March 28, 2006

"Packing Song" by Geoffrey Philp

“Packing Song” recreates the trip that my daughter and I made to my mother’s home shortly after she made her transition. 

The poem was first published in Florida Bound.

Here the link:

March 27, 2006

A Soulful Reading @ The Diaspora Vibe Gallery

Pam MordecaiOn Thursday, March 23rd, when I went to Pam Mordecai’s reading at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery, I was a bit apprehensive. I had never been to any of her readings, but I loved her work. Pam Mordecai is a brilliant poet. But there are some writers whose books I will always buy, but whose readings I will never attend, and there are some writers whose readings I will always attend, but whose books I will never buy. Pam Mordecai now belongs to the category of writers whose books I will always buy and whose readings I will always attend. Her reading added depth and poignancy to the poems, which if I had read on my own, I would have understood intellectually, but now that I’ve attended her performance, I can still hear her voice capturing the emotions, even when she is writing about difficult subjects such as violence in The True Blue of Islands, which was dedicated to her brother, Richard, who was murdered in Jamaica in May 2004.

Writing about violence or the death of a loved one is never easy. It is one thing to convey emotion, but poetry assumes coherence and balance, even when the poem is describing “ugly” things. In “The Story of Nellie,” Mordecai could have easily rendered Nellie as a victim, which she remains until the reversal at the end (buy the book to see how she pulls it off), or she could have told the poem from Nellie’s point of view with every sordid, graphic detail (Mordecai has the skill to do this) of the abuse that would have distanced us (the audience) from the horror of those monsters. Instead Pam does this,

Lee turned Nellie
on her belly
stuck his penis
in her bum.

Swore to God
that he would kill her
if she ever
told her Mum.

From “The Story of Nellie” in The True Blue of Islands.

“Stuck his penis/in her bum” and “Swore to God/that he would kill her/if she ever/ told her Mum” captures the horror and the loss of innocence that is rendered casually by the nursery rhyme effect, so that the violence against the child seems commonplace. And that’s the point of “The Story of Nellie,” and The True Blue of Islands. We have become inured to the violence that surrounds us: the violence of racism; the violence against our children, and the violence against our brothers and sisters. Mordecai looks into this morass of evil and sees our faces. Violence, the use of force by the strong against the weak to get what they want (“Help the weak if you are strong,” Bob Marley, “No More Trouble”) has become commonplace because we have consented either by omission (silence) or commission. We share complicity by silence and complacency, and by labeling violence as only being committed by them people. Them people is we—all of the characters who inhabit The True Blue of Islands. They are our fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters.

The poems in this collection, as the back cover states, “are heartbreaking but, unfailingly, they sing.” Yes, they do, Pam. Yes, they do. And with your reading, hearing your voice, they sing even more gracefully. Give thanks!

Pam MordecaiCathy Kleinhans of Jampact

Pam and Martin MordecaiRosie Gordon-Wallace, Martin Mordecai, and Pam Mordecai

Pam and Martin Mordecai

The reading at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery was co-sponsored by Jampact.

March 24, 2006

Happy Birthday Wilson Harris

I first read Wilson Harris’s Palace of the Peacock when I was a teaching assistant in Caribbean, African, and African American Studies at the University of Miami. I’d just started the early outlines of Benjamin, My Son when the director of the program, Dr. OR Dathorne, practically made me read the book that I’d been avoiding for ages. After I read Palace of the Peacock, I knew why I’d been avoiding it.

Wilson Harris is one of those writers that young writers should never read. By this I mean, he’ll make you feel as if you should just give up everything and try painting houses or cutting lawns. Harris had the same effect on me as Dennis Scott, Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, and John Figueroa. The sheer intelligence and consummate craft that these writers bring to their writing is formidable. Harris’s fiction is like studying the Kabbalah, which during the Middle Ages was not allowed before the student was about forty, lest he end up being confused. But have no fear. With a little persistence and a willing heart, the reading will yield understandings of yourself and your world—beauty, really, that you never knew existed.

Through Harris’writing, I came to appreciate the vastness of Guyana and its difference from the rest of the Caribbean. Most of the Caribbean islands have been surveyed and measured, and as far as the land forms are concerned, they are known entities. Capitals in the Caribbean sit snugly in port cities where just over the hills, the Caribbean Sea continues.

Guyana, on the other hand, is a tangle of roots and liana that is foreign to most of us in the Caribbean. Its vastness frightened me, for it seemed to stretch back to the beginning of time—a hot ball of gas cooling to become rocks and rivers--a jungle teeming with an Amerindian presence breathing down the neck of Georgetown--itself a world with its own wandering peoples.

In his fiction and poetry, Wilson Harris not only expanded our awareness of the physical size of the Caribbean, but also the deep, sometimes dark, psychic areas (dreamscapes) of our imagination.

