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,
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 America 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 superpower,
your furnace of rebellion.
So they silence you before the coal burns,
resurrect monuments of ghosts on your street
to keep you from ever looking up
Build a liquor store on every corner
so you don’t notice the curated segregation.
They call it “redistricting”.
Our cities muzzle the men with gallows for tongues
and call it “obedience school”.
Synthesize our ghettos, graffiti them in gold,
call it “urban development”.
They will make bitch a sweet exaggeration
of your name: sit, speak, come
when spoken to.
And 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—turns sorcery,
witchcraft; and we will be witches, don’t we?
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.
But we will clap back with shaking hands,
‘cause that’s all we’ve got. These voices,
these throats, this righteous indignation.
They will start with the muzzle—always taught to melt
the metallic of our wills. There will always be
a bit in the mouth of this horse that was too
stubborn to ever be spooked by your ghosts.
Khalisa Rae is an award-winning poet, activist, and journalist based in Durham, NC. She is the former Gen Z Culture Editor of Blavity News and the author of the debut collection Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat from Red Hen Press 2021. She is a 4-time Best of the Net nominee and Pushcart nominee. Her articles appear in Blavity, Autostraddle, Catapult, LitHub, Bitch Media, NBC-BLK, and others. Her poetry can be seen in Southern Humanities Review,± Electric Lit, Pinch, Tishman Review, Frontier Poetry, Rust & Moth, PANK, HOBART, among countless others. Currently, she serves as Asst. Editor of Glass Poetry, co-founder of Think in Ink and the Women of Color Speak reading series, and poetry instructor at Catapult. Her next collection, Unlearning Eden, is forthcoming.