November 12, 2008

Outstanding Writer Award 2008: Geoffrey Philp

Jamaican writerFirst, I want to thank the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission and the judges for this award. It means a lot to me to be counted among the many great writers who have been honored by this body. The "Outstanding Writer" award is a recognition that my work has brought a little discernment to the two questions that a literature must answer: Who are we? Where are we going?

In order to answer these questions, I've had to explore the affinity that I, like many Jamaicans, have with the stories of the Bible. Jamaicans, as an Israeli friend of mine once said, are the "Jews of the Caribbean." We take our Bible stories seriously. We believe that they are our stories and they were written just for us.

Then, there is the relationship between fathers and sons, which I've explored in my novel, Benjamin, my son and in an upcoming collection of short stories, Who's Your Daddy? and other stories.

The poem I'm going to read, "Isaac's Sacrifice," an excerpt from Dub Wise, tries to answer these questions. The poem examines Abraham and Isaac's father and son story from Isaac's point of view. This story has always troubled me. I've often wondered how Isaac must have felt after his father's attempt to murder him in the name of his god. As a son, the inheritor of his father's promise and legacy, how could he fit his father's actions into his belief system? The story asks these questions and many more.

So, where are we going? As a storyteller, I can give only tentative, plausible outcomes. But if it's any solace, one thing that the biblical narratives reveal is that despite the sometimes horrendous actions of our elders, our stories will survive us. But we must be truthful in our telling and collecting if we are to remain alive, and perhaps, find a way to forgive.

Isaac's Sacrifice

I wonder if he ever spoke to his father
again? I mean, there he was playing
marbles in the dirt with his friends,
or out in the fields flying a kite
while John Crows circled over the tamarinds.
And then, his father's familiar bellow,
"Isaac, get the donkey, and stop
with those fool-fool games!
And what have I told you
about playing with those little hooligans
who don't wear any sandals?" But this time
it was different. This time his father was as cross
as a jackass with a burr on its tail.

They climbed the hill without a word
between them, and Isaac gathered the sticks
and bramble, washed himself clean in the cool
springs the way his father had ordered him,
before he left to gather stones…

And when they were both finished,
Abraham, tears in his eyes, asked Isaac
to lie down on the makeshift altar
and being a good son, Isaac obeyed,
even when he saw the long knife
hovering over his chest and didn't blink,
even as Abraham said, "This is not about God,
it is to teach us who we are,"
then turned, as if he had heard
another voice and found a new sacrifice.

As they descended the hill,
and Isaac was kicking stones
out of the path without Abraham
complaining about ruining his new sandals,
and patting him on the head, saying,
"My boy, my only begotten son,"
trying to be his friend, again,
Isaac probably held Abraham's trembling
hand against his cheek, and forgave him,
yet he couldn't help but think,
"What would have happened
if the old goat hadn't been so lost?"



clarabella said...

This is a very fine poem, Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, Pam.


Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed reading this, Geoffrey. Thank you.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, Michelle & welcome!

FSJL said...

A fine poem, Geoffrey. Are you familiar with Wilfred Owen's poem on the sacrifice of Isaac 'The Parable of the Young Man and the Old'?

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Fragano,

No, I'm not. Now you've given me homework!

Have a great weekend, my brother.