Thursday, December 30, 2004


2004 was a success beyond my wildest dreams. On Sunday, I leave to begin a low-residency MFA program in New Hampshire, and later in January I will take the biggest trip of my life thus far. I can attribute these successes largely to the fact that I wrote out a very detailed set of goals at the end of the 2003 year.

So, here's to a prosperous year, as I present (drumroll please) the goals for M. Ayodele Heath, the man, the myth, the legend, for 2005. (If you're reading this, I encourage you to write out your own list and, as I am doing, share it with a friend who will hold you accountable. Also, I realize that this looks like a lot, but by breaking the list into separate categories, the goals don't become so overwhelming.)

1. Attain six (6) publication credits in literary magazines/anthologies (poems or short fiction)

A/P: Each time I get a rejection notice from one (1) magazine, send out
submissions to two (2) more. Cain't nobody hold me down. What, n_gga, what!
2. Launch a website.

A/P: Speak w/ __ul about a timeline.

3. Start a free writing and/or performance workshop for adults by October.
4. Write a full-length play.
5. Give at least 1 free performance per month.
6. Build a relationship with the Georgia Council for the Arts.
7. Develop a scripted/themed 45-minute poetry show/presentation for college/high-school performances.
8. Start a separate wardrobe for performance.
9. Complete the full-length poetry book manuscript!

A/P: Use MFA program as a factory for new material.

10. Complete three (3) new short stories.
11. Enter the next annual Creative Loafing Fiction contest.
12. Apply! Apply! Apply!

A/P: Apply to at least five (5) first-book contests (October).
Apply to at least one (1) grant/award every quarter (4 per year.)

1. Eat more vegetables!

A/P: 3x a week

2. Reach target weight of 168 pounds.

A/P: Eat breakfast every workday (even if it is just a snack/fruit).
3. Do one (1) leg workout per week.
4. Do three (3) cardio workouts per week.
5. Drink more water!

A/P: Keep a water bottle at my desk at work.

1. Sowing (before reaping): See Career #3 and Career #5 and Personal #6
2. Meditate (10 minutes of silence each morning.)
3. More sowing: Once a month, take a platonic friend/associate/co-worker out for a meal or coffee.
4. Attend a church (any church) once every 2 months.

1. Develop a standard pay scale for gigs.
2. Earn $5,000 in writing gigs/awards.

A/P: Use website to promote services w/ goal of obtaining at least one paying gig per month.

3. Pay off my Capital One Mastercard (which has the highest interest).

A/P: Put the card in a Ziploc bag with water and stick it in the freezer, so I can't use it. Pay $_00 on the card per month.

4. Cut down on eating out.

A/P: Only eat out for dinner 2 times a week. Bring lunch to work at least 2 times a week.

1. Call more often!

A/P: Call my baby brother once a month. Call my half-brother once a
month. Call my parents at least once a week.

2. Say NO!

A/P: Say NO!

3. Give more compliments.

A/P: Each day, give at least one compliment to a stranger/casual associate.
A/P: Each day, give at least one compliment to a family member/close friend.

4. Visit parents once a month.

1. Break the routine.
A/P: Each day, do at least 1 thing that I wouldn't normally do. (You'll be surprised at what a difference it can make.)

(e.g., if I normally wouldn't speak to the stranger when I board
the elevator, I would say something; if I normally would not go to lunch with a particular co-worker who rubs me the wrong way, I'd ask them out to lunch, my treat! ; if I take the same exit to get home, I would take the next exit and take the back streets home.)

2. Travel to a Carribean island for a long weekend this summer.
3. Complete a book by James Baldwin.
4. Smash a stereotype: Arrive 10 minutes early (to everything, including in my personal life.)
5. Clean out my closet.

A/P: Get rid of clothes I haven't worn in years.
6. Keep the blog updated.

A/P: Update twice a week.
7. Continue to expose myself to new experiences.

A/P: Achieve the goals on this list.

8. Get the book club involved in volunteering in a community project.

A/P: Find 3 community projects to present to the Book Club for the March meeting.

1. Resume Spanish lessons by my birthday (7/23).
2. Take an acting class (summer or fall).
3. Take voice lessons.
4. Bench press 225 pounds ten (10) times
5. Attend six plays this year (to help toward goal of writing one of my own.)
6. Learn five (5) new recipes.
7. Complete 1st year of MFA Program in Poetry.
8. Become a better swimmer.

1. Get on the game show, Family Feud.
2. Travel to Brazil.
3. Get a sunroof installed in my car.
4. Travel to Japan.
5. Pay off all of my credit card debt.
6. Travel to Cuba.
7. Win a Macarthur Genius Grant.
8. Get on the cover of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Letter to a High School Classmate (Who Didn't Leave a Way to Get Back in Touch)


What's happening, man? Long time, no see... no hear... no-

Let's just say it's been a long time.

I ran into Marul__s W_lliams last Christmas at the Borders in Midtown. He told me about your software company and that you're doing really, really well. I'm really happy for you. Way to represent for the CG, shawty!

I see you stumbled on my blog. And so my secret is out. In high school, I thought poetry was kinda corny, and now here I am making a career of it!

