Khalisa Rae


My father stems from a long
line of green thumbs. Dirty-
finger men skilled at burial and
denial. Men with hands gentle
enough to plant, but firm enough
to dig, tender enough to prune
but 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 seedlings
beneath the surface, drown them
and forget them. Say each blister
is proof of love, each callused palm
purposed for gripping and suffocating,
and if they try to sprout trust the sun
to reach the shadowed places
he hid them.

Black Boy Painted as Butterfly

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 graceful
it makes them dizzy. Landing on the edge of leaves
so soft as if to kiss it. Then leaving again,
never settled in your last spot
for fear of being landlocked
by glass walls.

Your dance-a gentle open 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
here one second and gone the next.

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

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

Editor’s Note: Black Boy Painted as Butterfly was previously published in Still Harbor.

Khalisa Rae has been published in Requiem Magazine, Dirty Chai, Tishman Review, The Obsidian, Anchor Magazine, New Shoots Anthology, Red Door, Red Press – Anatomy of Silence Anthology, among others. She was a finalist in the Furious Flower Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and a winner of the Fem Lit Magazine Contest and the Voicemail Poetry Contest. She is currently the Co-editor of Athenian Press and is finding a home for her full-length poetry collection entitled, Open Cannon: Voice of a Southern Femme.

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