June 29, 2007

Official Launch of Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories

Grandpa Sydney's Anancy StoriesWe’re gonna have a little party tomorrow for the launch of Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories at Kara's Jamaican & Chinese Restaurant, 8120 Pines Blvd, Hollywood, FL 33024. There’ll be goody bags for the kids and door prizes for the grownups.

We’ll also have music by Ms. Norma Darby & Jamaica Folk Revue and a recital by Britanny Murphy, as well as a few giveaways by Jamaicans.com and Air Jamaica.

Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories is now available @

Amazon.com in the UK

Amazon.com in the US

Barnes and Noble


Drop by a see us, nuh?


June 27, 2007

Big Up Yourself: The Redemption of Black Space

Big Up YourselfI don't know whether it began at the launch of Marva McClean's new book of poems, Bridges to Memory at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery, and then, nurtured at the Archaeologies of Black Memory at the University of Miami, but it all came to a head at the 14th Annual Sunrise Ancestral Remembrance of the Middle Passage Ceremony at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park on Sunday. For in all these locations, there was an incident or a discussion about the negotiation of personal space by New World Africans.

Personal space differs from person to person and from culture to culture. Yet one thing is clear--we all have a right to claim that space and the right to that space is inviolable. However, from the time of the Middle Passage, the intrusion into the personal space and the treatment of "holy space," an area designated for the performance or observation of rituals or ceremonies, within the Black community has been decimated.

The dramatic incident that brought all this together in my mind happened during what I'd like to call "Witness Time" at the Remembrance ceremony. Each person in the circle had been asked by one of the organizers, Gene Tinnie, to repeat the names of beloved ancestors and to say a few words about the ceremony. There were many heartfelt declarations, but the most poignant was that of an elderly queen who was moved to speak during the ceremony.

Apparently while the ceremony was going on, one of the drummers, a young man, spat on the ground where the participants were stepping forward to give a witness. So during what was overall a soul-filling ceremony, the elderly queen stepped forward and rebuked the young man.

It was one of those uncomfortable moments when something was happening, yet you don't know what to do. On a hygienic level, the young man should have known better. But I had to ask myself, did the young man consider the circle as a "holy space" that had been blessed by a Native American priestess who had ritually cleansed all of the participants who had come to honor the memory of those Africans who had been thrown overboard at Virginia Key Beach?

I couldn't help thinking that the young man didn't know any better. Maybe it was like the incident with my son and the paint--if we don't teach our young men, how will they know? We can't expect the culture to teach them. Miami has a reputation for rudeness and spitting, so we shouldn't expect the young man to know automatically. And yet I would also have to ask, would he have spit in a church--an officially sanctioned "holy space"? Didn't he know that by the joining of hands in a circle around an altar of palm fronds and gifts for the ancestors and that by our presence, we had designated that area of the beach a "holy space?"

I could list many reasons why I think the young man did what he did. The first one being maybe he just wanted to spit. But the main reason I think goes back to the lack of respect that we have for our personal space and our collective space which has been highly contested ever since New World Africans crossed the Atlantic in the Middle Passage. From the beginning of slavery, there has been a war fought over black bodies and black space and because we have been victims in the past, we have conceded our space and our right to that space and it has had a debilitating effect on our self-esteem.

The violation/insult to personal and collective space was decimated during the Middle Passage and afterwards during the many years of institutional and legal racism. The redemption of this space has been one of the legacies of leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. with the Civil Rights Movement's chant, "I am Somebody." Curiously, the chant was whispered during the ceremony by one of the older brothers, a survivor from the sixties, who only muttered the chant that was heard by a few of us and some hermit crabs lumbering over the sand. A variation of this chant was offered by a dreadlocked brother standing with his queen near the water when he said, "Big up yourself!"

Certainly we need to "big up" ourselves, but after so many years of having our personal and collective spaces violated, and with one third of the adult males in Florida involved in one way or another with the legal and prison systems--hardly a place for the redemption of personal space--I fear that the young man simply didn't know any better. I also fear that he may not be learning how to negotiate personal space without getting into trouble because he doesn't know the difference between assertion and aggression, and the cycle will continue.

And what about the collective spaces that we occupy? Do we think that our very presence should make that space worthy of honor and respect? In other words, now that we are free, who owns our bodies and our personal space? Do we?


Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is now available @ Amazon.com

Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories in America

Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories in UK

June 26, 2007

Personal Space and Holy Places

I've been thinking a lot about space these days--personal space and holy places. Some of these thoughts have surfaced in a post over at Global Voices, but I'll be expanding on them in an upcoming post.

For now, check out the post over at Global Voices: If Bloggers Attended the Conference on the Caribbean.


June 25, 2007

Old Barbados Through Photography by Keith Clarke

Barbados in Focus
Keith Clarke of Barbados.In.Focus has been taking some fascinating photos and he has published a new book, Old Barbados Through Photography: And the Memories They Evoke:

It is my mission to bring Old Barbados back to the forefront via photography. Whether it be some old chattel house, an old soft stone house, or some other dilapidated dwelling, you can still find some subtle beauty in them.

These stirring images came about as I escaped in to my past. Traversing the island of Barbados, I was looking for all that was old and beautiful. It led me to childhood places and what came out was a photojournalistic body of work.

Check out Old Barbados through Photography: And the Memories They Evoke.


Five Questions With Trevor "Boots" Harris

Trevor Boots HarrisTrevor "Boots" Harris, a music journalist, has worked for the past forty years with all the major print media houses in Jamaica, including the Gleaner, Star, Jamaica Record, and Jamaica Herald. Over the years T. "Boots" has also published a number of articles in music magazines such as Vibrations, Reggae-Vibrations, Roots News, and Sound and Stage Entertainment News. He syndicates the weekly "Entertainment Roundup" feature on South Florida's "Mystic 1400 AM Radio each Monday and online at www.irietimes.com and www.reggaenews.co.uk. T. "Boots" has just completed his first book, Understanding Reggae and Rastafari, in which he digs deep into ska, jazz, reggae, and the new and exciting musical cathedrals that are known as dancehalls.