Though I never moved from Atlanta, the trip to 30 has been quite an adventure. But for better or for worse, I'm learning to love every minute of it. Hope everything is well with you, that your holidays are happy, and a whole host of other cliches - except I really mean them.

Regarding the post you made to my blog, I never competed with you (at least as I remember it). What you did, instead, was to push me to be a better me. Had it not been for you, I would have been very content with being an excellent math student, who probably would've made a very stereotypical engineer - a whiz at equations but terrible at communications.

For instance, I remember once, in Dr. C_rnegie's class, I repeated the Joker's line from the movie Batman, "This town needs an engima" because the word "enema" wasn't in my vocabulary! You corrected me, and you weren't a snob about it. By your example, you inspired me to build my vocabulary, to read more, and ultimately led me on this creative path which is a joyous life. I really thank you for it.

I don't know where you're based these days - Atlanta or Alaska or Europe - but when you're in town, drop me a line, tell me about your company. We should catch up.


Saturday, December 18, 2004

Getting to Know Me (Nicknames)

A NICKNAME IS A descriptive name, usually given to describe an idiosyncrasy of a person's personality/physical make-up, or to describe some other anecdotal quirk. Sometimes nicknames are derivative (Bob for Robert, for example) and sometimes the references are inspired by figures of pop culture (Rico Suave, for instance) and may have very little to do with the person at all.

But more often, a nickname gives a truer - if not always flattering - picture of how an individual is viewed through the eyes of others in a way that a given name does not reveal. In some cases, the nickname is ironic, poking fun at a trait (for example, Tiny for the tallest player on a basketball team). At any rate, to attempt to give you a truer picture of who I am, I'm going to give you a list of 50 nicknames I have been called at various stages of my life. Some have stuck, while others (thankfully) have not.

And mind you, as I am attempting to present a 'true' picture, I will tell you in advance that there are several of these names that I don't find flattering in the least bit (nonetheless, the names arise from someone's perception) and which I have not heard in 10 or 20 years.

This is to say, more importantly, mutter these monikers at your own risk!

1. Mars
2. Ayo
3. Brainiac
4. Cleopatra Crickets
5. Hollywood
6. Poopalotticus
7. Pooh-pooh
8. GQ
9 . Langston (as in Hughes)
10. Poet Laureate
11. Marv
12. Doctor Marv
13. Marvelous Marvin
14. Starvin Marvin
15. Messy Marvin
16. Doctor Heath
17. Head
18. Neck
19. Professor
20. Papi
21. Butter/Buttermilk
22. Heathbar
23. Doogie Howser
24. Greenmarvtheleo
25. Atlanta
26. Deacon Heath
27. Rhodes Scholar
28. Dewighty
29. Muscleman
30. Slim
31. Sidney (as in Poitier)
32. Sexyfine
33. Genius
34. Maya (as in Angelou)
35. Number 9
36. Reverend
37. The Calculator
38. Ellenwood
39. Marvin Gaye
40. Banana Republic
41. Einstein
42. Aero
43. Wiz
44. Fashion plate
45. Lil' Dave
46. Big Man
47. 360
48. Cedar Grove
49. Mellow Marv
50. Whoa

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Opening to the Story I Did NOT Submit to This Year's Creative Loafing Annual Fiction Contest

THE FIRST TIME I SAW MY GREAT AUNT GOLDIE WALK through a wall, I was eight. A thick plaster wall, it was lumpy and sea green.

And it needed paint.

Just before storming through the wall, her last words: “I cain’t believe you would lie to me. You, of all people, ZoĆ« Byrd!”

To walk through this wall - which had no door – Goldie first had to pass through a tan, vinyl couch. Which, I suppose, is worth mentioning. But in the haze of my eight year-old remembrance, this feat, for some reason, was not quite as remarkable.

Maybe in the split second that I blinked, the couch had impishly scooted out of, then back in to, place. Or perhaps my wide, pliable eyes had surrendered to a narrow mind which could only have possibly seen Goldie’s octogenarian legs step over – rather than through – the irrefutably immobile couch. However it happened, Aunt Goldie’s transgressing the couch was not what I remember.

What I do so vividly remember happening in Grandpa’s front room that afternoon during the drought of ’86 is this: I did not audibly gasp, that is, until I saw Aunt Goldie’s 4’9”, dark-as-muscadines body (and I don’t quite have the language for this, but I’ll try) - legs, torso, arms; gold teeth; bejeweled, veined hands; and a comet tail of silk, lavender shawl with copper-gray hair – I did not audibly gasp until I saw all of these parts, in one grand defiance of physics, storm forward and dissolve into the sea-green wall.

Though I was certain Goldie and I had been in the room alone (which is the only reason I even attempted to pass off the lie), I immediately jerked my head around for someone – anyone – to attest to what I’d just seen.

The drone of a portable fan. Ragged, tan curtains. Chipped sea-green walls. An empty wooden chair.

One earthly witness: A fat, buzzing housefly, lazily curliqueing, then zooming through a hole in the screen door and out into the August light.


“Zoe!” Grandpa yelled from the front yard. “You alright in there?”

I couldn’t answer.

“Zoe, I said, are you alright?” he yelled again. “Come where I can see you, to the door!”

