Poetry: Mackerel by Khalisa Rae

In “Mackerel,” teenage girls become theologists of the body—transforming a “sweet communion of burning” into their own vivid and direct meaning. We’re excited to publish this new electric work from Khalisa Rae, and to announce as well that she will be performing a live reading for Frontier and the launch of her new book on April 23rd with Safia Elhillo, Faylita Hicks, and Prince Bush! Check out her debut collection here. Stay tuned to our socials for more details about the reading.



when I was 12,
my mother caught me
& a female friend dangling
our vaginas on the
end of the bedpost
like live bait.

rubbing our maple wood
against the slippery pole
trying to catch a spark
on the cold, hard thing
between our legs
The mesquite of our innocence
The mesquite of our innocenroasting
over flames sent signals to the room
where my mother and her friend
sat talking,

And we were just at the point
And we weof falling
And we were just at the off the bone,

the moment where the pink
of the Salmon is so tender,
when she opened the door,

And we wedoused our flame with holy

water & scriptures, made us bow
our head and promise to forget
the sweet communion of burning.

Years after she scrubbed the cedar
from our clothes, I learned
that my body is only alive
when it was free to choose
when & where it starts a fire, how
long it allows itself to be
And we were just at the wet & waiting.
The power comes in
knowing that your body is no tadpole,
nor fish to roast over hot coals,
nor fish to roit is the flame itself,
the blue and red ghost that
survives even after the smoke clears.

Khalisa Rae

Khalisa Rae is a poet and journalist in Durham, NC, and author of Real Girls Have Real Problems chapbook. Her poetry can be seen in Crab Fat, Damaged Goods, Hellebore, Terse, Sundog Lit, PANK, Tishman Review, Occulum, the Obsidian, among others. She is the winner of the Bright Wings Poetry contest, the Furious Flower Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, the White Stag Publishing Contest, among others. Currently, she serves as Managing Equity Editor at Carve Magazine and Writing Center Director at Shaw University. Her debut collections, Ghost in a Black Girls Throat are forthcoming from Red Hen Press in April 2021 and Unlearning Eden, White Stag Publishing Summer '21.

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