1. What is dancehall?
Dancehall is an attitude, a no-nonsense state of mind that calls "a spade a spade," and it's an expression of self through music and dance that highlights social, political, religious, and economic issues as they affect Jamaicans at every imaginable level. But even more importantly, they show how these issues impact inner city residents.

2. How did dancehall begin?
Dancehall began with the sound systems playing at dances throughout Kingston at established dancehalls such as Forrester's Hall (North Street), Chocomo Lawn (West Kingston), Caterer's Hall - Manchester Square (Race Course), Grandmaw's Joint -Wellington Street-West Kingston), and the renowned 10 Lissant Road (Off North Street).
As a young man I checked out sound systems such as Tom's "The Great Sabastion," Lloyd "The Matador," Duke "The Trojan" Reid, "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, Jack Ruby, High Power, and Prince Buster. These were the top sound systems of the late 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

3. Who were the pioneers of dancehall?
The pioneers of early Jamaican music were Wilfred "Jackie "Edwards, Owen Gray, Millie Small, Lee "Scratch" Perry, King Stitt, Hugh Roy, and Prince Buster. The 1970's ushered in the likes of Brigadier Jerry, Josie Wales, Charlie Chaplin, Yellow Man, Super Cat, General Trees, and Lt. Stitchie. In the 1990s, the aforementioned DJs literally became the voice of the people, as they were able to connect with the issues and grouses of the people.

4. What is the difference between reggae and dancehall?
The difference between reggae and dancehall is quite obvious. Reggae is represented by the likes of Third World, Freddie McGregor, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, and Richie Stephens who are accepted and classified as reggae acts.

Dancehall, on the other hand, is predominantly hardcore in it's presentation. Thus, the dancehall artistes tend to be brutally frank in expressing their feelings and concerns about issues. Bounty Killer, Movado, Vybz Kartel, Elephant Man, Beenie Man, and Mr. Vega are among the ruling generals of the dancehall.

5. How did you discover dancehall?
I am, was, and will always be among those music journalists who have chronicled the progress, setbacks and the controversies that Jamaican music, in all it's varied forms, has encountered. I believe that reggae and dancehall are both capable of bringing the people of our island nation, Jamaica, together, like how Bob Marley has used reggae music to inform and soothe the world.

June 22, 2007

Anancy in MIami

It's nice to get a nod from your old school

Geoffrey Philp

UM Grad To Launch New Children's Book

Book to Incorporate Caribbean Diaspora Themes

Caribbean-AmericanGeoffrey Philp, A.B. '83, M.A. '86, will be launching his recently published children's book, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, at the end of June. Set in the multicultural environment of South Florida, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is about a young Jamaican-American boy, Jimmy Harrison, who loves school and his favorite subject is snack time! But when a new boy, Kevin, joins his class, he begins to bully Jimmy and the rest of the children. Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories draws on the rich oral tradition of Anancy stories that are told and re-told in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean. These Anancy stories, which originated in West Africa, are rich sources of wisdom that have been passed down from generation to generation. Philp has authored numerous books and poetry collections, and is currently the chairperson of the College Prep department at the Miami-Dade College North Campus.



Next week I'll be featuring "Five Questions with Trevor "Boots" Harris," a music journalist who has worked for the past forty years with all the major print media houses in Jamaica, including the Gleaner and Star. T. "Boots" will be discussing dancehall.


Have a great weekend!

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June 20, 2007

Why I Trust Derek Walcott More Than My Pastor

Derek WalcottI could have been a Spelling Bee champion. I had memorized all the words in the small booklet that Mrs. Pennycooke, my primary schoolteacher, had given to the finalists. It was down to Kathy F. and me. We were spelling in top form, and we'd made it through the booklet without a mistake. And then, out of the blue, Mrs. Pennycooke said to me, "Mr. Philp, spell banana." I was confident. I puffed out my chest and spelled, "B-a-n-a-n-n-a!" I was wrong. Kathy spelled "banana" correctly and went on to represent Mona Primary in the Spelling Bee. When I told my pastor about what had happened, all he said was, "Pride goeth before a fall." He was probably right, but I didn't want to hear that. My confidence was shattered, and, yes, my pride was hurt. It was as if I had committed a sin.

And in my pastor's world, I had probably committed several mortal sins. In his binary universe of sin and redemption, purity and uncleanness, the Devil was always on the prowl and contended with God for the souls of sinners like me so that he could thwart the divine order. Moral purity, which was supposed to encompass my entire life, was linked specifically to hair, dress, and speech. Any deviation or lack in any of these areas was tantamount to a declaration that you were encamped with the Devil's faction. So as I grew older, I kept my face clean, went to the barber regularly (or my father made sure), and spoke, wrote, and spelled the Queen's English correctly. It was God's will.

Then, the Jamaican revolution during the seventies with Bob Marley, Rastafari, and Michael Manley changed all of that for me. I realized that by that if I followed my pastor's logic, the Caribbean was a zone of sin because of linguistic and racial miscegenation. Still, as I made my way through Jamaica College listening to reggae, devouring the books in the library, playing football, and wondering if I'd ever write good fiction, my pastor’s voice remained in my head. And even as I read more and more books by Caribbean writers and got rid of the ideas that Africa represented "impurity and immorality" and Europe represented "purity and morality," I fretted over my immortal soul. This is not to say that some of the binary oppositions did not materialize in my readings. I suspect now that the placement of Walcott and Brathwaite in opposite camps may have to do with this tendency. Read Walcott and go to heaven; read Brathwaite and go to hell.

Imagine, then, my surprise a few years ago as I was reading Omeros in which Walcott meditates on the themes of character, observation, and language, and I came upon this passage:

Then everything fit. The pirogues crouched on the sand

Like hounds with sprigs in their teeth. The priest

sprinkled them with a bell, then he made the swift's sign.

When he smiled at Achille's canoe, In God We Troust,

Achille said: "Leave it! Is God' spelling and mine."