I brought myself to the screen door, where I found him in the yard, arched over an anthill, holding a gas can-

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Co$t of 'The Hook-Up'

WED, 23 JUN 1999

I WAS SCHEDULED TO RIDE my Grand Am to Knoxville on Thursday. With nearly 150,000 miles on the car (double that, since it was American), I was more than 5,000 miles beyond the Jiffy Lube Next Scheduled Oil Change sticker posted on my windshield. Something like wisdom told me to get an oil change before hitting the road for the 3-hour trip.

So during my lunch break, __z___e trailed me up Roswell Road; and I took the car - not to Jiffy Lube - but to Atlanta Oil Express, which was a little closer by.

More importantly, they were running a special:


A dozen or so cars were lined up at the three service bays. It was a zoo.

"I'm so glad I had you follow me," I said to __z___e. "There's no way I would've made it back in an hour for lunch."

But as I took a look at all of the cars lined up in the service area, I questioned if they would have enough time, even after 4 hours, to get to my car before I got off from work.

"Are you sure," I asked the cashier, "that you can have me done by five?"

"Five o'clock?" he said, "No problem!"

I handed him my keys.


AT 5:15, WE PULLED UP to the Atlanta Oil Express. Though still buzzing, it was not quite as frenetic as before. I saw my car parked off to the side. I went in to retrieve my keys and pay for my services.

"Heath. H-E-A-T-H."

"Nope," said the oil tech, doubling as cashier, "don't see it."

"But my car is right out there. The green Grand Am."

"Oh," he said, as if suddenly tapped on the shoulder. "I'm sorry. It's not in the system."


"I mean, whoever took your order didn't enter you into the system. Your car didn't get done."

My eyes grew maniacal and wide. I felt my hand trembling. I scanned the wall of hanging keys. I wanted mine back, especially the jagged house key... to slice his neck.

But before I could commit a criminal act, he said, "I tell you what, bruh. You got 10 minutes?"

I wasn't thinking clearly. But what I was thinking was that it was after five. That the whole city was getting off from work. That the streets would be flooded with cars, all thirsty for oil.

I would waste at least an hour going to another place, waiting for the cars that were already ahead of me in line, and then waiting for them to change my oil.

I'd already had a long work day and had errands to run before my trip. I just wanted the day done - to get some rest.

I snapped. "Ten minutes! For what?"

"Give me $15 dollars, and I'll get you done in 10 minutes."

"But how long is it gonna take you to get to my car?" I said, with controlled rage.

"That's what I'm saying. Give me $15 and I'll get you myself. No wait." His look put me momentarily put me at ease. It was the look when a brotha is giving you


'The Hook-Up.'

I sat in the waiting area with the TV. I caught up on the latest robberies in southwest Atlanta. And, sure enough, in not even 10 minutes brothaman was handing me my keys.

"Thanks, man. You don't know how much I appreciate this."

I felt so good about it, I gave him a five dollar tip!


WE WERE HEADED 75-NORTH, APPROACHING the Tennessee state line, making good time just before 4 in the afternoon, when it happened.

"Hey," I said to Ja___, my traveling companion, dozing in the passenger seat, "my oil light just came on."

"Well," he said groggily, "when's the last time you put oil in it?"

"Yesterday," I said. "I just had an oil change yesterday. Something must be wrong with the gauge." I looked at the other needles and dials. "Or is there something else that could be wrong?"

"For an oil light? Not that I know of. But let's just keep an eye on it."

Grooving to Maxwell, we rode on past another exit - through Rednickville past sky-high signs for BP and HARDEE'S and SUPER 8. But the oil warning light remained lit.

"I don't know, Marv_n," Ja__ said, "oil ain't nothin to play around with. It could tear your engine up. Why don't you pull over so we can take a look?"

But before he could finish his sentence, the engine started ticking. This can't be good, I thought. And I pulled over to the side of the highway, a hundred yards or so before the oncoming exit ramp. It was nearing 4:00, and I had to be in Knoxville by 8.

What if the car needs repair? What if it needs a part? What if the mechanic can't even get to my car today?

Who am I going to call an hour-and-a-half from Knoxville and an hour-and-a-half from Atlanta? What am I going to do?

I popped the hood. Ja___ withdrew the oil stick.

"Whoa," Ja__ said. "I've never seen an oil stick this clean."

"But I just had the oil changed," I said, confused. "It had to have oil in it. I mean, how could the car run from Atlanta all the way to Chattanooga without any oil?"

We examined the pavement underneath the car and behind it. There was no black liquid to be found.

"Well, let's just get to the next exit here and get to a gas station," Ja___ said. "We can get some oil there. See if that fixes the problem."

We turtled down the right-hand lane and down the exit ramp. The engine continued to tick-tick-tick - menacingly as a bomb. Fortunately, there was a gas station immediately to the right. I pulled the car, which was now grinding, up to a gas pump. Before I could even turn off the ignition-

"It shut off," I said, my heart pounding.


"I didn't turn off the ignition. The car shut off by itself."

I tried to restart the car, but there was only a dry cough. Ja___ looked under the hood again, while I went inside to buy oil.

