Southern Report From Amy Jacques Garvey

The train grumbled out of Baton Rouge

as I tapped my heels against the wooden

floor of the platform and waited for my escorts

to ferry me to the sanctuary of their church.


Rubbing my finger against the barrel of the gun

you swore you’d never use, even after Tyler’s

bullet grazed your forehead, “No gun for me.

If I am to be killed, then maybe it is my destiny,”

I was greeted by a host of nervous congregants

who ushered me to the back of the waiting room,

where if you stood long enough you could still hear

rebel yells filtering through windows that trembled

at each burst of the horn, offering to pay my return ticket.


“Sister, for your own protection, you best

get back on the train,” my driver advised

and a wave of chills wracked my body even more

than the story he whispered about a sister

who had been lynched the night before—

how her tongue wagged to the side of her mouth,

her breasts heaved, and then a stream of yellow

trickled down the back of her dress on to the green

below. I am not a “little Joan of Arc,” as George

McGuire likes to tease. I mounted the pulpit

like those venerable pastors from my boarding

school and preached a gospel of freedom:

“Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.”


And when the voices from the Amen

Corner rose in a crescendo that spiraled up

the rafters into the belfry and over leaves of gumbo

limbos dozing in the moonlight beside the murky

waters of the bayou, and the sisters wailed,

“Tell it, sister, tell it,” I knew I wouldn’t have to use

my gun that night. For all they can do is kill me.

Better to live with that knowledge than in the fear

of what is to come, which I know will never

be worse than the battles we have survived.


To My Spanish-Irish Heiress, 1914

Perhaps in another life, we could have

married under a white canopy facing

the ocean, where sharks trailed slavers

laden with misery. There we’d build

a red brick mansion in Andalusia

where we would raise a brood of children

under a sky where the rain blesses

the just and the unjust. But in this life,

we could never be together. The war

between our ancestors could curse our bond.


We would have bred monsters.


Born under flags that would compete

like squabbling school children,

they would, like many “black-white”

elites choose poorly. In this life,

those who are destined to have their names

trampled by the unjust are ruled by leaders

who have never broken a shackle, or blinded

the eyes of those who kill with a stare.


No, my love, better to end what never

should have begun, so now we can look

back after many summers of being apart

at the disaster we avoided.


Photo Credit: Vanessa Diaz @vvvzzzzvvvzzzz

Geoffrey Philp is the author of two novels, Garvey’s Ghost and Benjamin, My Son, three children’s books, including Marcus and the Amazons, and two collections of short stories. He has also published five books of poetry. His forthcoming books include a graphic novel for children, titled My Name is Marcus, and a collection of poems, titled Archipelagos. His forthcoming poetry collection borrows from Kamau Brathwaite’s “Middle Passage” lecture, Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Sylvia Wynter’s “1492,” and Amitav Ghosh’s thesis in The Nutmeg’s Curse to explore the relationship between Christianity, colonialism, and genocide. He is currently working on a collection of poems, titled “Letter from Marcus Garvey.” He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/GeoffreyPhilp and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/geoffreyphilp/

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