In this very telling scene, the position of the priest as a representative of the patrician order and European tradition, and Achille as the natural Caribbean man who inhabits a universe where "Ogun can fire one with his partner Zeus" intrigued me. The priest's bemusement with Achille’s character is reflected in his condescending smile. Achille responds to this seeming moral indictment because he cannot spell the word, "trust” with the retort, "Leave it! Is God' spelling and mine." A battle over individuality, morality, divinity, and spelling was being fought on a Caribbean beach. I loved it.

That passage was also a point of confluence for me. For despite what some of their followers claim, Brathwaite and Walcott have many traits in common. For example, both Walcott and Brathwaite are fascinated with the slippages and neologisms that have become part of the Caribbean vocabulary and how they convey identity. In this way, Walcott and Brathwaite distinguish themselves from many of their contemporaries such as VS Naipaul. In the world of Brathwaite and Walcott, speech is tied to individuality and naming is a divine function because it creates an order that is tied to the landscape and people. Defects occur when the speakers take on lifestyles that are not true to their character or when they inflict cruelty on others through greed. However, in the moral universe of Naipaul's comedies of manners, characters who are grammatically challenged howl in "broken" English from the depths of the ninth circle.

However, in Omeros, Achille’s speech demonstrates his supreme trust in the natural world of action and consequences and the lessons gleaned through observation. As the speaker in Chapter XV states, "Observation is character"(85). As I read and re-read the scene, I became immersed in Achille's seamless universe--so seamless, in fact, that he traverses time and space to encounter his ancestor, Afolabe, who was renamed "Achilles" by a "small admiral with a cloud/ on his head" (83). With Achille's simple assertion, he affirms his identity and whatever the priest assumed was irrelevant because Achille's spelling bore the mark of his personality--his individuality. Achille's individuality which was manifested in his work was linked to divinity: "Is God' spelling and mine." In other words, even in the seeming disorder of the misspelling, action, and consequences (con: with; sequence: order) a visible object was created and made Achille one with his work. Creation is an aspect of divinity. If Achille and is work are one, then there can be no error, mistakes, or sin--no matter what the priest or the tradition thought. Also, despite the misspellings that occurred in Achille's life and that of his ancestor, Afolabe, the divine order could not be upset. With any action, consequences follow a pattern, so Achille as an observer of these cycles can make the proclamation, "Leave it," or let it be?

I wish my pastor had read more of Walcott.


June 19, 2007

Caribbean Review of Books Needs Your Help

Caribbean Review of BooksFrom Nicholas Laughlin @ Antilles

"But publishing in the Caribbean is a tricky business. Audiences are broken up by geography, scattered over vast distances. Publishing houses in the region are for the most part under-capitalised, and have to struggle with the absence of an efficient regional distribution network. There are almost no indigenous institutions like arts councils or foundations helping to support writers and publishers. Getting a magazine like the CRB off the ground requires huge quantities of personal energy and enthusiasm, but energy and enthusiasm are never enough. The original Caribbean Review of Books ceased publication after three years simply because it was financially impossible to keep it going."

There is something you can do to help us, dear readers. Subscribe. A year's subscription to the CRB costs US$24.99 in the Caribbean and $29.99 elsewhere, and you can subscribe using your credit card via a secure online transaction.


One of the best ways to support the arts and artists in the Caribbean is by financial contributions and subscriptions to magazines such as CRB.


June 18, 2007

Remembrance of Impounded Fathers: Father’s Day, 2007.

Edwidge DanticatEdwidge Danticat wrote this very moving tribute in the New York Times:

My father died in May 2005, after an agonizing battle with lung disease. This is the third Father’s Day that I will spend without him since we started celebrating together in 1981. That was when I moved to the United States from Haiti, after his own migration here had kept us apart for eight long years.

My father’s absence, then and now, makes all the more poignant for me the predicament of the following fathers who also deserve to be remembered today.

For more of Edwidge’s remembrance in the New York Times, please follow this link:



Annual Sunrise Ancestral Remembrance of the Middle Passage Ceremony

Middle PassageThe 14th Annual Sunrise Ancestral Remembrance of the Middle Passage Ceremony will be held on Sunday, June 24, 2007, beginning at 5:45 a.m., at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, just off Rickenbacker Causeway at the second traffic signal.

Offerings of fruits, flowers, grains, seeds, and other appropriate tokens of remembrance are all welcome, as this year’s ceremony observes the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the slave trade and what those British and American laws meant for those who endured the Atlantic crossing.

The event is free and open to everyone. For further information, call 305-904-7620 or 786-260-1246.

Altine/Productive Hands
Liberty City, FL 33147


June 15, 2007

Charity and the Imagination

Caribbean-American Heritage MonthJust before I gave my speech at the Miramar Civic Center, I had a fascinating conversation with a JC Old Boy, we'll call him Michael to save him from su-su, about charity in the Caribbean. It soon became an interesting discussion that drew in a few others, and I made a comment about recent post in Moving Back to Jamaica, "Giving is Hard to Do," where Francis lamented:
We in Jamaica make it so hard for ourselves. While there is a lot of in your face begging, even from the able bodied, our organizations are so poorly run that they cannot accomplish even the simple task of receiving gifts of time and money.