Behring Straits

The tremendous voyage between two worlds
is contained in every hollow shell, in every name that echoes
a nameless bell,
in tree-trunk or cave
or sound: in drowned Asia’s bones:
a log-book in the clouds
names the straits of eternity: the marbles
of ocean and indomitable tides.

(From The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse)
For an excellent site on Wilson Harris, follow this link:


March 23, 2006

Happy Birthday Walter Rodney (from xango music)

When I was growing up, the name Walter Rodney was never spoken out loud in my family. He was accused of many plots against the government—the most infamous was that he and some UWI students (read radicals) were going to poison the water in the Mona reservoir. Walter Rodney struck fear in our collective “brown” middle class hearts.

It wasn’t until I was in fifth form and preparing for my GCE “O” Levels that I began reading his banned book (with “fear and trembling”—I was going to hell for reading those kinds of books), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, that I began to realize his importance, and it was years later that I would appreciate his value as catalyst for social change in the Caribbean. Long after his assassination in Guyana, as I read his essays and transcripts of his speeches, I realized that Rodney was using a line of reasoning similar to CLR James in The Black Jacobins, who argued the economic and social challenges during the Haitian revolution (and by extension the Caribbean) are rooted in class distinctions masquerading as racism.

Rodney, in the words of another undervalued Caribbean scholar, Leonard “Tim” Hector, was “far and away the most significant intellectual and political personage of the post-independence history of the English-speaking Caribbean.” He belonged to that group of Caribbean intellectuals who began the process of the decolonization of the Caribbean psyche”—a process that still continues because the insights scholars such as Walter Rodney have not permeated the popular culture and consciousness of the Caribbean people. We still have a hard time seeing and appreciating our beauty, our genius, our intelligence, and figures like Rodney remain maverick and outlaw characters in our story. To put it another way, until we appreciate our value we will remain only producers of raw materials to be exported and remain forever underdeveloped (“Buy me cheap, sell me expensive”—Morriseau-Leroy) or “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (for the recovering Christian fundamentalists).

Walter Rodney helped to shape my political worldview, and his work along with others such as CLR James gave me an intellectual basis for the feeling that permeates Rastafari and Reggae: One Love. We are brothers and sisters.

March 21, 2006

Where in the World is Mona Heights, Jamaica?

Here’s a modified tour from Google Earth of an aerial map of Mona Heights, Jamaica. Many of my short stories and two-thirds of Benjamin, My Son take place in Mona Heights. In fact, a revamped version of “I Want to Disturb my Neighbor” will be published in Iron Balloons (Akashic Books) edited by Colin Channer, in June 2006.

Here’s the link:


March 20, 2006

Podcast of "Nanny" by Geoffrey Philp

The story of Nanny, like many of the sisters in the African diaspora, remains untold. I was first made aware of Nanny’s significance by Lorna Goodison and later by Karla Gottlieb’s, The Mother of Us All: A History of Queen Nanny.

This poem is livicated to all the sisters who continue to bring us the unheard voices.

Here’s the link:

One Love.

March 16, 2006

Flip Flops and T-shirts

I admire the Miami Dade College Chess Club, and it’s not just because I work at the North Campus. These students represent what’s best about our college. We take cast-offs (or if you prefer balseros) and build castles.

I also like their (what they call in my neighborhood) chutzpah. They are taking on colleges and universities whose players wear penny loafers and blazers with colors and emblems that go back to when Jose Marti was a boy, and they are kicking ass and taking names while wearing T-shirts and flip-flops* .

But don’t let them fool you. They also come with a sense of pride and history. They all know about Capablanca, and based on their study of past masters, they know the strategic and tactical value of each move on the board even though they are playing a new game. (Chess as Buddhist practice?)

I am also writing this with a lot of envy. This team of primarily young Cubans has really turned the chess world on its head in a game that is noted for its abstract strategy.

So, while we continue to play dominoes (a game that is defined as game of chance with yes, some strategy, but not the level of multiple intelligences you need to play chess). young Cubans are playing chess and dominoes in Havana and Hialeah. And their ability to play chess well is honored within the culture. It’s expected.

We (Jamaicans), however, are still expected to excel in the physical arena and (to use Professor Nettleford’s term) as minstrels. Sure, we can run fast (prerequisite for any fowl tief), sing, and have a bobsled team of which we are proud, but do we really expect our children to excel in intellectual and/or artistic arenas? Honestly?

Yes, there are within the diaspora intellectual and artistic way showers, but they are always viewed as “the ones who made it despite the odds.” And there you have it. Their intellectual/artistic excellence wasn’t expected. They must be different from the rest.

We’re not. In my own case, even when I was playing the prodigal son, I still knew what the expectations (Jamaica College was, after all, my alma mater. But what about those of whom nothing or nothing good was expected?). When I was finally given or created my own opportunities, I jumped in feet first. Expectation meets opportunity. It’s not a coincidence that Miami Dade College’s motto is “Opportunity Changes Everything!” The Miami Dade Chess Team exemplifies this.