"The oil stick is clean. I just had an oil change yesterday," I recounted to the man working register. "We've driven up from Atlanta and we had no problems until just now." Suddenly, I saw, scribbled in the wrinkles of his reddened face, what looked like... words.

Cityboy Sissy

I felt helpless. "Do you know where the nearest mechanic is around here?" I asked.

"Well, you're in luck. There's one right up here, not a half mile up the road," he said. "I don't have parts to fix it if you have got a serious problem, but I can take a look at it if you'd like."

He rang me up for the four quarts, then followed me outside. I emptied the oil into the engine. It was a feeble attempt to reclaim my masculinity.

"Try to crank it up," graybeard said. I quickly obliged. I was relieved to no longer feel like I had to be in charge of the situation.

I turned the key. My heart fluttered. The car cranked!

I got out of the car with the engine running. Graybeard leaned his ear toward the machinery to try to decipher the ticks.

"Sounds like you might have some damage," he said. "You should take it up to the mechanic." Without warning, Graybeard dropped to the ground, startling me.

He inspected beneath the car. "Yup, a steady stream of oil," he said. "Looks like you've got yourself a leak."

My heart dropped. Even if I couldn't make it to Knoxville, would the car at least make it to the mechanic? Ja__ and I got back in the car and ticked on up the road. About a half mile, we veered right at the V as graybeard instructed.

The auto shop was a junky grease spot, a free-standing shack with cars on bricks. It was on a road which was off of a road, which was off of the main road (if you could call the main road a main road) and in the woods. I parked the car, and I wondered when was the last time they had seen Black people - if ever. What will they do to my car? More importantly, What might they do to me? Luckily, I had Ja__ with me. I felt a little more secure.

I replayed the last half-hour to one of the mechanics.

"We're on the road to Knoxville, and we're trying to get there by 8. Do you think it's something you could look at today?" I didn't have the courage to ask if I thought it was something they might actually be able to fix.

"Yeah, we'll take a look."

There was no waiting area, so Ja___ and I hung out in a ditch on the side of the road. The north Georgia sky was overcast. Feeling something wet, I looked up.

"The last thing we need right now," Ja___ said, "is rain."


"You see this," the mechanic said to me, as I stood in the garage.


"This is your oil filter. It's covered in oil. This here's a clean one. Whoever changed your oil in Atlanta didn't screw the filter back on tight."


"Yep, you're really lucky that you stopped driving when you did," he said, "because if you had kept driving, your engine would have locked up. Possibly caught on fire. The entire underside of your car is covered in oil. All we've done is replaced your filter. I'll just charge you $25.

That ticking you're hearing in your engine is permanent. It's been damaged. You should take this old filter back to the people who changed your oil and demand that they pay to have your engine replaced."

"My engine? Replaced?" I was in disbelief. "You mean to tell me that I need my whole engine replaced?"

"Well, it's not gonna get better on its own. Besides, their liable. It's their fault it happened. Just take your car back, show them this filter, and show them your receipt from me. Also, show them the receipt from the oil change they did. You do still have your receipt, don't you?"

"Yeah," I lied.

The truth was, I didn't get a receipt.

Why? Because I got... A HOOK-UP! That clown at Atlanta Oil Exchange didn't ring me up. He never entered me into the system. He pocketed the change for himself, and - most importantly - he f*cked me over!


I drove the car to Knoxville, where I ended up winning the Individual Championship in the 1999 Southeastern Regional Poetry Slam. My ticking Grand Am also safely returned me back to Atlanta.

For the next month, the ticking continued. And that July my car FAILED its emissions test.

I ended up spending over $400 for a rebuilt engine - out of my own pocket. That's $400, plus $25 for having my filter replaced, plus the cost of having to rerun my car through emissions - let's just say it added up. So much for a $15, move-to-the-front-of-the-line oil change.

What a price to pay for getting the hook-up. And to think, I gave him a $5 tip!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Motorcycle Diaries: A Full Tank, or Riding on E?

Brazilian director Walter Salles' Motorcycle Diaries chronicles a formative year in the life of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, better known as Che Guevara, leader of the Cuban Revolution.


Based on the actual memoirs of Che Guevara, the film opens on a bustling sidewalk just outside the home of the upper middle-class Guevara family in 1950's Buenos Aires, the cosmopolitan capital of Argentina. On the verge of graduation, their 23-year old asthmatic son, Ernesto (played by Gael Garcia Bernal of Y Tu Mama Tambien), opts to take a year off before his final semester of medical school to join his 29-year old skirt-chasing college friend, Alberto Granado, for an 8,000 mile adventure up the spine of the South America aboard a rickety, oil-drinking motorcycle named La Poderosa.

As Ernesto and Alberto load La Poderosa (which incidentally translates as The Powerful One) with food and clothing, the voice of Ernesto, reads from his own diary in a voice-over in what will serve as the film's narrative structure. At moments, the language rivals the poeticism of Neruda:

A tale of two lives running parallel for a while...

What we had in common was our restlessness, our impassioned spirits and a love for the open road.

And through their parallel experiences on this yearlong journey- both fair-skinned young men of the European high-society of Buenos Aires, traveling on the open road of rural South America - the effects on their individual lives couldn't be more different. For Alberto, it becomes an exploration of the body as he erects a campaign to bed a woman in every country on the continent. For Ernesto, it becomes an exploration of the mind and heart that will lead him to become Che Guevara, the international revolutionary who will launch what will become the only successful socialist revolution in the Americas, and who will influence artists, philosophers, and leaders the world over.