The deeper our conversation went, the more I learned that our giving, when it does happen, flows in the form of remittances from one family in the US to an extended family in Jamaica. That charity, however, rarely extends to members outside the family. The seriousness of our discussion was brought home by the plight of our alma mater, Jamaica College.
As I got ready to go onstage, Michael asked me how I thought the situation could be changed. I sensed that Michael was a no-nonsense, bottom-line kind of man, so I sipped my Johnny Walker and crushed the ice between my molars. Bad for my teeth, but I've known people like Michael all my life.
I wanted to tell Michael that the only time that humans give is when they feel an intimate connection with the receiver--when we believe that the receiver's welfare is tied to our own. Giving, therefore, is tied to an idea of oneness and is a product of the imagination--a unique faculty in humans. And this faculty has to be trained.
I wanted to tell him about one of the saddest moments of my life as a teacher and poet. I used to work as a "Bicycle Poet" with Adrian Castro and several other poets. We'd make arrangements with an elementary school, ride our bicycles into the playground where the kids used to wait for us under a tree, not knowing what would happen next, and we'd read poetry to them and teach them how to write poems and stories. The kids loved it. One day, however, I went to a school and the teacher kept the children in the classroom and refused to take them to the library. When I got there, no matter how hard I tried, the kids found it hard to use their imagination. Even when I tried to get them to use similes under the guise of telling lies: "Let's tell some lies about ourselves! My skin is like the bark of the avocado tree," they just stared at me. And the teacher had a look of "Don't you dare put your hand up or after he's gone you'll see some lies and similes." Fear dominated the classroom and it showed in the children's faces and in their body language. A complete failure of the imagination. Here was a class where a teacher was willingly training her students to become zombies--unthinking, unfeeling, unimaginative beings who do as they are told and never question anything. They were being trained not to give of themselves or their imagination.
And it's not that I don't understand the teacher's point of view. She had to manage a classroom of thirty or more kids and the last thing she needed was for them to be asking stuff. It was either them or her, and she wasn't about to give them an inch.
And why should she anyway? Giving is unnatural because it goes against our thinking that there isn't enough for everyone. So hold on to what you got, baby.
And yet we hear in the news everyday stories of people giving their lives for other people. We witnessed behaviors like this during 9/11. Why would anyone do that? According to Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth, this was a question with which Schopenhauer grappled until he came to a tentative answer that this kind of giving "represents the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization, which is that you and that other are one, that you are two aspects of the one life" (138).
But experiences like that are rare. So how do we get a group of people to care enough about each other so that they can perhaps come to the point of caring about each other? Or even change? The only way is through the imagination. The Greeks knew this. They had festivals where comedies and tragedies were performed and Aristotle witnessed a collective catharsis. The source of the catharsis, as James Joyce reminds us in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is terror which "arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the secret cause." Through the willing suspension of disbelief we enter a universe where a collective emotion is shared. When people start book clubs, it is usually because they've found other people who have shared those moments of pity, terror, and humor between the pages of a book.
These experiences and feelings are generated by the imagination. Any work that requires the sustained attention of an audience, if the artist is skillful, can achieve this--especially with readers who have been taught how to read by recognizing the patterns in fiction and are not just struggling through the thicket of words in a paragraph.
Our imaginations determine the quality of our lives. Change, personally and nationally, occurs when the imagination is engaged in purposeful activity. But to bring about the change that Michael wanted would mean investing in the tools and the people who are trained in the ways of the imagination--without the surety of the desired effects. Michael was a result oriented, if-I-put-money-in-it-I-better-see-results-soon-guy, and this kind of investment involves risk.
My friend didn't want to hear that.
Caribbean-American Heritage Month & Jamaican Diaspora Day Jamaican Diaspora Southern United States
A Celebrity-Media Mini-Sports & Health Awareness Day
Saturday, June 16, 2007, 2pm – 7pm
Delevoe Park
African American Research Library
2650 Sistrunk Blvd, Fort Lauderdale

June 13, 2007

A New Novel: Virtual Yardies

Virtual YardiesMy friends, Mad Bull, et al, will be pleased to know that I've finished the manuscript, Virtual Yardies.
You see, about a year ago, Mad Bull was going to be in Jamaica and he invited all of the Jamaican bloggers and those who were passing through to have what he called a "Link-up"—Jamaican for "Meet-up." Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go, but as I looked at the pictures of the bloggers at the "Link Up," a story began to emerge in my head. What if, given the anonymity of the blogosphere, one of the bloggers turned out to be a murderer? Then, I asked myself, who would want to murder bloggers? The more I asked myself these questions, I wondered about the form of the story. I've always been intrigued by the Joycean quote, "The nail paring god of creation," and wondered if this could be applied to this story. Sure enough, another idea came and I thought, what if the story was told entirely as blogs, IMs, and e-mails?

I immediately sent out e-mails to the attendees of the event and asked them some basic questions and then wrote the story. What emerged was a first of its kind novel, Virtual Yardies, an epistolary novel whose narrative, if it can be called that, is held together by blogs, e-mails, and Instant Messages (IMs).

Virtual Yardies is about a group of Jamaican bloggers, many of whom have never met, and decide to have "meet-up" in Negril and the reunion takes a murderous turn. Their group has been infiltrated by a religious zealot who is determined to make the island "righteous" again by killing all of them for their "sins against God and man."

With the rise in religious fundamentalism and homophobia in Jamaica (according to Time, "The Most Homophobic Place on Earth,") Virtual Yardies is a fictional examination of the effects of these issues on the lives of those who live on the other side of the "digital divide." It's also about women, anonymity, and the Internet (Kathy Sierra), and how this new phenomena, blogging, is affecting relationships and community.

Virtual Yardies is a love story between Andrew (Virtual Yardy) and Valerie (Cockpit Country Warrior), but is also an exploration of ideas about race, the Jamaican Diaspora, love, religious fundamentalism, openness in cyberspace, freedom, responsibility, relationships with fathers, memory, homophobia, and the effects of these issues on a community. The action of the novel takes place in Jamaican cyberspace, Jamaica, Miami, and the Cayman Islands and covers the period from the start of Lent through Easter Sunday. Finally, the characters range from the flirtatious Nikki with an Eye on You! to the closeted queer, Cricket, Lovely Cricket, Rastafarian, Ital Herbalist, and the self-righteous AIDS warrior, Maxine's World.

Of course, Virtual Yardies plays on the idea of mimicry (Naipaul), being and becoming, and the virtual landscape.

I finished the novel and it languished on my desktop for about three months because the few presses that I had contacted turned down the offer to publish Virtual Yardies. Imagine my when I read in Tempest Press's blog (Monday, January 22, 2007), "On the literary front, I wonder if we can expect a novel or memoir composed entirely of blogs or e-mail correspondence?"

And I thought, if this idea is out there in the ether (now known as the blogosphere), then I better finish with the edits quickly.

Well, Mad Bull, Georgia, and Leon I've finished it! And although my agent, Janell Agyeman, who has just returned from the book expo in New York, says that many of the publishers are still lukewarm--they say it's a novel about non-US people about a subject few know anything about--she's going to try anyway because Virtual Yardies is the first of it's kind in fiction--because if it is published as I imagine it (a blog novel), it creates a new kind of reading experience: a novel that can be read in a linear fashion or based on the hyperlinks in a circular mode.

