Geoffrey Philp



When I began to gather plastic foam and bits

of wood to build a raft that nobody said would take

me past the sentinels and into the Florida straits

that can change from breath to breath, the neighbors

thought I had become as desperate as my cousin, 

Esmeralda, who they said should have held on until help

arrived to rescue her when her building was on fire. 

But instead, she climbed to the roof and made a choice

between the certainty of the flames and the possibility of air. 


Yemaya, Mother of Fishes, protect me on these waters

that are as treacherous as Fidel’s promises. 

Sanctify the benediction of egrets at dawn that greet

skittish petrels walking on water. For if your compassion

shields the thinning hairs of my crown and protects the least

of these creatures, then surely you will understand

that to save my family, I had to leave them behind.

Distant Cousins

The doubts remained with me these many years,

“maybe we are part Jewish,” and returned

when I tried to escape the endless construction

on the Beach and ended up on Meridian

in front of this monument I could no longer

avoid, any more than the plea on my laptop,

“Our DNA suggests that we are related with a 98%

surety. Please help me to find our Sephardic

ancestors.” Under the shade of bougainvilleas

where I could barely see the fingers of that hand

trying to pluck the sun from the sky, for darkness

to cover bronze memorials for those bodies

scattered like ash over a field that had forgotten

names buried under grass, trampled by boots

that denied the presence of something holy in hands

that broke bread, lips that still whispered prayers

to Hashem, who had turned away from the babble

of men who worshipped their reflection

when they wiped steam from their mirrors,

I trudged down a hallway, narrow as the passage

to the Door of No Return, where one ancestor

sold the other for enough silver to buy a pair

of shoes and entered the circle where I could not

look up at the bodies, suspended as if in mid-air,

out of my fear of vertigo, of falling through time

to the first Shoah or hurtling into a future

in which I have no answer to the riddle

that haunts the hardiest survivor,

“Who are you, my son?”—except that I have stood

in this place, amidst the anguish of Arielites,

listening for an Avrit waiting to be named.

Homage to the Ancestors

Last night I awakened with a heaviness

on my chest; as if ballast stones from ships

that carried my ancestors, babalawos from Benin,

Sephardim from Portugal, and masons from Scotland, 

whose bones built the walkway up to the crest

of the kirk in Westmoreland; as if an iron bit

had been squeezed between my teeth

and clasped to my nape until I was mute;

as if the torturers and tortured had exclaimed

in one breath from the back of my throat, “No more!” 


So, at first light, I will build an altar at the threshold, 

make a sacrifice of the firstborn rooster, shroud  

my head in tobacco smoke, sprinkle the libation

of rum at the foot of the stairs to calm the restless

spirits that whisper when I wander these rooms

and stare out of windows for hours searching

for a sun that will not rise until I have forgiven all

who have passed these doors, who live through my blood.

Born in Jamaica, Geoffrey Philp is the author of the novel Garvey’s Ghost. His work has been published in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. A graduate of the University of Miami, Philp teaches English and creative writing at Miami Dade College.