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Geoffrey Philip

The live oak

that once marshaled

a cluster of pine, stands

stripped of its green medals,

a defeated general,

when the winds how

how, howled, how could,

how could this happen?

A pillow of clouds

over Homestead, pillaged

by the atomic hurl of sand,

ripped young beards

of Spanish Moss from orphaned

saplings' struggle against

the blast of sea spray,

tore tiles from the tarred

underbelly of roof's

pried corners, corneas

of windows, filled

our small house

with the breath of god

until the walls gave

in a thrust of wind

in the senseless stutter of stone

that seeps into the lap

of the Everglades; mangroves

laden with sap, surrendered

torn flags to the sawgrass sea's

fist of blades.


fantasy land


across the everglades, billboards

with tanned coppertone babes dot paradise


paved over by asphalt from alligator alley,

free from potholes below high tension


voltage lines and safe by developer's standards,

bedside canals choked by cane fields


and fast food diners squeezed

between  nude bars with dancers


old enough for medicare,

yet advertise, "girls, girls, girls,"


disney world, secure on each side,

a model for urban strategists, looms


along the interstate, where cartoons

daisy, minnie, sleeping beauty


all wonderful and white, are welcome

under the dome of epcot


and are forever young

in a betty boop playground.


alligator alley


i'm with you, brother, tanning

your thick leather, coarsened by years


of drought, beside the caloosahatchee

that empties names, outlived  by america's


hunger for gold, sugar, youth, into the gulf 

where you lurk, for something careless,


an innocent doe, or some aimless cane cutter,

to stir the water, and your eyes will pop


out of the murky swamp, jaws crunch bones,

then barely move, secure on your all engorging


stomach, away from the allosaurus crowded

heartland, in your knowledge that victor


or victim is a matter of who tells the story--

for while other dinosaurs fossilize into oil,


splattered across the highway, you lumber beside

the stiff palmettos, waiting for the next aeon to pass.



song to the loas

(for felix morriseau-leroy)


imagine how these anhingas give themselves

to the wind, riding the air currents over the canal


 as it turns away from the highway's hum

 and the live oak's acorns falling between palmetto


fronds and poinciana's fire; or how mullets break

the surface of the water in their singular joy


that makes them one with the air; so do i hope,

when my body flames with the crotons, my nāme


with the roots of the banyan, my little good angel,

held in faded, photo albums and remembered years


later in a libation, and my star of destiny settles into its

constellation, my great good angel will find peace in ginen


meditation on snake creek


fog billows over the troubled face of the canal;

a quilt of clouds, torn by a stand of pines, a tangle


of cumulus stuck in their needles, stretches over the hot

road rising in the east to the reeb of mallards strutting


over imaginary property lines of fulford- by-the-sea--

neighbors with new silverware and noise--down streets


with names as provisional as the ones we give ourselves,

behind houses swollen as the frayed textbooks


that line my shelves; while overhead in the frigid wind

from the west, past hassidic women, power-walking,


checking each other's pulse as if they weren't going to live

forever, a kestrel circles rat snakes through the everglades,


sand skitters over the page into the next millennium,

a stream that quenched ponce's thirst, washed mud


from the hair of tequesta, pours over my crown, neck,

chest, feet-- the hard portions—and into the sap of the mangrove


snake creek elegies


the x where we now live, the marked cross hairs

where any day now i expect to see coyote, brer rabbit,


or eshu with his famous hat strolling down the street,

a real cocksman, to stir up troubles with my neighbors.


but i 'm ready for him now; i've lived to have my store

of tricks and spells to ward him off--except the answer


to the prank he played on the former owners

who've left the mezuzah hanging over the door.




this royal poinciana whose branches hover

over my studio, like a forgotten ancestor,

was planted by some cracker, now a statistic

of white flight from dade county, afraid

of what miami has become, a muddle

of races, dark as the canal that runs

behind the houses, that separates goyim

from hassidim, and undermines foundations

of the playground, sprouted its stem through deep

wounds in the limestone, like the web of highways

that left overtown homeless; put out its first buds,

smothered by ash from the names mcduffie

and lozano; blooms every juneteenth through august

after andrew's baptism of homestead,

and has grown down from the sky, giving way to the tug

of gravity, still holding its fire against white clouds,

admitting itself to be a part of the landscape, despite

twisted limbs, and giving shade to my brown children




down by the bridge, water moccasins slither

through bracken and beer bottles like the advent

of a nightmare--no wonder the ancient


egyptians cowered before snakes--masters

of eternity whose fatal bite sent the victim, unaided,

to face maat and thoth, the ibis headed god, whose beak


balanced a feather over maat's jaws, then weighed

the victim's heart--a life swollen with fear--

only to be swallowed by maat's brothers waiting in the dark.




