A Black girl can be a dog, a rat, a gadget, a myth, a ghost, a mermaid, origami, or livestock. A Black girl can be a scavenger, a caged bird metaphor, a “perfect little alien,” or unwelcomed roots. A Black girl can be a black cloud, but she cannot be the white sky. A Black girl can be any imaginable thing, but she is not allowed to be a person. Not in the eyes of a white crowd, anyway. This is the trap, the endless, disparaging loop, that Khalisa Rae describes in her debut book of poetry Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat.
The collection is broken into three sections titled: “Fire,” “Wind and Water,” and “Earth and Spirit,” and it’s easy to see why this is an important designation. Rae writes, “You will be asked, where are you from? more than you are asked, how are you doing?” As if white people don’t know Black girls are elemental, powerful, and from the very core of this earth.
But, still, the expertly-crafted poems are mournful and simmering with unexpressed rage. They illustrate quiet resignation (“You’re left to break and mend, stitch your wounds to not spill the secrets, sober your sorrows and be back before Monday’s 8:00 a.m. exam.”), peaceful protest (“Sometimes, I go to white spaces, plant myself. I know my roots aren’t welcome there.”), and grave desperation (“We gamble with our obituaries like we don’t have a thousand other ways to die.”).
When white people feel entitled to every space, what is a Black girl to do? The advancement is made in excruciating inches, but it comes at the expense of her raw throat and heart.
Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat by Khalisa Rae. Red Hen Press, 2021.
Reviewer bio: Lannie Stabile (she/her) is the winner of OutWrite’s 2020 Chapbook Competition in Poetry; the winning chapbook, “Strange Furniture,” is out with Neon Hemlock Press. She is also a back-to-back finalist for the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 Glass Chapbook Series and back-to-back semifinalist for the Button Poetry 2018 and 2019 Chapbook Contests.
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