Light a candle for me.

June 11, 2007

Reasonable Men Living in Unreasonable Times

Caribbean-American Heritage MonthFirst, I want to thank the JC Old Boys Association for inviting me to speak about a subject that has been central to my work ever since I found myself on these shores on April 30, 1979. You see, like many of you in this room, I never intended to become a Caribbean-American or even a Caribbean-American writer. As far I was concerned when I used to look out from the second floor of Scott Hall at JC and realized that I wanted to be a writer, the only word that I wanted added was Jamaican. Jamaican writer, Geoffrey Philp. But this was not to be. Despite my protestations and not wanting to leave Jamaica, my mother sold our house in Mona Heights and we moved to Miami. I was angry. I was depressed.
Now, once I found myself in Miami, I had two options. I could either sit around my house and bemoan the fact that I would never be called a real-real Jamaican writer because I didn't live in Jamaica--you know how our people are--or I could seize the opportunity before me and write about what was happening right before my very eyes. There was a slow and steady movement out of the Caribbean into North America and many of these Caribbean people were calling Miami home. The more I examined the movement, the more I realized that no one else from the Caribbean was writing about this. They've come and gone, but it was always like Mervyn Morris said in his poem, "Valley Prince, "Me one way out in the crowd." So out of the bottomless pit of despair I saw a sliver of sunlight, and I've been following that light to discover all that I could about this phenomena called Caribbean-Americans.
The more I studied and wrote, the more I realized that since the founding of these United States Caribbean-Americans have had a significant role in shaping the conscience of America. I'll just name a few of these famous Caribbean Americans and their accomplishments:
Source: Caribbean Wow 2.0
As you can see, Caribbean people are not new to these shores, and they have had a tremendous impact on the lives of North Americans. The big difference between those early travelers and those in our time is the numbers have increased.
Now, without going into the reasons why there is this constant stream of Caribbean people into North America, many of these Caribbean-Americans have influenced the "American Dream" of democracy and egalitarianism, and by their very presence they have highlighted one of North America's most troubling nightmares--the issue of race.
This is not to say that Caribbean people have solved the problem of race. As I said in a recent interview with Global Voices, "The Caribbean is the location of one of the most interesting and unintended social experiments in he history of the human race." You name the race, creed, or religion and we have it. The Caribbean is a space where we have had to learn racial tolerance without resorting to genocide and we have opted for class differences--CLR James sees this and many other things differently*. This is why when a person from the Caribbean who has already figured out from the time they were in their own country that they were Black and not "brown" and then move to the States where they recognize other New World Africans, they've had such a tremendous influence on America's history.
This evening, I am going to talk about three of these Caribbean-Americans, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Colin Powell, who I'd like to call reasonable men living in unreasonable times. Now, I realize that I could have chosen to talk about the accomplishments of Caribbean-American women such as Constance Baker Motley, Shirley Chisholm, and Antonia Novello, and I know some of the sisters who went to St Hugh's, St. Andrew's, and Immaculate Conception may accuse me of Jamaican male arrogance and worse, JC Old Boy "patriarchal attitudes," but this after all, is a Jamaica College Old Boys dinner. And as my old English teacher, Mrs. Holmes used to say to me, "Mr. Flip, always remember that whenever you are writing or speaking, you should always bear in mind three things: audience, purpose, and occasion."
I certainly hope these three choices match the audience. The three Caribbean-American men, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Colin Powell, exemplify what I would like to call the paradox of being of African descent in North America and at least two have been called "radical" and "revolutionary." But I beg to differ with that label. To my mind, it is because of their background in the Caribbean, they approached the issue of race from a different perspective (Watch again, In the Heat of the Night when Sidney Poitier is slapped, he slaps back without thinking) like many in North America, and they were doing what men in more gender stratified countries have always done: protected their families and their communities. In my mind, these were reasonable men living in unreasonable times. And what made these times unreasonable was the issue of race.
We all have the right to be who we are, live how we want to live, and marry who we want to marry or as Brother Bob would say, "Every man got a right to decide his own destiny" (Zimbabwe). Unfortunately, for Marcus Garvey, one day at the age of about fifteen, he went down to his little girlfriend's house and she turned him away at the gate. She said her father didn't want her playing with a "nigger" anymore. Young Marcus was shocked, dismayed, and angry. Wasn't he as intelligent as any other boy? Didn't he have rights just like everyone else? Her father and the world said no, and the more Marcus traveled, the more he found inequality based on race and he began to crusade against racial inequality. In a way, you could say that it was a failed love affair that began Garvey's career, but that this can also be said about many of our lives. In Garvey's mind, all he was asking for was an inalienable, human right, yet these were denied and he was branded as a revolutionary.
The same can be said of Malcolm X, whose mother was from Grenada. Malcolm Little, had he stayed in the Caribbean, would have been called a "brown man." And when he came to America, he became known as "Red." In his career as a civil rights activist, Malcolm X was often portrayed as a foil to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Again, in retrospect, Dr. King and Malcolm were two reasonable men living in unreasonable times. Both were asking America to live up to its promise for they truly believed that "All men were created equal." In the popular mind Dr. King has been portrayed as a "Lamb of Peace" and Malcolm X as a "Wolf of Violence." Both of these may be exaggerations. What Malcolm X did say in the heat of the civil rights movements as a counter to Dr. King's methods was, "You've been told to turn the other cheek. But I say; if any man lays his hand on you, make sure that he doesn't lay it on anyone else." (The Ballot or The Bullet) Was this revolutionary?" Every human has the right to speak and to defend himself or herself against unwarranted violence, and when a system takes away that right, it has turned a person into a zombie--unable to speak or defend himself or herself. Malcolm X didn't want to become a zombie. He would have no part in the zombification of the black nation, and if it came to using the "hard power" of the warrior instead of the "soft power" of the orator, then Malcolm X was willing to pay the price for a war that was declared against him or as he put it, "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us." Malcolm X was driven to be a warrior because of the untenable situation that he and his family found themselves and the only way out was war.
And war is not something that Caribbean people are afraid of. Mention Bois Caiman and Morant Bay and some diplomats still get the chills. It is out of this race of warriors that the so-called "Gentle Warrior" Colin Powell emerges. I say so-called because when he was going to fight in the first Gulf War, Powell said, "Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it." Does this sound gentle? Colin Powell's job was born to the role to the role of America's "First Warrior" and then "First Diplomat." Colin Powell has always been surrounded by armchair warriors who have never fought in a war nor have their children fought in wars, yet these men are quite willing to send other fathers and their children into battle to fight for so-called American values. Colin Powell rose through the ranks of the American army during the Vietnam War. He knew intimately the horrors of war. It could even be said that unlike other Secretaries of States, knew the limits of American power. As Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Powell knew the truest American value is an undying love of freedom in every sense of the word. This is something that many of us Caribbean-Americans still have to learn for we sometimes we place too much faith and trust in governments. The Founding Fathers did not have that kind of faith. They constructed American democracy with the peculiar arrangement of three co-equal branches of power. Colin Powell knew the range and limits of American power and always tried to balance America's awesome power with America's responsibility to promote the highest ideals of freedom. It's a delicate balance. There are some who have said that he was a failure because of the Gulf War, and there are some who still see him as a hero. We will never know the true reason behind his decisions in the Iraqi War, but one thing remains clear, Powell has always been guided by a sense of rightness and integrity and for that he should be called a hero.
And what is a hero? A hero is a person who convinces us that whatever is holding us prisoner can be overcome, and the lives of all these Caribbean-Americans attest to that.
But what does all this mean and especially to this audience? The motto of Jamaica College is Fervet opus in campis, "work is burning in the fields." What are the fields? Our everyday lives. In our everyday lives there is a purpose and I believe there is a reason why we have found ourselves here on this other beach, this other land of limestone. We have much to learn and we have much to teach our families and others.
For we haven't come to North America empty handed. We've come to North America with more than just our clothes in our suitcases. And I don't mean ganja. We've come to America with values that have been untouched by American racism and the holocaust meted out on our Native American brothers and sisters. And we've also come to learn from that indomitable American spirit that knows how to come together and to build engineering marvels like the Brooklyn Bridge.
But sometimes we hold back. We behave as if we are still guests and in a way we are. Many of us haven't fully made the transition to becoming Caribbean-Americans. But many our children have. They were born here and we will have to give them the examples of how to live fearlessly as they become Americans. For believe me, they are quite different from us. Those who have taken their children down to Jamaica know what I'm talking about. Or maybe it's just me alone "way out in the crowd again." But one thing I've noticed is that my children, when I've watched them interacting with the children in Jamaica, seem to have acquired that strange American restlessness. This may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing. Who knows? I only hope they have learned from me how to sometimes relax and not fight certain un-winnable fights and to save their energy for what truly matters. I hope they can learn from these Caribbean-Americans that life should be lived fearlessly. All of these Caribbean Americans have shown by their lives that we can and do make a difference in the life and dreams of America, and if we hold back, it will not only be a loss in our lives, but the lives of our families both here in America and in the Caribbean.
We can't let them, the ancestors, down. We have been privileged to go to one of the best--I'm sorry the best high school in Jamaica, and as Dr King once said, "Intelligence plus character is the goal of true education." I believe we can do it. I believe we can live up to Fervet opus in campis, "Work is burning in the fields," and we know as JC Old Boys, "For if a fire, make it burn." ("Revolution")

