words in history, not conceal truths and label
them banned. What I know is there are still
children who haven’t heard Maya’s name. Haven’t viewed
God through the eyes of Zora, haven’t heard her bitter
twisted refrain. Haven’t wailed on the mount with Baldwin,
or spoke of divergent dreams with Lorraine. Haven’t read
the history of immortal generations, or discovered
inexplicable truths with Wright, unlocked freedom
with Alexander, or saw Claude turn ghettos to promised
lands at night. Some children still don’t know the fire
passion of Malcolm, the beauty of Native Son.
They will never know where they’re headed
until they see all the immaculate places
they’ve come from.
My father stems from a long
line of green thumbs. Dirty-
fingered men skilled at burial
and denial. Men with hands gentle
enough to plant, firm enough
to dig, tender enough to prune,
sturdy enough to pack earth
around the necks of buds. It is
a calculated craft to bury seeds
beneath the earth at the proper depth,
to examine the soil and extract weeds
from the root, to create life and food
with bare hands. This is how he
learned to parent. Push seeds down
beneath the surface, drown them
in water; forget them. Suffocate
with callused hands and
expect the sun to reach
the shadowed places
where he hid them.
The Dance Hall of My Mother’s Womb
played a soundtrack I would learn
the words to for nine months, her heartbeat
the rhythm that taught my limbs to move.
[I] unplugged from her cord,
heard the beat repeat everywhere.
Memorized every thump
and drum syncopation. Now when I hear
the tones of my mother’s
song, I go running.
The boom, cat, crash, blat, drumbeats
remind me I am still connected.
Boom, bap, clack, clack, boom, bap
is the cadence of my ancestors.
Their vibrant metronome alive
in the sounds around me:
hand claps and foot stomps, hitting cups
on counters, tapping pen to desk, thumbing
decks of cards, metal spoons hitting pot pans,
cackling laughter, the slap of hands to knees,
mother’s feet shuffling around a makeshift
These sounds are the pulse of people
determined to make their vibration last,
determined to hear their echo repeat.
Before I Speak to the Matriarchs
I try to greet their faces first. Notice all
they hold in their skin,
the stress in their foreheads,
the panic in their lips,
discomfort in their eyes. So many words
resting in the corners of their mouths,
silent conversations exploding
in the wrinkle of their noses, heated
arguments in their widening eyes.
I know each matriarch’s brow is tight
from all the plates spinning
on the axis of her spine. A whole
village needing her attention
and expecting her to wear the weight
of generations with a smile.
These poems are part of Khalisa Rae’s full-length manuscript, Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat, forthcoming this Spring from Red Hen Press. “Horticulture” has previously been published in Brave New Voice and Hellebore. The title poem was published in Willawaw Journal.
From Red Hen Press: Khalisa Rae is a poet, queer rights activist, journalist, and educator in Durham, North Carolina, and a graduate of the Queens University MFA program. Her chapbook, Real Girls Have Real Problems, was published in 2012, and her recent work has been seen in PANK, Sundog Lit, Crab Fat, Damaged Goods Press, Red Room Poetry’s New Shoots poetry anthology, Glass Poetry, TERSE., Luna Luna, The Hellebore, Homology Lit, Dancing Bear Books: WOMXN Anthology, Tishman Review, and Obsidian, among others. She was a Furious Flower Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize finalist and a winner of the Fem Lit Magazine Contest, Voicemail Poetry Contest, White Stag Publishing Contest, and Bright Wings Poetry Contest. She is Managing Equity and Inclusion Editor of Carve Magazine and Consulting Poetry Editor for Kissing Dynamite. Unlearning Eden is forthcoming from White Stag Publishing in Summer 2021. She is currently the Writing Center Director at Shawn University and the newest writer for NBC-BLK and Black Girl Nerds.