Two Poems by Geoffrey Philp

Audio versions read by the author

Editorial note: Geoffrey Philp’s interview with Erika J. Waters

appears in the May 2012 issue of WLT on pages 24–29.

 

 

A Prayer for My Children

When you find yourself in a faraway land

surrounded by men, animals that mutter strange

sounds, do not be afraid: neither you, your parents,

 

nor your ancestors have ever been alone.

So trust the earth to bear you up, follow

the wind as it leads you through valleys

 

clustered with trees heavy with fruit –

some that seem familiar enough to eat,

but you still aren’t sure they are the same

 

as the ones you left on the other side

of the river that you’ve now forgotten.

Eat. Feast on the bounty. Feed the fire

 

that burns away the knot in your stomach,

sets ablaze the horizon, all that your eyes

can see – that has been promised to you

 

since your cry pierced the morning air:

your parents bathed you with kisses,

baptized you with caresses,

swaddled you in care before you uttered

your first words to the moon, sun, stars,

wobbled your first steps into unknowing –

 

all the while rising into your inheritance.

And if you awaken under the branches of a cotton tree,

cradled in its roots, draw a circle around yourself

 

and all those whom you love, cross

yourself three times before you step

over the threshold. Welcome the ancestors,

 

all the kindly spirits who have followed you,

your parents across many seas, oceans,

and deserts; entertain them with strong drink

 

and soft food: rice, yams, bananas, the ever

present rum to bless the hands that have lifted

you up, and sanctified the place you now call home.

 

Editorial note: From Dub Wise (Peepal Tree, 2011), © by Geoffrey Philp. Reprinted by permission of the author.

 

 

Roots

eh yu,

yu likkle red kin bwai

ah talkin to yu

yu dat doan know nothin;

i rememba when yu used to

eat korn flakes fa brekfas,

chicken bres fa lunch,

steak fa suppa, an me

bush tea fa brekfas

pipe water fa lunch

red herring an stale bread,

if me was lucky, fa supper,

an den nat even a pilla.

de only comfort was kaya

mattress, me share wid me bredda

mi sista, mi cousin (later dem say

was mi sista), an mi sista half-sista

later dem say was mi niece),

yu dat neva know how it feel

when de chinee woman a de grocery

store draw way har han like me have disease,

yu look chinee too

fa yu look like yu mada

neva know wha side a de bed

she an yu was gwane fall,

and my own mada, out before

first light, back before the night breeze

lay down pon de grass, har two han

too tired fe even liff de spoon to har mout

much less fe hole me face,

yu dat neva know

how it feel wen smady pint

an sey, “look, das yu fada,

pants seam sharp like gillette

shut white like dry spit

black patent leather shoes stomping

pon the cricket oval,”

yu dat neva know

granny fiah stick me tink wud neva

go out, antie nerve tea dat stink up

me nose hole like de nasty claat

she put pon ar foot fa sugar,

yu doan know dese tings

yu jus stan up dey

an waan pass off yuself

as a real jamaican.

 

Editorial note: From Hurricane Center (Peepal Tree, 1998), © by Geoffrey Philp. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Born in Jamaica in 1958, Geoffrey Philp has published one novel, five volumes of poetry, a short-story collection, two children’s books, and a play. His work is represented in nearly every anthology of Caribbean literature, and his blog (www.geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com) is read all over the world. He has lived in Miami since the mid-1970s and has a master’s degree from the University of Miami. A professor at Miami Dade College since 1979, he is now chair of the College Preparatory Department.

Philp won The Caribbean Writer’s first poetry chapbook contest in 1990. Other awards include an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Florida Arts Council, an artist-in-residence at the Seaside Institute, the Sauza Stay Pure Award, the Canute Brodhurst Prize (fiction) and the Daily News Prize (poetry) from The Caribbean Writer, two James Michener fellowships from the University of Miami, and the coveted Outstanding Writer Prize from the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission.

Writing in the Small Axe literary salon, Jennifer Marshall has remarked on the “cultural smorgasbord of references to historical and contemporary events” found in his writing.” The critic and poet Carrol B. Fleming has compared his poetry to early work by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, noting that Philp’s “poems wander through bedrooms and along the waterfronts of that perceptive land accessible only to poets.” 

Books by Geoffrey Philp

 Florida Bound (Peepal Tree Press, 1995, poetry)
Uncle Obediah and the Alien (Peepal Tree Press, 1997, short stories)
Benjamin, My Son (Peepal Tree Press, 2003, novel)
Ogun’s Last Stand (play, 2005)
Whose Your Daddy? and Other Stories (Peepal Tree Press, 2009, short stories)
Dub Wise (Peepal Tree Press, 2010, poetry)
Marcus and the Amazons, Blue Mountain Series (Mabrak Books, children’s book, 2011)
Bob Marley and Bradford’s iPod (Mabrak Books, 2011)


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