Scamming for lodging, scheming for sex, finagling for food and motorcycle repairs, Alberto and Ernesto experience their own individual disappointments and epiphanies. But in the countryside, which is in stark contrast to their bourgeousie homes in Argentina, they experience a revelation which is larger even than all of South America: From Chilean farmerworks to Peruvian mineworkers to lepers in a quarantined Amazon colony, indigenous red-skinned men and women, in a concerted effort by colonizers across the continent, were being not only marginalized, but systematically erased from the vision of modern South America. (Which is not unlike the fate of the native peoples in all of the Americas.)

While this revelation is profound, other insights into Che Guevara, the man, the myth, are much more subtle - even sketchy. We do learn how Ernesto came to be called Che (the word, che, is an interjection specific to Argentine Spanish, and is how all Argentines are generally referred to by non-Argentines in Latin America). But we are left to surmise the source of Ernesto's passion for the socialist movement: Is it an encounter with an indigenous family in the desert, who has been evicted from their farm for supporting the Communist Party? Is it the two or three camera shots of Ernesto reading Marxist literature? When Ernesto defies a head nun by refusing to wear gloves while visiting patients quarantined at the Amazon leper colony, we see his compassion and commitment to social equality, but these are just light strokes that leave a vague impression of the persona of Che Guevara.

Too brief to be a biopic, Motorcycle Diaries works perhaps best when taken as travelogue. There are the quaint villages dotting the green hills of Chile; the bitterly beautiful blizzards whitening the Andes mountains; the relentless sandstorms of the Atacama Desert; the wildgrasses and passionate blossoms along the Amazon River.

As the awestruck Ernesto stands atop the majestic Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru, comparing its divine temples to the dirty, industrialized city of Lima, which teems with factory smoke, rats, and garbage, he questions the true meaning of progress:

Give up all of this [Machu Picchu] for this [Lima]?

Motorcycle Diaries presents a refreshing view of an "other" America - a perhaps truer America - which rarely gets explored on film. This makes it worth seeing. And Gael Garcia Bernal's portrayal of a young Ernesto is convincing. But the payoff at the end of the film raises far more questions than answers about the persona of Che Guevara. Rather than feeling filled up, I left wanting to open a book.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

In Atlanta, Motorcycle Diaries is still playing at Tara Cinema.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

WED, 3 Oct 2002


So, you really got me this time. During my lunch break yesterday, I had my second session with Ka___a, the CCCS counselor. It was short. We went over my updated credit report, reviewed my monthly budget. But then, when I returned from lunch, I was greeted by:

“Marrrrrrrvin, you’ve got flowwwwwwwwers,” ___ika purring as she turned the corner of my cubicle with a blue glass vase overflowing with gold lilies.

I looked at her skeptically, waiting for the punchline for the joke. But there was no punchline. The flowers were mine!

I tried to suppress my smile, but it didn’t work.

“Look at youuuuuuu,” ___ika teased, then paused, apparently waiting for me to open the card. But, anyone who knows me knows that that’s the last thing I would do: Open the card in front of her!

So I clicked my heels, made her disappear, and—about five minutes later—inconspicuously opened the envelope.

I smiled—for about two hours. I’ve never received flowers at work.

Keeping to myself, I rode my magic carpet through the rest of the day. I could tell that ___ika and ___i_, the obnoxious character who used to give me fits at work—were dying to find out who the flowers were from.

Finally, just before quitting time, ___i_ could apparently take it no longer. Walking up behind me, he leaned into my ear and queried, "Can I ask you a personal question?”

“No,” I said, as I stared at him with my back.

“Can I ask you who they were from?” he asked anyway.

So I politely turned around, looked him dead in the face, and gave him the M*thafucka-if-I- really-wanted-you-to-know-I-woulda-been-done-told-you look.

He went away.

In other news, as you know, I also received a phone call from __ll__ yesterday. It seems that someone’s uncovered some airline tickets to Panama for under $400. He’s supposed to call me back today to let me know the final details of his travel plans and the cost of splitting a hotel room. Decisions, decisions.

He’s supposed to call me back at 10:00 this morning to let me know. I have just thirty minutes to decide. So I’ll close this letter now to think about it. Thank God I already have my passport.

Thanks for brightening my day,

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

TUE, 24 Sept 2002


Gazing with my third eye into my blue crystal ball, I saw you on the second day of Fall at your apartment complex approaching your mailbox. Your heart skipped as you fumbled for the key to open it: junk mail, a bill, more junk mail, another pesky bill. You double-checked the stack: no letter from me. After reaching your hand in and feeling around the walls of the box one last time, you looked behind your back, locked the box up, and pursed your lips wondering—with empty hands—what to make of me now…

Was I close? Or is my crystal ball cracked, too? Whether I saw you accurately or not, it leads me to this business of expectation.