Caribbean-American Heritage MonthText of a speech to the Jamaica College Old Boys Association of Florida, Miramar Civic Center, June 9, 2007.
To view more photos, follow this link: JC Old Boys Association of Florida
* Thank you, Nicholas Laughlin of Antilles.

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June 10, 2007

Jamaican Diaspora Southern United States Celebrating Caribbean-American Heritage Month

Caribbean-American Heritage Month

Jamaican Diaspora Southern United States
Celebrating Caribbean-American Heritage Month

In Celebration of Caribbean-American Heritage Month
& Jamaican Diaspora Day

Jamaican Diaspora Southern United States
Presents A
Celebrity-Media Mini-Sports & Health Awareness Day
Saturday, June 16, 2007, 2pm – 7pm
Delevoe Park
African American Research Library
2650 Sistrunk Blvd, Fort Lauderdale
With Eddy Edwards and Marlon Hill

Featuring local celebrities and media competing in
nostalgic sports games like three-legged race, egg & spoon race,
backward sprints, sack race, and much more
Featured Race: Who is the Fastest Consul General in the Southern US?
Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, St. Lucia, Belize, Haiti, Bahamas,
Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago?

Also featuring health awareness information
On prostate cancer, breast cancer, high blood pressure,
and mental health from the North Broward Hospital District

Also Jamaican Storytelling, 10am – 1pm, inside Library
Author Kellie Magnus, reading from her book – “Little Lion At Bat”
Folkloric classics such as Anansi and others will also be presented.

For more information
Call: 786-349-2584 or Email: info@marlonhill.com

Sponsors include: News/Talk 1080AM WTPS, Caribbean National Weekly
SouthFloridaCaribbeannews.com, Jamaicans.Com, North Broward Hospital District,
and Broward Library

Connect! Strengthen! Act! and
Celebrate Caribbean-American Heritage Month!
Vier Caribisch Amerikaans Erfgoed Maand!
¡Celebre Mes Americano Caribe de Herencia!
Viens Célébrer le Mois de l'Héritage Antillais-Américain!
Ann fete mwa selebrasyon patrimwàn Karayibeyen Ameriken!

