This month's issue features poet, author, colleague, and friend Geoffrey Philp. Born in Jamaica, he is the author of five books of poetry, two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. A recipient of the Luminary Award from the Consulate of Jamaica (2015) and a recent chair for the 2019 OCM Bocas Prize for Poetry, Philp’s work is featured on The Poetry Rail at The Betsy in an homage to 12 writers that shaped Miami culture. Through DNA testing, Philp recently discovered his Jewish ancestry and his poem, “Flying African,” has been accepted for publication in New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust. He is currently working on a collection of poems, “Distant Cousins.” We are honored to present excerpts from this most recent work here.
It began, like all seductions, with lies.
A disillusioned soldier, who blamed
Germany’s defeat in the First World War
on backstabbing cowards, he’d always sensed
that Fate had chosen him for “something
important,” and drew inspiration to uproot
others—as he had been uprooted—
from America’s slaughter of “redskins,”
and devised myths about a past that never
existed— a future in which the Folk were no longer
ordinary, but were part of a glorious transformation
where the soul of the Fatherland would be purified
by the heroism of “Germanic Seigfrieds” born-again
into a new European race with Linz as its capital.
O, how they adored him and the stories
he told— his theatrics and mimicry
of enemies, and longed to kiss his hand,
his cheeks, anywhere their lips could reach,
for they believed his prophecies, his faith
in a new World Concept that would save
them from the defilement of degenerates,
who poisoned the blood of the people
with venereal diseases and infected the weak
with debaucheries of race mixing and prostitution.
But when his words turned to dust
and the crowds clamoured for bread,
he resorted to murder to sate his blood
lust, and his faithful generals unleashed
Storm troopers to bury his shame
and the cackles of critics that haunted him,
like the whimper of Blondi’s pups
when the retreated with Ava to his bunker,
the remains of his Judenfrei paradise.
How can I explain the unexplainable?
How can I ask you to believe a story,
which if I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t believe.
We had warning signs, like on that night
in November when brown shirts scrawled,
"Juda verrecke,” on the walls of our synagogues,
but optimists like my father, who could recall
pogroms we’d survived since Roman times,
ignored them. For we had uncles who had sacrificed
their lives to the machines of death in the Great
War, so could we have the right to claim
the earth under our feet as our hiermat,
our homeland, instead of the dream of Palestine
held in the fist of England. How could we
have known how much would’ve been destroyed
when our neighbours with whom we traded
books by Nietzsche, escorted to the concerts
of Wagner, and recited the poems of Holderlin,
would betray us to soldiers who ripped
my daughter from my arms, dashed my baby's
head against a tree, dragged my husband
into a sealed freight train with one destination,
and left me for dead in the street that once
thronged with believers, who lost more than their faith,
but also their trust in a world that no longer existed--
homeless as the mongrels that roamed the ruins of Berlin?
You have to understand the impossible
choice I faced. Through contact with the Jewish
bacillus, spread through their books and theatre,
Germany, like the Ottoman Empire, had become
the sick man of Europe, and we succumbed to vices
that our forest tribes and warriors had never known—
diseases that erupted in symptoms of deceit and lies,
which, like a plague, we contained in detention camps.
But when these methods failed, we resorted to extreme
measures. And just as I would remove a cancerous
organ from a patient —and Jews are a cancer
in the body of our community— I had to destroy life
unworthy of life in order to fulfil my oaths--vows I swore
I’d never break to preserve the health of our country,
and with a clear conscience, I’ve killed to save our nation.
When we were children, my brother and I pretended
to be soldiers. I marched with a broomstick as my gun,
and he shouted orders, "Marsch! Im Gleichschritt,"
like our grandfather, who'd fought bravely in the Great
War, before he was stripped of his medals, his rights
as a German citizen—humiliated by brown shirts.
And after he was detained by the SS, his ashes were sent
from Auschwitz, where my brother was beaten until he died,
and I was dragged into a train bound for Sachsenhausen
where every day before dawn, I was awakened by the sound
of the Appel, to shiver in the cold, then marched to a work site
to dig trenches, and marched back to camp before night.
Yet this time it’s different. Perhaps, we’re marching into hell,
but I'll keep on moving as if I am marching to Eretz Yisroeil.
Six million. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
It’s almost like saying, “I’ve won six million
dollars in the lottery.” Or imagine your elation
if you were an astronomer, who had confused
the algebra of necessity with the rising of the sun,
yet had discovered a galaxy with six million stars.
The number resists formulas like 6.03 × 10^6,
which Eichmann never used when he calculated
how many trains would be needed for scheduling
transports to execution camps, or when Himmler
determined the amount of bullets the Einsatzgruppen
would use at Babi Yar; how much money Hans
Biebow would save when the Lodz Ghetto
was reduced to nought—the Ouroboros of Nazi
mathematics. But begin the gruesome addition
with the face of a mother and her infant cradled
between her breasts, and tell me if you can count to one.
Shoah, there is so much that remains hidden
in the word that originally meant “catastrophe,”
whose value in Jewish Gematria is 157,
which is the same as the “God of life,”
who said to Adam before the disappearance
of the original light, “ayekoh,”
which some have translated to mean,
“Where are you?” which is problematic,
for “ayekoh” can be split into two words,
or worlds as distant as Cantor’s infinities--
“aye” which means, “where” and “koh,”
whose meaning changes, depending
on the angle of light and the hemisphere
where your feet are planted. So, the numerical
value of “koh,” when repeated by the Patriarch
Abraham in the midst of the binding of Isaac,
“Stay here with the donkey while the lad
and I go there, “koh,” is 25, which reveals
Abraham’s answer to the Holy One’s question
when He wandered freely through the garden
during the cool evenings, “Where is the light?”