Though Fall officially started on Monday, there was no perceptible change in the air. The temperature didn’t drop abruptly, nor did the leaves blaze and suddenly brown overnight. We all know these changes in Nature are coming inevitably; yet we cannot force them to come; they will only come within their own time. So, my question is, after one week of separation, if we mightn’t already be setting ourselves up for disappointment by putting an expectation, or a timeline, on things which may be beyond our control.

For instance: On Sunday, I called you fully expecting that you’d received the Top 25 letter, and that we’d have a long, constructive conversation discussing it. But, you didn’t receive it. As a result, I was disappointed.

On Tuesday, I suspect that you expected you’d receive another letter from me. I know you didn’t because it was returned, and I know that you were—even if only slightly—disappointed. These are only small instances. What I’d like to ensure is that we are both allowing ourselves to be open to the universe and open to whatever lessons we are to learn from this period of transition.

It is my hope that we will see each other again and revert to 1999’s winter bliss. But, we must both also realize that we are not the same people now as we were then; and, our feelings are more complex than they were then. So, each night I center my spirit—hopefully in a way that I will be ready to accept whatever may come.

After I reread the Top 25 letter (which actually was only 17), I realized there were a number of pivotal moments which I left off of the list. I’ve always been one to tie up loose ends; so, normally this would bother me. But, in this case, I’m actually glad I wasn’t able to finish the list because it will give us plenty to talk about this Sunday.

Today’s letter is quick because my day is nearly done. But, I’m afraid I’ve come across somber. I don’t mean to be so. I’ll try to sing a lighter tune tomorrow.


P.S. Yesterday, I passed a church with open doors & thought
of you.

Monday, November 29, 2004

WED, 18 Sept 2002


And so, right after I mailed the first letter and got into my car to go home, the first thought I had is, I wonder what it would be like if _____a and I had a house together?

Pulling onto Piedmont, this introduced all sorts of thoughts: First, what would we have for dinner tonight? Order in? Eat out? Pick vegetables from the garden? Forage for nuts and berries in a tree?

Then, I was faced with a stark reality. At some point, I’d be forced to cook. Then, I’d no longer be able to scrutinize and criticize you. Then, you’d be able to make fun of my tough chicken and rubbery rice. You’d be serving me the truth about my tragic salad and my soggy stir fry.

These thoughts were new and strange to me because previously I’d never seriously considered living with you. I mean, I’d given it a passing thought before, but I’d given myself a zillion reasons why it wouldn’t work out: your religious commitments, my need for personal space, blahblahblah. But suddenly, on this, our second consecutive day of no talk, these things became unimportant.

What does that say?


So, I decided to not go to the gym because I had to work on a bio for me and the fellas to perform in Huntsville next month. As usual, D_niel was the only one who’d given me his updated bio information and I was waiting on S__d’s and A_’s. As is usual, I’d probably end up making something up. Thinking about how tired I was made me all the more tired as I pondered my 3-hour drive to Knoxville coming up on Friday.

So, after an hour of traffic, I finally made it home, logged on to my computer, and, as expected, there was not a peep from S__d or A_.

On Sunday, the kid organizing the gig in Huntsville asked for bio information, audio files, video files, etc. etc. etc. which I’d promised to him for Wednesday. And, as usual, I was left to pull it all together. I ordered a pizza, passed some time reading books, took a bath, and sighed.

Finally at 9:30, under the weight of an impending next-day deadline with too much work and not enough time, I did what I always do: I went to sleep.

I’m on a huge lake—so big I can’t see to the other side. Why is it a lake and not a sea? Because I said it’s a lake, of course!

So I’m on this big, dark body of water on a boat by myself. The water is bordering on violent and I can feel it’s strength gathering, but I’m not worried—even though I can’t see to the other side.

The sky is blackening, the wind is picking up, and I don’t even have a sail! Lord, oh Lord, which way will the wind blow me now?

The rain must have been whispering something peaceful to me as I slept because I awakened two hours later and all of the pressure was gone.

The next morning, I woke up (as God apparently intended), went to work and did what I usually do: I spent 3 hours finishing the group bio at my desk. I felt so exhilarated after it was done! I showed it to a co-worker whom I usually can’t stand. He thought it was well done.

My day passed pretty rapidly after that at work. And hark!, I realized I hadn’t even started my daily letter. So, here I am now, thirty minutes past my time to leave work. Will I be able to keep this up? I’m sure I can. Today I have so much energy! But, only time will tell.



P.S. Do you know that, after all of that screaming, I still haven’t regained my voice?
P.P.S. What would I plan for dinner for us tonight?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

View from the Lower Rungs of the Ladder #2,581

I ain't seen one of these
since Clinton was in office!

- Murray, the shoeshine man, on the occasion of my paying him with a $20 bill

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Artist Statement [2004]

The artist statement is a standard document often required for grant and fellowship applications in the arts. Essentially, it expresses an artist's vision and philosophy. Click the links for some examples of statements from other artists in different disciplines. Here's my most recent:


This is a simple declarative statement, yet it is the nucleus of my literary universe.