*The flip-flop and t-shirt image (also a part of their psychological strategy) illustrates the Caribbean spirit that does not rely on external trappings to prove our genius--“we wear our garments loosely.". We can jump up to Calypso and read Camus, for we have grown up in the shadow of Eleggua or if you prefer Papa Legba or Anancy. Thus, we are forever (to use a Dubyaism) misunderestimated.

March 14, 2006

I am Pi

I am Pi truncated to 48 decimal places...

3rd Annual Everglades Awareness Benefit Concert

The 3rd Annual Everglades Awareness Benefit Concert at Tobacco Road is sponsored by Ploppy Palace Productions, Atlas Sound, Cymbal Outfitters, Anamaze Productions, 7th Circuit Productions, Online and The Wallflower Gallery

Currently, the Everglades is one of the most threatened natural habitats in the western hemisphere. Residential development, water management, and agricultural use have shifted natural water patterns and have altered the vitality of the ecosystem. With an alarming number of people moving into South Florida every year, we need to come together and help to protect the Everglades for our survival.

Rio, Raven, Geoffrey Philp and other spoken word artists will be presenting innovative poetry with musical accompaniment. Mark A.S. will be offering a satirical commentary about history and the progressive attitude towards the environment. TranZenDance Dance Company will be performing a variety of dance and movement pieces to energetic, rhythmic percussion and ambient tones. Carlos Rodriguez will be rendering a live art demonstrations to visually complement the music.

Saturday, March 18, 2006
4:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Tobacco Road
626 South Miami Ave.,
Miami, Florida


21 Years Old + with IDAdmission is $ 10.




Miami, Florida, March 14, 2005—Multiple award winning journalists, Jim Screechy and Van Doolu, have reappeared in South Florida after being spotted on a sand bar in Hallandale. The dynamic reporting duo disappeared a few weeks ago while reporting on crop circles in Jamaica and had not been seen since that ominous day. Jim Screechy and Van Doolu, who were rescued by two early morning bathers, were given towels as they had been found naked and without any form of identification.

“Van can’t swim and I wasn’t going to leave him alone,” said Jim. “Is a good thing them two guys find we,” he added. “If the Coast Guard had found us, them might hold we on the wet foot-- dry foot policy like the Cubans, and Van would go straight to Krome, for him foot back tough like a Spanish Town handcuff.”

The normally loquacious Van Doolu remained silent.

Asked to explain how they showed up in Florida when they were last seen in Jamaica, and they clearly had no visible means of proving how they ended up on the sand bar, the two men offered no comment.

However, when pressured for an answer, Van Doolu in a moment of anger exclaimed, “Is alien abduction! Alien abduct and probe we!”

“Shhhhh,” said Jim.

“No,” said Van. “No, I cyaan keep quiet while this is going on. Is nastiness! Alien abduction and probing going on in Jamaica! The world! Them probe me!”

“Stop talk now,” said Jim.

“No," said Van Doolu. “Not after what them do to me! Them go where no man has ever gone before!”

“Hush up" said Jim Screechy, sounding more like Judge Dread with each passing moment.

“And is not me one! Whole heap of people when they think they sleeping at night being abducted and probed by alien. When them think them having dream about flying or standing naked in front of a crowd of people, is alien probing them!”

The normally stoic Jim Screechy then burst into tears and would only say he was remembering a scene from Brokeback Mountain, and couldn’t hold it in any longer.

The two reporters requested and have been granted two months sick leave and upon completion will resume their duties at our headquarters.

March 13, 2006

Happy Birthday, Félix Morisseau-Leroy!

The first time I met Morisseau-Leroy was at the Miami International Book Fair (1980). I had just graduated from the University of Miami, and I had been invited to give a lecture on the Negritude Movement. I spent days researching the topic and several more days writing the paper.

When I got to the Koubek Center, I was ushered on the stage by Mervyn Solomon and as I was getting ready for the program to begin, I glanced up at the stage and saw this old man with a crown of white hair. Who’s this old guy? I thought.

I gave what I thought was a brilliant lecture and as I stepped off the stage, I looked over at the old guy as if to say, “Top that!”

The moderator brought the microphone over to Morisseau-Leroy (his eyesight had been failing) and he began, “When I was in Paris. I met "Leopold [Senghor] and Cesaire..." Morisseau-Leroy then proceeded to give an intimate portrait of the luminaries of the Negritude Movement. Many of the people that I had researched, he had known and met during his exile in France courtesy of “Papa Doc” Duvalier. So much for youthful hubris.

After the lecture, I introduced myself to Morisseau-Leroy and over the years, he and I had some wonderful conversations. I learned how he met his wife in Jacmel and how he ended up in France.

Morisseau-Leroy was one of the first Haitian writers to write a play, Antigone, in Kreyol. The night after the play (as Morisseau-Leroy told me), he was awakened by the sound of loud knocking on his door. He went to the door and saw armed soldiers at the door.