Marlon A. Hill, Esq.
Advisory Board Member
Jamaican Diaspora Southern United States
786-349-2584 ;
876-621-0102 (Jamaica) ● Facsimile: 786-551-0785

Andy Adams (TX, NM, AZ) * Janeth Simpson-Brown (TN, OK, AK)
Alan Alberga/Jason Walker (GA) * Wayne Golding (North/Central FL)
Junior Farquharson (Palm Beaches/Treasure Coast, FL)
Dale Holness (Broward County)
Jennifer Hue/Salomie Chung (Miami-Dade County)

Unleashing the Potential

June 8, 2007

What I learned while writing Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories

AnancySo, I went, gone, and done did it, again. No, this is not my version of Britney Spears' "Oops! I did it Again." What I'm talking about is my second venture into self-publishing, and my first children's book, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories. I'll be launching the book on June 30, 2007, at Kara's Jamaican & Chinese Restaurant, 8120 Pines Blvd, Hollywood, FL 33024. The reading begins at 10: 30 am.
If you didn't read the press release, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is about a young Jamaican-American boy, Jimmy Harrison, who loves school and his favorite subject is snack time! But when a new boy, Kevin, joins his class, he begins to bully Jimmy and the rest of the children. What’s worse, he begins to take away Jimmy’s snacks. Using the wisdom from his Grandpa Sydney’s story about “Anancy, Snake, and Tiger,” Jimmy overcomes the class bully. And for one Sunday, he reunites his family for dinner.
I've published Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories under the imprint of Mabrak Books. Mabrak is the Rastafarian term for Black lightning, and that's what I hope this imprint will bring: sudden, unstoppable illumination--satori, Jamaican style.
As you will see if you visit Mabrak, I'd been thinking about publishing, not just for me, but for a group of Caribbean writers. I thought we'd bring out one or two titles per year by invitation only. But the deal I had with a colleague fell through. Still, I kept my options open with Mabrak. Who knows, it still may happen.
So, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is now a self-published book and there is still a lot of stigma attached to self-publishing and those casting the aspersions pretend as if it's a level playing field. It isn't. Nuff said.
But what's a writer like me to do after he's brought an idea to completion? I'm not a writer who believes in hiding a piece of writing after I've obsessed over these and a million more questions:

Could I have written a better title?
Does the opening catch the reader's interest?
What about the word choice?
What about unity and coherence?
What about the conclusion? Does it leave the reader with a final thought or call to action?

When I am writing a poem, the questions become even more obsessive:

Do I enjamb the line here
Or here?

And even after I published the piece, I look at it and say, "This is rubbish! What will X think about my writing now?"
Yes, reputation, the false identity that the Buddha says leads to suffering has me on the run. But I am learning, Master.
So why did I do it, again?
First, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is a gift to children and their families, especially the Caribbean-American children who don't have many books written about them. Here they are growing up in a landscape that neither they nor their parents can fully understand. The Caribbean-American identity a new frontier and nothing in the media have prepared them for this new reality. But what do we teach our children when we are trying to figure out the whole new array of options? What assumptions can we make? Should we make any assumptions? Let me explain.
A few years ago, I was painting a room in our house and I asked my son to help me paint a wall. I gave him the paint brush and the paint and I showed him how to do the brush strokes. I left him for a few minutes and he was so happy to be painting that he jumped right into the job. When I returned a few minutes later, he was painting very well, but he hadn't put any newspaper on the floor. I was about to get angry with him when I realized that I hadn't shown him nor told him to put down newspaper. I had assumed he would know this. Wrong!
I helped him to clean up the floor and I showed him how to put down the newspaper. How many more assumptions had I made as he was growing up? We can never assume anything about our children and hope that they "will get it by common sense." Their "common sense" and our "common sense" are two different things. You don't believe me? Challenge any one of them to play a video game and see how your assumptions match up against theirs.
That's why I'd like to think of Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories as a gift. Books are such wonderful things. They speak about the most personal issues through the medium of metaphor, so that each reader "gets" the story, but each in a different way. And the earlier we begin reading and asking questions, the greater the impetus towards the development of a recognizable personality and identity.
You see, the question of identity has always interested me. From my first book, Exodus and Other Poems, I've been examining the question of identity in many ways because as the context changes, so do certain responses. But what remains true? We haven't figured out what Caribbean means and now some of us have become Caribbean-Americans?
I have no problem with the designation. It's an accurate designation of what we've become, but what does it mean? These are the kinds of questions that writers ask and the answers come in poems, stories, plays, and blogs.
The other reason is I've been going around the place talking about freedom and it was time to walk my talk. Freedom involves risks and if I wasn't willing to take the risks of ridicule and loss of face, then it was either put up or shut up. And after I had a little talk with my friend, Richard Grayson, (Thanks, Richard!) who convinced me to try Lulu.com, I chose to speak and learned many things.

So, what did I learn from writing Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories?

I'll give you snippets from the Q&A. It's part of a press kit that can be downloaded here: http://geoffreyphilp.com

Well, the interesting thing about Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is that it has a story within a story. The first part of the narrative is the conflict in Jimmy's life with the bully. His grandfather, Sydney, tells him the Anancy story of "Brother Anancy, Snake, and Tiger," and he uses the story to outsmart the bully.
From Jimmy's conflict one of the things that I re-learned through the voice of the grandfather was that Jamaicans are a very conservative people. We believe in values such as saying, "Good morning, please and thank you."

From the Anancy story, I learned the depth of psychological insights that these simple stories contained. I mean, I knew they were there, but when I had to write the story that was another matter. For example, Tiger, Snake, and Anancy are archetypes of power, delusion, and tricksterism. In this story, Snake represent a lower form of tricksterism (an un-evolved Anancy) that seeks gain only for itself.
I also learned this:

  • Tigers may make great displays of power, but they are as insecure as the rest of us.
  • Snakes are driven by urges of "more, more, more!"
  • Snakes can be manipulated if you promise them "more!"
  • Tigers are afraid of Snakes because Snakes know their secrets.
  • Snakes may manipulate our insecurities, but they are as insecure as the rest of us.
  • No matter who we are, Snakes or Anancy, we can be manipulated by our insecurities.
  • Our insecurities can wrap us so tightly that we lose sight of our goals and dreams-our great imperatives. (Sorry, I just had to put that in there.)
  • Tricksters are not revolutionaries. They will support the status quo as long as it suits them and they can get what they want. But if these needs are not met, watch out!
  • All of us, Brother Snake, Brother Anancy, and Brother Tiger, are sisters and brothers.