under the murky water, tarpons,

with beards made from rusted hooks,

silver glimmering in the grasses and reeds,

drawn there as naturally as those middle-aged lovers,

parked in a black mustang every noon at the foot

of the bridge, regular as the tide--while her husband's

at work, and he's taken a lunch break from the office --

they undress each other and obey a pull greater

than their promises; or those kids at dusk,

at the roots of the flowering dogwood, smoking

buddha, playing the dozens with dr. dre

or ice cube as background music, arguing

endlessly about who’s the better deejay,

like david, paul, pat, and me, kotched

on the fence, listening to shakespeare's bass

streaming out of twin eighteen inch speakers

and augustus pablo's haunting melodica

darting between the thrashing guitars

that strained the tweeter's throat,

until some cop, like saddlehead,

would try to sneak up on us,

to cart us off to jail in bright handcuffs,

but david would always sense his shadow,

and before he could tighten his dragnet,

we'd be off into the night, fluorescent

puma sweatshirts flashing in the darkness.




gray manatees munch river grass,

anhingas sun the selves on broken limbs,

and the muddy path around the lake doubles

like legba's riddles about opossums.


so what's left now? like the famous warrior,

his enemies slain, the kingdom restored,

he put down his bow, useless now in the real war,

to rebuild the hearth beyond the beckoning road.


nature walk


to talk about these trees, lakes, rivers

is not to be deaf to all the horrors:


a brother was lynched on this flowering dogwood,

brickell's skyscrapers cataract with ash from rosewood,


the suwannee will never wash away the blood

from these states, and those deserted dirt roads,


inviting as the drawl of southern belles in leon county,

are not as innocent as they seem to be.


yet this river, subversive as its own silt, overruns

its banks, stirs the rank mud, startles spoonbills, herons


and manatees in their own element, accepts complicity--

life feeding on itself--with the yellow pollen of the trees.


smoke screen, tallahassee 1998


the television snowed, satellites gone awry,

except for the sure and faithful t.b.n. whose frost

haired preacher promises fire for sinners


like me, cursed with the sin of caanan,

too proud to submit to the gray slate

of their eyes and too humble to admit the grace


from a burst of rain that skitters

across a graveyard of cypresses, barely

enough to wash blackened limbs blasted


thin of their barks by summer wildfires' streak

along alligator alley, then south to the edge

of the everglades where a heron interrogates


a snake, and failing, it passes through the hooked

neck, the paradox we share: the necessity of death,

the inevitability of love--to a green field


where my mother has become a live oak, spears

of st. augustine, beside the smell of wood

smoke lifting into a sky barred with wisps of cirrus.


florida garden


to hear the way they tell it,

you'd think that we didn't have the right

to stand on this ground, hallowed

by the blood of all the undone, white

black, indian, pressed down by the hooves

of night riders, sprouting like kudzu

around the lakes of our state, but my mother

and i own a plot of land in orlando

where we've planted something older

and dearer than this cassava root that grips

the limestone rock and squeezes water

up the brittle stem, where her grandchildren

play ring-around-the-roses, and its leaves span

the southern cross rising above alpha centauri.


everglades litany

(for nadia)


and blessed be the morning star in the arms of gumbo limbo

blessed be the sun on the cruciform wings of anhingas

blessed be the wind where ospreys and black vultures ride

blessed be zebra butterflies on crowns of tamarind

blessed be lightning on the spires of royal palms.

blessed be wildfires that temper berries of the green hawthorn

blessed be hurricanes that tear at the bark of tallowwood and bay-cedars

blessed be bracken and wild olives huddled by salt marshes

blessed be august heat that rasps the throat of morning glories

blessed be panthers and deer hiding behind a screen of leatherwood

blessed be brown pelicans grunting in mangroves after thunderstorms

blessed be the evening star over aisles of magnolias

blessed be barred owls cooing by swamps and hardwood hammocks

blessed be june beetles dusting pollen off their backs in the damp air

blessed be woodstorks and spoonbills wading through resurrection ferns

blessed be chanterelles, their yellow plumes rising from oak and pine

blessed be the moon ripening with pond apples on the banks of canals

blessed be dew and mist, fog and hail, falling on blades of  sugar cane

blessed be  loggerhead turtles lumbering past the thorns of anemones

blessed be, blessed be all that move, live, and breathe on the edge of these lakes

blessed be, blessed be... everything


 Chandra links pulsar to historic supernova 


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