After a few minutes of going back and forth behind the closed door, Morisseau-Leroy opened the door and the soldiers informed him that they had come to escort him to the airport.

“But I don’t have a visa and my passport has expired,” Morisseau-Leroy protested.
“All that has been taken care of, Monsieur Leroy,” the sergeant informed him

The futile protestations went back and forth until Morisseau-Leroy finally put on his jacket over his pajamas and went to the airport. Morisseau-Leroy later learned that it had only been his friendship (?) with “Papa Doc” (they had been classmates) that had saved him from an even worse fate.

Over the years, Morisseau-Leroy and I gave many readings in South Florida. The one that I remember the most was after the capsizing of the cargo vessel, Neptune, off the coast of Haiti. The radio announcer had casually passed it off a “just another Haitian boat sinking” and in my mind, I had agreed. I looked over at Morisseau-Leroy and saw tears in his eyes. What a sweet little old man I thought as he fumbled with the dials on the radio. Maybe he wants me to turn up the radio. I was wrong, again. They were tears of anger, and Morisseau-Leroy was trying to turn off the radio.

“Every life is precious,” Morisseau-Leroy said and then said something in Kreyol.

And that was when it hit me. I had become so wrapped up in the North American media that I couldn’t see the tragedy of my Haitian brothers and sisters still drowning on the waterways of the Middle Passage. It was not “just another Haitian boat capsizing.”

It was through Morisseau-Leroy that I began to see Haiti and the Caribbean in a whole new way. His allegiance to Haiti and the Caribbean was inspirational, and rather than the kindly old man as I was trying to frame him, I saw a revolutionary who was committed to the aspirations of his people. This commitment took the form of plays and poems, and as he said in the poem, “New Testament”:

In 1954
I wrote my will
I said I don’t want any priest
To speak Latin over my head

I don’t have that problem today
Because priests
Don’t speak latin anymore

Even God
Had to learn Creole
Like any other white man
Coming here
To do business with us

From Haitiad & Oddities

Morisseau-Leroy re-affirmed for me what Brathwaite had been saying about “nation language” or Jamaican or patwa or whatever you want to call it. He respected the dignity of his people to speak in a language that was as natural as their breath. This didn’t mean that they were stuck in one language. People from the Caribbean speak in many tongues just to stay alive.

Morisseau-Leroy was a brave man and he had a sense of artistic integrity that I always admired. He made me see the Caribbean in a new way and the poem “Neptune” from Florida Bound (1998) was livicated to honor him. In fact, the opening poems of xango music contain many poems that evoke the memory of Morisseau-Leroy.

It was a pleasure and an honor to have known Morisseau-Leroy, and for this, I give thanks.

Google Search for Felix Morisseau-Leroy

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March 11, 2006

Podcast of Domino Scene from Benjamin, My Son

The novel, Benjamin, My Son, is about a young Jamaican man, Jason Lumley, who is now living in Miami and has vowed that he would never return to the island. But after a brief brush with the law and the death of his father, Alvaro Lumley, the Minister of Justice in the government of Jamaica, Jason returns goes home, and in doing so he must confront his past.

The scene begins when Jason is on his way to Jamaica College, his alma mater, and is making his way through Standpipe, a Kingston ghetto.

Benjamin, My Son: Caribbean Literature Textbook


March 10, 2006

It's All About Love: Caribbean Writers

No, this isn’t about Earth, Wind, & Fire as the picture or title suggest. (Or maybe, it is!) It’s about the nature of this blog which has opened some doors that I never thought could or would be opened, and some that I thought were closed. For example, I have re-made contact with Fragano (I still have some of his early poems) through this blog. And in a recent blog exchange, I learned something about Fragano and Dennis Scott, my mentor and friend, that I’d never known (see the Comments on Mona for details).

The exchange also confirmed something about point of view: it often says more about us than the thing being observed. So many times I’ve said to an acquaintance, “You know, So-and-So is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met!” Only to have them say, “Really! I always thought she was sad and depressed.” Usually, that was a signal for me to move on.

But Fragano’s story made me realize that as I celebrate the life of writers who have touched my life, or as Dennis would say,

...since there is no armour
but the festivals we make
hand over hand
(the heart's drum louder
than any sound of soldier's falling)
till the war is over
let us celebrate
ourselves, all that is kind
and carnival, living
without goodbyes
without the acquiescences of grief
of ending
That small victory, only.

