Poems by Geoffrey Philp

• October 2019

Ogún
(for Félix Morisseau-Leroy)

The general had almost surrendered to the stunted
naseberry that he had sprayed and watered, but it refused
to grow. Should he have rebuked it the way Jesus
cursed the barren fig tree? Or did he need a sea bath
at Haulover to renew his vigor? As he sipped a glass
of wine, a gift from a former president “for services
to the nation,” a mosquito buzzed around his ears
like the rumor that Damian, who was flirting
with his mistress, was telling the cashiers that the old
man’s knife couldn’t spread the butter anymore
but he could still lick the paper. The general swatted
the mosquito. He had bigger problems. Perhaps
the naseberry had to be pruned like the stubborn
mango tree that he had grown from a seed in Haiti
that had borne only bitter fruit all year—or maybe the soil
needed to be refreshed as Jefferson, the master gardener,
had said was the best remedy for plants and nations.
He tramped toward his shed and drew his machete.
The branches fell away as easily as the limbs of a boy
he had caught in the topmost branches of his mango
tree searching for a kite. The boy’s mother had begged
him to help her get her son down from the tree, so he shot
the boy and cut off his hands. Next year, he reaped a bounty.

 

Mama Cachita

When Damian, “The Field Marshall,” stepped
up to his offensive line, the sisters rubbed
their knees together, hoping to be his next
exploit. He had won so many games for his high
school football team, he was on his way to becoming
a legend. They would huddle by the goal posts
while he barked orders to his running backs
and dissected the defense with passes
that were as precise as Ochosi’s arrows.
How many times, when the stands were empty
in the fourth quarter, had the diehards and drunks
witnessed his comebacks when he would dance
through the defenders into the end zone?
But he never let fame go to his head.
Damian kept his job as a bagboy to distract
the auditors while boosters paid his salary.

Maryanne spotted him from the general’s car,
but she wouldn’t take his word about Damian’s
prowess. She came back the next day, sauntered
down the aisles, lingered over the melons
until Damian left his station to serve her a salad
of papayas smeared in honey. And as if to test
the freshness, she dug her nails into the flesh
of the fruit and rubbed her sweetness over his lips,
luring him with the thought that maybe,
just maybe, one cool afternoon, she would
leave the general’s bed and give him a try.

 

Ochosi

Nine nights after Oshumare swallowed the moon,
Dahlia could have sworn she heard rolling calves
dragging their chains across the highway’s back,
past Snake Creek’s slumber, as she marched
between the flame trees toward the home
of the Black Heart Man whom she had passed
in the aisles of the supermarket without a nod,
to beg for a favor that had be paid for with blood.

She had rebuked Damian because of that high
yellow mulata, who was as cunning as Ol’ Higue,
but he was as stubborn as she had been. How many
wooden spoons had her mother broken on her neck?
And even though her father—had he been in the flesh—
would never have forgiven her for returning “like a dog
to its own vomit,” this was different. So, if she had to print
the general’s name on paper, cover it with palm oil,
and spray the letters with rum, she would slip coins
under the counter of the botánica for candles
to complete the ceremony. For she knew that
when prayer and fasting failed, she could always turn
to the immortals who keep the earth alive by killing.

 

Geoffrey Philp has written five books of poetry, two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. His work is represented in nearly every anthology of Caribbean literature, and he is one of the few writers whose work has been published in the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. Philp lives in Miami, and his work is featured on the Poetry Rail at the Betsy in an homage to twelve writers that shaped Miami culture.

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