Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Poem For The Innocents by Geoffrey Philp

A killing moon peeks through leaves
of trumpet trees in full bloom
for Lent, their barks crisscrossed
by wild strokes of a machete
when my son tried to help me weed
our garden, overrun with dandelions,
branches, leaves, a bounty of seed
and thorns, side by side, under clusters
of suns bursting through the branches.

Shadows flicker across the wall upstairs,
over Buzz Lightyear's grin, Mr. Potato
Head's sigh, and under a map
dotted with cities that fill his dreams.

What promises will I make
when I climb the stairs
before he falls asleep to the noise
of the television with cluster
bombs blooming in the sky
over Baghdad? What comfort
can I give him as I draw the sheets
over his shoulders, kiss his forehead,
when he worries that if he closes his eyes,
his Aunt Batsheva, half a world away,
will not rise from her bed in Gan Yavne,
thirty-seven miles west of Ramah
where Rachel wept for her children
and refused to be comforted.

The map over his bed now frightens
him, and I cannot convince him,
despite the miles and miles of oceans
and deserts, that the machete
under his bed will not make him safer,
any more than the sacrifice of innocents
will save us, for he knows,
he knows, somewhere
between the Tigris and Euphrates,
a wave of steel races toward Babylon.

~ posted with the permission of the author

Editor: Rethabile Masilo

Geoffrey Philp
I "met" Geoffrey Philp many years ago, and fell in love with his poetry. I think perhaps the first of his poems I
read was Easy Skanking. 'Skanking' is a sort of rhythmic dance performed to reggae music or ska, and with that I suppose you've guessed that the poet or the poem is related to Jamaica.

What I like indeed in the poems and writing of Mr Philp is precisely the rhythm, this beat that comes up without announcing its presence, like a simple communication between African djembe drums or Sioux smoke signals. I cannot deny that I also immensely like their skank talk about difficult subjects such as politics, oppression and liberty. Which inevitably brings up another name: Bob Marley.

My poet sister, Michelle McGrane, has a post on Geoffrey's latest collection, Dub Wise; it includes several other poems and links (Amazon, Geoffrey's blog, etc). Geoffrey Philp is also out, among other things, to have Marcus Garvey exonerated by President Obama.
What promises will I make
when I climb the stairs
These words have always reminded me of my own father. I don't know whether he thought them, but our experience as a family attaches me to them, and to the whole poem, in which a parent suffers over a view given to their child by the world. My own experience as a kid is of politics at table and at school and in prayer. I have personally tried to write poems about that very experience, some of it violent. After reading and rereading A Poem For The Innocents, I found myself writing more poems about the same experience I'd had as a kid, on top of those I'd already written, using some of the same feelings, but getting fresh strength from Geoffrey's poem.

Geoffrey Philp has written a children's book, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, a novel, called Benjamin, My Son, books of short stories, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien as well as the more recent Who's Your Daddy, and five poetry collections, among them Exodus and Other Poems, Florida Bound, hurricane center, xango music, Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas, as well as Dub Wise. He blogs at http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com and teaches English at Miami Dade College.
Here are three more links to visit:
1. An interview with the poet
2. Google
3. Bachata
As for me, I am a poet from Lesotho and live in Paris, France. I'm happy to be part of this poetry family. I have one book out (Things That Are Silent) and am working on a second one. It is all very exciting. Rethabile Masilo. 


Helen Lowe said...

A special and moving poem. Thank you for sharing it here, and to Geoffrey for his permission to do so. Tank you, too, for your insightful commentary.

Rethabile said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Helen. Thank you, and yes, thank you to Geoffrey for allowing us to share it on this forum.

Janis said...

Sad, and powerful. Thanks for posting this.

Kathleen Jones said...

Sad, but absolutely to the point, Rethabile. Thanks to both you and the poet.

Ben Hur said...

This seems exteremely pertinent with the recent events in Syria where innocents, among them women and children, have been nerve-gassed with Sarin. Will the USA intervene? And can they do so without more women and children losing their lives, not to mention non-combatant Syrian men as well?

Thanks, Rethabile, for posting this great poem. As the father of a ten-year-old boy who tends to worry about things that shouldn't concern him, I know only too well the role of parent as soothsayer.

Helen McKinlay said...

Thank you for this post Rethabile. It has a very welcoming feeling and I have enjoyed wandering about in it!
Although its opening words appear to promise violence,
'A killing moon peeks through leaves
of trumpet trees in full bloom
for Lent, their barks crisscrossed
by wild strokes of a machete'
it surprises in that its strength comes from vulnerability...in this case,of parents. I like that.

AJ Ponder said...

Thanks Rethabile for posting, and of course to the poet himself - a very thought provoking and beautifully written piece.

Rethabile said...

The thanks really go to the poet, who gives. This poem, I think, touches as many people as a poem can touch, and that is good.

Harvey Molloy said...

A lot of kick, a lot of energy. Thanks for introducing me to Philps.

Russell Ragsdale said...

Reth, my best to you and Geoffrey both - what a wonderful poem! The trick, of course, is to be the child's bed and be giving the good night reassurances at the same time. This set off a flurry of poetry in me too. Thanks my brother!

Kay Cooke said...

Thanks Ret for this moving and powerful poem and for the insightful introduction to it.