And because I don’t believe in clouding the blog with transitions—the blog for the murdered child was an aberration, but I couldn’t make it just go so. That youth’s transition really touched me, not only because of the glow in his face that has now been taken away by a “dog heart” man, but it happened in the place where I first learned about love. I really love Mona and Jamaica. They taught me about love, and loving there I learned to love other places and people. Or as Derek Walcott in Another Life speaking to his wife about, Anna, says,

And do I still love her, as I love you?
I have loved all women who have evolved from her

So, I’ve made a personal list of birthdays that I hope to celebrate. What I’m hoping for is on the day of the person’s birthday, all the people who knew and loved the person to attach a particular memory to the Comments section of the blog. (Do I really know what I'm getting into here? If I am tell me) Some people have sent me private emails (which I haven’t shared because I didn’t know if they want everybody knowing their business, so I’m leaving the choice up to them) to post it in the Comments section.

Some have been put off by the word verification feature of the blog. The word verification feature is to protect the site from spammers.

So, if you have a personal memory of anyone listed here, get ready to send it in. Or if you want to contribute the memory on that day, send it and I will post it first. Don’t send me stuff from Wikipedia or the person’s web page. I can do that!

I’ve restricted the list to Caribbean writers who have passed what Seamus Heaney calls the “envy test,” or just plain, “Rispec’!”

I haven’t included non-Caribbean writers because their own people are busy celebrating them, so why should I with the limited time and space on my hands, include such obvious people like Marquez, Joyce, and Flannery O’Connor?

Here is the intended list.

Robert Antoni
Opal Adisa
Julia Alvarez
Reinaldo Arenas
Edward Baugh
James Berry
Neil Bissondath
Dionne Brand

Kamau Brathwaite
George Campbell
Jan Carew
Patrick Chamoiseu
G. Cabrera Infante
Alejo Carpentier

Martin Carter—missed him this year. But give thanks, Jebratt!
Adrian Castro
Colin Channer
Michelle Cliff
Merle Collins
Afua Cooper

Christine Craig
Fred D’Aguiar

Edwidge Danticat
Rene Depestre
Oscar Dathorne
Kwame Dawes
Junot Diaz
Zee Edgell
Garfield Ellis
Frantz Fanon
Rosario Ferre
Brenda Flanagan
Rawle Frederick
Marcus Garvey
Thomas Glave
Edouard Glissant
Lorna Goodison
Jean Goulbourne
Nicolas Guillen
Wilson Harris
John Hearne
Nalo Hopkinson
Slade Hopkinson
Cynthia James
Janet Jagan

Anthony Kellman
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Dany Laferriere
Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool
Earl Lovelace
Roger Mais
Bob Marley
Paule Marshall
Anthony McNeill
Edgar Mittelholzer
Pamela Mordecai
Mervyn Morris
Felix Morriseau-Leroy—Soon Soon 3/13/06
VS Naipaul—Arrgh. But without Miguel Street, there wouldn’t be Uncle Obadiah and the Alien
Oku Onoura
Orlando Patterson
Sasenarine Persaud
Caryl Phillips
Velma Pollard
Patricia Powell
Jennifer Rahim
Jacques Roumain
VS Reid

Elaine “Jamaica Kincaid” Potter
Walter Rodney
Andrew Salkey
Dennis Scott
Mikey Smith
Malachi Smith
Virgil Suarez

Michael Ekweueme Thelwell
Ana Lydia Vega 

Derek Walcott
Anthony Winkler

There are some birthdays that I’ve done this year, and some that I haven’t. There is always next year and the next year. This is a project that will last for years and some will be added—there’s no need for subtraction, they’ll be in Outlook.

For some of the birthdays, my crack team of researchers (crack is right) and I have been trying to find out these dates, but either due to inattention (on my part) or the downright laziness of my researchers (you can’t get good help these days), I have yet to send the persons or in some cases, the persons managing their estate an email requesting the information—which is not available of the web or in Fifty Caribbean Writers.

Some people haven’t answered. I don’t mean to be sexist, but the brothers have been far more forthcoming than the sisters. It’s all right.

Some people (even friends) when I have asked, have responded, “What you asking for?” —like I was going work obeah. When I told them that I was celebrating the person’s life they usually responded in a matter of minutes or days. So, if I haven’t asked you yet and you see your name on the list, send it, nuh?

I’m holding off on some. The obvious ones who have become stars in my galaxy, Walcott, Brathwaite, and Bob Marley (hate to use the term “public property”), I have included without asking permission. The others have been gracious. So, until I get confirmation from the person, I’m not putting up their names for them to come cuss me off and have bad mind gainst me because “bad mind worse than obeah.”

Also, because this is a personal blog—I know some people will say I should have included X or Y. But I’m not going to be a hypocrite and include someone because I think I will gain kudos from J or L. This blog is really an act of love. And, for me, love is or does.

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March 9, 2006


I have always been fascinated by dominos. And not because the word is sometimes synonymous with concealment, façade, or duplicity, which, for a writer, is heaven--figuring out the “truth” of a situation and when that doesn’t work, just making stuff up. Indeed, it is through the game of dominos that I have learned many things about my friends, and I have met many people who have become very important in my life and fictions.

