The Inheritance

Maybe it was in the genes Banneker inherited
from his ancestors, the Dogon, who, while the houses
of Lancaster and York ravaged the English countryside,

migrated to a southern bend of the Niger, carrying
knowledge gained from the Nommo about the existence
of Sirius B, whose presence remained undetectable

to Westerners until a little-known astronomer,
in the same year as the clash of Lee’s insurrectionists
with Union soldiers on the banks of the Potomac,

turned his gaze towards Canis Major. Whatever it was,
is now lost in the riddle of time that drew him for fifty-one
of his seventy-five years into a maze of prime numbers,

lifecycles of cicadas that appeared under the roots
of tobacco on his farm in Maryland. For the more,
he probed the mystery of the birth and rebirth of Brood X,

the more he admired the resilience of a species,
aligned with the dance of stars that emerged
to a “short, but merry life, singing until they die.”

About the Poem

I usually begin my day listening to Bob Marley and the Wailers. May 11th, the 40th anniversary of Bob Marley’s transition, took on another meaning while I listened to the story on NPR about Benjamin Banneker’s observations about the cicada lifecycle. The phrase “singing until they die” stuck with me after I’d turned off the live stream and I listened to Bob Marley Live Forever. I was moved to tears after I heard Bob sing, “forget your sickness and dance,” because I knew that he had recorded that song in Pittsburgh a few days after his doctor had given him a death sentence.

About the Author

Geoffrey Philp is the author of five books of poetry, two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. His poems and short stories have been published in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, sx salon, World Literature Today, The Johannesburg Review of Books, The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, Bearden’s Odyssey Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden, Rattle: Poets Respond, and Crab Orchard Review. A recipient of the Luminary Award from the Consulate of Jamaica (2015) and a former chair for the 2019 OCM Bocas Prize for Poetry, Philp’s work is featured on The Poetry Rail at The Betsy–an homage to 12 writers that shaped Miami culture. He is currently working on a graphic novel for children, “My Name is Marcus.”

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