As a youth, my diet of Black literature was anemic—a Maya Angleou poem here, a Langston Hughes short story there – and the appalling consequence of this was that it formed a Black child who did not believe his own trivial life - nor the lives of anyone else who shared his brown eyes, his dark skin, and his coarse hair - was worthy of literature. It saddens me now, angers me, makes me tremble in my bones to think that I ever felt this way. What is perhaps more tragic is that no one ever sat me down and specifically instructed, “You can’t write about X, or no one wants to read Y.” It was a very understated yet systematic process that led to my thinking, a slow drip of arsenic in my skull.

The sole purpose of my artistic existence is to stop other young readers – Black and especially those who are not – from ever feeling this way about Black people – in America and the world over.

I am not militant. If my telling a story or composing a poem requires people of various ethnic backgrounds, then I will write what the story demands. But my motivation stems from that dreadful moment when I believed that my life—and I mean that in the sense of the whole Black race – was something subhuman. Further, if I as a Black writer don’t pen Black literature, then who will?

All over the world, people tell their own stories. No one would dare say to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “This novel is lovely, but why such a focus on White characters?” Or to Ha Jin, “This is a beautiful story, but do all of your characters have to be Chinese?” The fact is, people write what they know. Even in most far-fetched science fiction, once you strip away all of the circuitry and the gadgets, a writer's own experience is his basis.

Of American literary classics, how many books of fiction by White authors even include a single Black character? How many plays? And when Black characters are included, how well-rounded are they?

I choose not to blame this on a conspiracy by “The Man” or some racist regime. I am self-determined. I choose to do something about it because it is my duty as a Black artist with a pen - to write my history, to report my present, to transform my future - no one else’s.

Now if others want to write about the Black experience, then more power to them. But an old Nigerian proverb says: Do you know why, in the stories of the lion and the hunter, the hunter always wins? It is because it is always the hunter who tells the tales.

I do realize that some may view my commital to writing Black literature as restrictive, but it is only restrictive to the closed-minded. “The reason why Blacks are invisible," novelist Ralph Ellison wrote, "is because they refuse to exercise the full range of their humanity.” And so, when I say Black, I mean not in the terms which others have defined, but in the sense of the blackness of outer space, of the infinite possibilities of both what Black has been, but, more importantly, what Black can be.

Consider: a Black astronaut, a Black serial killer, a Black Chief Justice, a Black news anchor, a Black golf star, a Black Academy award winner. At some point, some garbage collector, some sharecropper, some slave looked up from his dusty work and dreamed. And oh what a dream we are! At some point, these notions were all far-fetched, all outside of the realm of 'Black'. But, my point is that there is no “outside the realm of Black.” The definition of Black is constantly expanding, just like the universe. It has no limits, for better or for worse. So my art aspires toward that Black which is limitless, the Black of the imagination, a Black which has never been seen: a Blackness which is humanity.

In that sense, I make this statement, proudly as an artist:

I am a Black writer.

Friday, November 12, 2004

How to Prune a Family Tree (Part 3 of 3)


HE THOUGHT HE’D NEVER REACH the house in Redwine, Georgia. After two interstates, a state highway, some paved streets, and a dirt road, he finally pulled up to the “white shotgun house with the pine tree in the yard, which you’ll know it when you see it coz it was struck by lightning so it leans. Plus it ain’t got no bark.”

But even before he saw the pine tree, Leon knew the house because it was a parking lot of thirty or forty cars - Cadillacs and Cutlasses; Thunderbirds and Trans Ams - mostly old, but all waxed and immaculate.

As he put his car in Park, Leon saw a curtain move in the front window. It appeared to be a stout White man in a dark suit. When the man caught Leon’s eye, he pushed the curtain back.

My God, Leon thought to himself, feeling suddenly underdressed, All these cars? Suits? Did Tammy die last night? Is this her… wake?

He climbed the front steps. It sounded eerily quiet inside. His stomach was a pit of guilt as he rapped on the tattered screen door.

“Come in,” a voice said, perhaps a little too quickly.

Leon opened the door and stepped inside. There was a roomful of White men and women - not all in black dresses and suits - but in polka dots, plaids, and more floral prints. Some badly bleached blonde, but mostly that unforgettable red shade of hair, much like his own.

Suddenly he began feeling hot. Perhaps it was from all the plastic slip covers on the furniture. Or perhaps?

Before he could knew what hit him, Leon was tackled from behind by two shanks of ham, which were trying to pass themselves off as arms.

“Surprise!” she yelled.

Leon spun around. No broken hip, not even a crutch, just a few bruises - it was Tammy.

“Surprise!” she yelled again, blowing a kazoo, leading the entire room of fifty or so men, women, and children as they converged to embrace him.

“What are you doing?” Leon screamed, struggling to free himself from her, from them. But it was no use. They were all around him. It was something akin to love, and Leon couldn’t stop them.

“Listen here, y’all this here’s my son. He’s a actor! He was actin downtown. He was in the newspaper. He‘s gonna be the next Denzel Washington!”

Leon hated Denzel Washington.

“Ooh, can I get your autograph?” asked a little red-headed boy, who was probably his cousin.
“Can I, can I please?”

Tammy was still holding him, holding this stolen memory, but she could not hold back nearly thirty years of tears. Grinning so hard her cheeks might break, she hugged him like a tree. She refused to let go.