My earliest recollection of dominos goes back to when I was living in Mona Heights, and my brother, Ansel (co-founder of Real Mona a la Real Madrid), Uncle Danny, Uncle Bunny, (uncles of my friend, David), Nando (my cousin), David’s father, and various other “uncles” would begin their games at 12 noon on Saturdays and play until 12 midnight. Of course, there would be liberal amounts of alcohol and the smell of tobacco from cigarettes, cigars and pipes would fill the air. Our aunts and mothers (my mother was excluded, Saturday was Sabbath) would be cooking and supplying food that was either freshly cooked or left over from their mah-jongg or bridge parties on Friday nights. Mona Heights when I was growing up was a cosmopolitan enclave in Kingston where Africans, East Indians, Chinese, English, Scots, Irish (we knew the difference) , Germans (during my adolescence one permanently bikini-clad German woman tried to teach me German--and I was learning a few words!—until she figured out I wasn’t hanging around to learn how to say hund correctly), and homegrown Jamaicans (and this was just my block) who were a mixture of all of these, came together to build a community that fell apart with Michael Manley (another famous JC Old Boy) and democratic socialism.

But the game was the thing, and my friends, Junior, Paul, David, and I grew up watching these men play dominos, and after our football games, we could play dominos on Pat Chin’s verandah or over at Jah Mick’s house ("I Want to Disturb my Neighbor") where we had our first introduction to roots music. Our games, like our fathers’ and uncles’, were friendly and if we did bet, it was usually, “If I lose, I’ll drink a gallon of water!”—sort of like Truth or Dare where we would talk and tease each other about what happened during the week. We were basically amateurs playing what Uncle Danny called, “a big man’s game”.

It wasn’t until I began working at the Collector General’s Office in Jamaica that I realized the truth of that statement.

Dominos at the Collector General’s Office was a serious business. We would play dominos during our morning, tea (holdover from the British colonial system) and lunch breaks with our food or tea (Ha!) served to us my Daisy, the cook from the cafeteria. Shine (who had set up the tables and chairs at the back end of the filing room), Alex, Dicko, Georgie, and Peggy (who became the model for the character in Chapter Nine of Benjamin, My Son) became my mentors. 

They were masters of a game that involves some amount of chance—but to paraphrase W.C. Fields speaking about poker, “Not the way I play it”—concentration, mathematical/analytical skills, and intuition. I am only good at the chance and intuition. Shine and Georgie showed me the dark side of dominos that involves hand signs and codes (strange they should choose that word) to win. It was by watching them that I recreated the Standpipe domino scene in Benjamin, My Son. They were also the ones who dubbed me “The Bareback Kid”—a double entendre having to do with “posing” a tile or “card” without enough similar “cards”, and a reference to having sex without a condom (See also yesterday’s post about nicknames). I learned how the game could be used by brilliant people with excellent mathematical/ analytical skills (who for the most part had been discarded by the system since they were eleven because they had not been given a full high school education at prestigious places like Jamaica College), but knew how to “read” a game and people.

Yet, as good as they were, the master remains for me, Beeline, a small, thin Black man who was always dressed in blue, Banlon shirts. I met Beeline at the Hogg Heaven Hotel in Negril (my friend, Paul, was the manger), and he became for me what the game was all about.

Beeline was a gracious man who could consume huge amounts of whisky, vodka, and John Crow Batty while smoking and telling jokes. Beeline (when I met him, he was in his late sixties and blind in one eye--my one-eyed Tiresias), could read a game (to figure out the cards in each player’s hand with a high degree of accuracy) after one round, and if he wanted to he could win or lose (he would always lose to the tourists—he wasn’t a fool). He could code and could spot a code, but he never used code. He taught me many things about the game and in the short time I was there, about life. He eventually became a character in a short story, "Beeline Against Babylon” which was published in The Caribbean Writer. I’d like to think that Beeline is still down in Jamaica playing dominos, drinking, laughing, teaching the tourist where, when, and what to avoid during their stay. But I’m probably wrong.

I learned about camaraderie and friendship from playing dominos, and my friends, Junior, Paul, Pat (he has since died), and David, have shown me that even though we might be miles apart, if we pull out a pack of dominos (bone, ivory, plastic, metal or wood), a few chairs or crates, a table or flat surface, and a couple of Red Stripes, we will all have a great evening filled with trash talking, jiving, laughing—and everything will be irie.

March 8, 2006

JC Memories: How I Became Herbert Spliffington, Esq.

About thirty-seven years ago after I passed the Common Entrance Exams and won a scholarship to Jamaica College (which I tell my children was like attending Hogwart’s, but without the magic), I landed in Murray House with Keith “Doghead” Brown and Eroll “Macky D” McDonald. Both of them decided that I needed a nickname because so many people mispronounced my last name, Philp, by calling me Phillip or Phillips.