So why did I write this book?
The short answer is that there aren't many children's books from the English-speaking Caribbean that deal with the issues of the diaspora and bullying. I also believe that writing is an integral part of personal and cultural self-esteem and without books like Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories many children grow up thinking that writing and many other professions are simply not for them because of their race, color or culture.
One of the most heartening incidents in my life was a few years ago, I was strolling across the North Campus of Miami Dade College and a young man came up to me and said, "You may not remember me, but we used to call you, Mr. Poetry Man. You came to our school every Thursday and we looked forward to you coming to teach us to write poetry. I want to thank you."
"Mr. Poetry Man." I liked that.
But here's a little bit more from the press kit:
From the time when my children were toddlers, I've wanted to write a children's book. Of course, my wife and I read them Green Eggs and Ham, Goodnight, Moon, and But No More Elephants! and they grew up listening to my stories about Jamaica. I told them Anancy stories, but they had no context to connect themselves to the Anancy stories and I wanted to give a connection to Jamaica through the stories because that's how we understand things--through stories.
Later when I worked for the Poet-in-the Schools program with Miami-Dade Public Schools and English teacher at West Miami Middle School, I taught the children how to write stories because many children didn't have any way to connect with their parents. At least on a story level. I'm hoping that Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories will give them a chance to begin talking with their children and teachers will have a relevant resource that will connect them to their students from the English-speaking Caribbean.
But then I read a beautiful book by Kyra Hicks, Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria, and that did it. I had to try and write a children's book.
Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is about self-esteem. So what if your father is a security guard? So what if you mother is a nurse? So what if your parents are not millionaires? So what if you don't come from a "traditional" family? If you are loved and you are able to give love in return that's what really matters.
So, I did it and it has been immensely freeing. And I'll tell you this, too. Writing a children's story is hard because I really had to tell a story: beginning, middle and end.
But go see for yourself.
Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories may be ordered online @ http://www.lulu.com/content/877456

For Educators, Librarians & Community Leaders


For an overview of the cultural significance of Anancy in the Caribbean, please follow this link: Anancy

PS. Stephen Bess has written a great little review of Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories over at his site. Please go over and browse @ Morphological Confetti

June 6, 2007


Miami, Florida (June 6, 2007)—In commemoration of Caribbean-American Heritage Month 2007, award winning author, Geoffrey Philp, will be launching his recently published children's book, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, on June 30, 2007. The reading which begins at 10: 30 am will be held at Kara's Jamaican & Chinese Restaurant, 8120 Pines Blvd, Hollywood, FL 33024.

"From the time when my children were toddlers, I've wanted to write a children's book," said Philp. "And later when I worked for the Poet-in-the Schools program with Miami-Dade Public Schools and English teacher at West Miami Middle School, I taught the children how to write stories of their own because many children didn't have any way to connect with their parents.. At least on a story level, I'm hoping that Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories will give the parents a chance to begin talking with their children, and that teachers will have a relevant resource that will connect them to their students."

Set in the multicultural environment of South Florida, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories is about a young Jamaican-American boy, Jimmy Harrison, who loves school and his favorite subject is snack time! But when a new boy, Kevin, joins his class, he begins to bully Jimmy and the rest of the children. What’s worse, he begins to take away Jimmy’s snacks. Using the wisdom from his Grandpa Sydney’s story about “Anancy, Snake, and Tiger,” Jimmy overcomes the class bully. And for one Sunday, he reunites his family for dinner.

Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories draws on the rich oral tradition of Anancy stories that are told and re-told in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean. These Anancy stories, which originated in West Africa, are rich sources of wisdom that have been passed down from generation to generation.

"The launch will be a real family affair and we'll have goody bags for the children and door prizes for the grown-ups. A little bit of everything for everyone," said Philp. "So if you can create the time, why not drop by and see us. We're going to have some fun."

Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories, the only children's book from the English-speaking Caribbean to address the issues of the Caribbean diaspora and bullying, may be used as a textbook 3rd-4th Grade Level Reading Level) during Caribbean-American Heritage Month or Black History Month.

The study guide at the back of Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories conforms to Bloom's Taxonomy and contains critical thinking activities for parents and teachers.

Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories ( Mabrak Books) may be purchased online @ http://www.lulu.com/content/877456.

Press Kits may be downloaded @ Geoffrey Philp's web site: http://geoffreyphilp.com/

About the Author: Geoffrey Philp is the author of Benjamin, My Son, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien, Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas, and four poetry collections, including Exodus and Other Poems, Florida Bound, hurricane center, and xango music. He maintains a web site (http://www.geoffreyphilp.com/generic4.html) and a blog @ http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/. He teaches English at Miami Dade College and is the chairperson of the College Prep. Department at the North campus.


For Educators, Librarians & Community Leaders

Review of Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories @ Amazon

For an overview of the cultural significance of Anancy in the Caribbean, please follow this link: Anancy

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June 4, 2007

Poem for Edward Baugh

Warner Woman: Version

(For Edward Baugh)

She came, they say, wearing a dress as red

as the dirt of the countryside, and stood

at the crossroads of Matilda’s Corner

shaking her fists at the mansions

on the hills. “The Spirit descended on me

to speak these words to the nation,

for they have wandered in paths

that I have not taught them.

For I have heard the cries of widows

and orphans in the streets, but the wicked

who fear neither flood nor famine,

and have built their fortresses, their walled

communities and garrisons have said,

‘Who is there like us to judge us?’

But thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts,

‘Kingston, O Kingston, how I would have loved

to have gathered you to my bosom

the way the sea caresses the shore.

But you have preferred storm and hurricane.

So I say, woe to you for you have slaughtered

my children, the old, and the crippled.

Woe to you for you have stoned and exiled

my prophets. Woe to you for your have defrauded

the homeless and the poor.” Then she ripped

her dress in two, spat on the asphalt three times,

and then, ran like a horse without its rider,

back up to Long Mountain, up into the darkness

gathering around the tops of the trees

with the smell of rain around their roots.