They had tried many names, but none ever stuck for long. They’d even tried “Satchmo” because in the grand Jamaica College tradition, all first form boys if asked to sing a song by any boy in a form above them, would have to, upon pain of candle greasing or any other torture that the boys in the upper school could devise, sing a song. I made the process into a joke and sang “Hello, Dolly” by Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. So, for a while, I was known as “Satchmo”. But for Macky D and Doghead this was not enough.

But then, we were given an assignment by our history teacher to write an essay and draw a map of an imaginary island in the Caribbean while using what we had learned about the Arawaks and Caribs. If I remember correctly, I was bored with the assignment, and by then, my fascination with Rastas was already beginning to grow. I drew my island in the shape of a Rastaman in profile (like the back cover of Bob Marley's, Burnin’) and my island had the Arawaks and Caribs fishing in the Herbific Ocean, planting cassava on the Ganja Plains under Splifftiferous Mountains. (I was not smoking the weed. My Seventh day Adventist/Jehovah’s Witness mother would have disowned me.) My history teacher was not amused. At least, not publicly. She gave me a “D."

Doghead and Macky D loved it and dubbed me, Herbert Spliffington, Esq. The name caught on like wildfire, and soon Jimmy Carnegie, Assistant Principal of JC, was calling me “Herbie”. When I began playing football, I began to be known as “Little Herbs,” so I would not be confused with our star forward, Herbie Nelson. Of course, this led to other complications when Rasta became popular in Jamaica and some began calling me, JahGeoff, in true Twelve Tribes of Israel style. The only person who resisted calling me all these names was Alvin “Seeco” Patterson, who insisted that my true-true name was “Brown Man” and never called me anything else when we used to play football down at Island House. Of course, this all became fodder for my novel, Benjamin, My Son and the protagonist's quest for identity.

My football friends, however, remained with the name, “Herbert Spliffington,” and sometimes young ladies called my house and asked to speak with “Herbert Phillips”. My mother hung up the phone on them. She didn’t know any Herbert Phillips, or Herbie. She had named her son, Geoffrey.

She should have heard what my domino playing friends were calling me.

March 7, 2006


Yesterday's blog, "Another Child Murdered" was totally unplanned. I went to the Jamaica Observer site just to check out what was happening in Jamaica. Then, the shock.

I've been accused many times of "taking bad tings make joke," but I can't with this one. It's beyond all joke.

What I can do and I did once I got up this morning was to keep a positive vibe because no matter how bad things get, if I get depressed, it's still not going to change the condition. I am not a Pollyanna. "Better to light a candle than curse the darkness." 

So, I've re-livicated myself to community education efforts outside of Miami Dade College, where I work, and more than anything else to keep my sense of humor going. It's the most I can do for the young brothers and sisters who are being killed by the poisonous idea that Black children are expendable. It has permeated our culture and those on the fringes keep acting out that belief.

So, here's a blast from the past that I constructed some time ago: Which Wailer Are You?

Yes, it is I, Herbert Spliffington, Esq. It's a long story and fit for a blog all by itself.

March 6, 2006

Another Child Murdered

I try to pace myself with these posts. Give myself time to think and then post, but now this is ridiculous:

Look at this boy in the Jamaica Observer. He could have been me when I was his age. I went to Mona Primary. I lived in Mona Heights. This is not the first youth to die, but now, cho man!

This boy could have been my son. He looks like my son. I am so vexed. It makes me sick. I never thought I would never write a post/something like this.

And not because is "brown" yout. There is no "brown". Black is a color of political allegiance, so my little Black brothers all over Jamaica are being killed. And for what?

Any society that cannot, will not protect its young is barbaric.

And I am not naive enough to believe that there will never be crime--there is something in our nature that if not curbed leads us to this criminality.

This is insanity!

My Life is About Finding Time to Dream

This isn’t a plug for American Express, but M. Night Shyamalan’s, Life is About Finding Time to Dream: , captures the dilemma of every artist/writer—whether the market or critics deem them “uncommercial,” “good” or “bad”. It’s about finding time to create. (Everyone should make some time for re-creation and introspection, but that's another blog)

Walt Whitman
wrote, “I loafe and invite my soul,” in “Song of Myself”. It’s trying to find that balance in one’s work while not pandering to purely commercial interests—to tell the story of one’s time/space even when things have not changed as Derek Walcott lamented in Another Life, “How many would prefer to this poem/ to see you drunken in a gutter / to catch in the corner of their workrooms/ the uncertified odour of your death?” and “Who want a new art, / and their artists dying in the old way."

The position is precarious for artists of African descent who are aware of the backbreaking work of our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters even while we carve out time to “dream”—which to most people doesn’t seem like work at all: “It’s so natural. Anyone can do that!”

So, on the one hand, we have the collective history of Africans being lazy, etc., and on the other hand, we have the noise in our heads (especially those of us from middle-class Caribbean backgrounds): “With all that schooling and book learning, and look what the boy take it and go do—say him is now writer! And what him say him writing? Poem! And not even good poem with a little music, so him could even make some money. Poem that get print in some place and him not even getting any money for it! Is a shame!”

And that word, “shame” has been used to keep so many of us in line. And sometimes it wasn’t done out of hate. It was done out of fear and sometimes, love. A plantation can not be sustained by mavericks or anyone who questioned the status quo: "You're here to work, not think, damn it!"

Mavericks in a dominated class were either killed or beaten into submission. Our parents, especially our mothers, loved us, and they didn’t want to see us get beaten or killed, and so they said, “Do, boy, do. Anything but a writer. Anything but a artist. You going kill you poor mother if you do this thing!”

Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

And to those who say, “That was a long time ago!”, they forget that until a behavior or belief is brought out into the open and challenged (which is what artists and thinkers do), then any poisonous idea that is in the culture will continue to have a corrosive effect on the body, soul, and mind of an oppressed people.*

And if you think we are still not oppressed by poisonous ideas, look at the state of African health across the globe and remember what brother Plato said, "Neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul. . . . You begin by curing the soul [or mind]." Or as Bob Marley (paraphrasing the words of Marcus Garvey) said, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds!” And remember African art or anything derived from the African experience isn’t worth anything until some non-African says it’s worth something. And I’m not talking kente cloth—that’s now almost a mask for supposed African authenticity. Kente and dreadlocks could mean the same thing now—one is fashionable while spitting on artists.

And we are still doing this to ourselves.

Is a shame!

*This is a truism that's worth re-stating in these conservative times in America: the status quo favors those in charge. Those who want to be in charge and those who think they are in charge vote or consent to the status quo (this is not a call to anarchy), and keep everyone one else in check by either seductive/selfish ideas like Objectivism—which has been called social Darwinism because it’s a “dog eat dog world”.

Sure it’s a “dog eat dog world” which is great when you’re born as a pit bull in a world of Chihuahuas. You make the rules: “Only dogs this high will get meat and milk bones. Everyone else eats crumbs”.

And if you are a particularly tenacious Chihuahua, then expect to meet in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, the full force of pit bull rule.

But why should a Chihuahua try to be a pit bull? “This is a one dog world, brother. Either you’re a pit bull or you’re dead. So, what’s it gonna be, punk?”

Which is why, perhaps, so many (sometimes poor/white) Americans who claim to be Republicans vote against their class interests and vow to abolish the social contract which includes institutions such as the Department of Education: “Some day, some day, we’ll have it all and we won’t pay all those taxes so that those free loafers (in some cases, read minorities) and artists (who will never do a hard day’s work) to live off our hard earned money”.

March 3, 2006

Pam Mordecai @ The Diaspora Vibe Gallery

Pam Mordecai Pam Mordecai, a pioneer in the movement to expose the writing of Caribbean women, will be reading at Diaspora Vibe Gallery, 3938 North Miami Ave, Miami, on March 23, 2006 at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Mordecai will read poems and short stories, including work from her most recent collection, The True Blue of Islands. The event, another in the JAMPACT Culture Series, is a fundraiser in aid of JAMPACT’s five adopted basic schools in Jamaica: Coles, Crescent Road, Maxfield Park, Mt. Olive, and St. Stephens. JAMPACT’s mission is to use our collective energies, intelligence, and resources to make positive contributions towards the improvement of social and economic conditions in Jamaica.

A prolific anthologist, Dr. Mordecai has edited five ground breaking anthologies including Jamaica Woman (with Mervyn Morris), Her True-True Name (with Betty Wilson), and From Our Yard: Jamaican Poetry since Independence and, most recently, Calling Cards: New Poetry from Caribbean/Canadian Women. She has also published sixteen textbooks, four collections of poetry, and five books (poetry and stories) for children. In 2000, Greenwood Press (CT., USA) published Culture and Customs of Jamaica, a reference work co-authored with her husband, Martin. In 2001, Goose Lane Editions published, Certifiable: Poems, which received enthusiastic reviews in Canada, the Caribbean, the UK, and the US.

Pam and her family immigrated to Canada in 1993, and are the principals at Sandberry Press in Toronto, Canada.

Event Contact: Cathy Kleinhans:
JAMPACT Culture Series
Tel.: 954-709-4780/347-563-5899

Diaspora Vibe Gallery,
3938 North Miami Ave,
Madonna Building, Miami, FL 33127

March 1, 2006

Reading @ The Wallflower Gallery

Friday, March 3 - Voice & Soul Showcase with

  1. Preston Allen, Mark A.S., Geoffrey Philp

  2. Featured Spoken Word @ 8:00 p.m.
  3. $5

Want to know how to get there?

The Wallflower Gallery is located @ 10 N.E. 3rd St. in Downtown Miami, FL 33132

Three blocks west from Biscayne Blvd. on N.E. 3rd St.
On the corner of N. Miami Ave.
Greenish-yellow building with mural - purple flower on door

(P) 305-579-0069
(F) 305-579-0050