“Why won‘t you leave me alone!” he screamed, “You’re ruining my life! You tricked me…. You said that you were dying!“

“But I am,” Tammy said, turning Leon around to see her own reflection in her son’s smoky eyes, as if from a dream, “one day…. at a time!”

It was the most beautiful thing she ever saw.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

How to Prune a Family Tree (Part 2 of 3)


THE CALLER I.D. DISPLAYED UNKNOWN CALLER again. The rings began sporadically, just after nightfall, the day after the end of the world. The next night the rings came in swarms, like hornets. When the ringing finally relented enough for him to dream, they returned even more fiercely like a blanket of locusts. This is when Leon leapt from his bed and ripped the cord from the wall so hard he toppled his bedside altar.

After a sunrise in quiet, Leon reconnected the phone and blocked the woman’s number. But the ringing resumed before he could even finish breakfast. The answering machine read: 39 MESSAGES. He had no desire to talk to the woman. Besides, as long as she was calling, it was a reminder that she wasn’t dead.


Though they had an estranged relationship, it was one which suited Leon perfectly fine. Tammy (which is how Leon referred to her) gave birth to him when she was only twelve; Zeke, the father, was eleven.

Holding the red-headed newborn as close as she could to her heart, Tammy returned from Grady Hospital on the bus next to her own mother, who was now a not-yet-thirty-year-old grandmother herself.

But before she would let the girl step foot back in their one-bedroom apartment, she, between drags on her cigarette, delivered an ultimatum:

“I’m raising one of ya,“ exhaling smoke into the infant’s face, “or none of ya. Now which is it gonna be?” And so it came that Leon was raised by Zeke Lattimore’s family.

But being rid of Leon wasn’t enough for Tammy’s mother. She was determined to white-out this dark blot in their family history altogether. So, she packed up all of their belongings in a rusted red Ford pick-up - which they borrowed - and moved as far away from Zeke and baby Leon as her money would take them - to an apartment complex in the next school district.

But Tammy’s mother, who could not see the future for all her hours flouring biscuits at Mrs. Winners, could not predict the stick of dynamite she would light in Tammy by forbidding her to ever see that niggerchild as long as Tammy lived under her roof; could not see that despite the Lattimore’s family fortress of concerted efforts, Tammy would continue to dream the most extreme means to see her baby - no matter how far she had to walk, no matter how many years she had to wait; could not know that, though Tammy failed every math class she ever took, she would accurately predict the day Leon would start kindergarten, when he would finally be free of the Lattimore family’s 24-hour hawklike watch and that she, even as a pimply 7th grader, would have already plotted their reunion, years into her future:

How the cloudless September sky would be a boundless sea of possibility that day she would play hooky from school; what MARTA buses she would take, what transfer point; what grown-up dress she would wear to subvert the undercover truancy officers; what wooded paths she would traverse after getting off the bus - Oh, just to be able breathe the same air as him.How she would hide out in the bushes, among the branches and the briars - just outside of the fence surrounding the graveled P.E. field, just to get one glimpse of the auburn-afroed boy, who she had not seen for five years, but whose blood was her blood, yet whose skin was not quite her skin, but oh, who undeniably was him because why else would her heart leapt like that the moment she saw him. He, of her own fiery red hair and her own smoke-gray eyes, who even, oh god, had her freckles; as she watched him skip rope and laugh and trip and fall and get up and, oh god, cry at recess under the open sky without even the threat of a cloud in sight.

Tammy’s mother could not foretell that this day would all be too much for a sixteen year-old heart which would burst from all that weight, sending Tammy bounding out of the branches and struggling over the fence, out, out, looking like a full-figured madwoman, but really being just a little girl, in a grown-up dress with grown-up shoes, running into the open field, out-of-breath, the wind in her hair, mascara streaming, racing, to touch him just once, to hold him just once, no matter what the cost, but instead to be denied, detained, and turned in by Mr. Lawton, who was, not very long ago, her own P.E. teacher.

But what the Lattimores and Tammy’s own mother’s restrictions could not stop, the law could. And after this episode on the elementary school P.E. field, the Lattimores put out a restraining order on her. And so, Tammy’s outraged mother moved again, to the edge of the known world - the end of the MARTA line - to start a new life - a life in which Tammy would fatten herself on sorrow and drown herself in spirits so that she might extinguish what she would find to be an inextinguishable desire - to hold Leon in her arms again.


To say that Leon and Tammy were from different backgrounds would be an understatement. Leon, raised in a house by a bank executive and a math teacher, was a Howard University graduate. Tammy grew up in apartment complexes, was raised by a single mother, and, well, didn’t exactly graduate from a university (or a high school, for that matter.) This difference, though the Lattimores were not terribly excited about the prospect of their eleven-year old son being a father, put the Lattimores in the privileged position of not needing Tammy or Tammy’s family - for anything. In fact, they prided themselves on it. As the papersack-brown Mrs. Lattimore so tactfully put it:

“God works in mysterious ways, and, naw, He ain’t always fair. But this time we lucked out,” she said, “with a light-skinned baby… with good hair!”


The day she turned 40, Tammy looked in the mirror and God revealed to her a short path to the grave ahead, and a fiery path beyond, if she didn’t right what had been made so wrong between her and Leon. That she was drunk when she had the vision, besides the fact that she had not opened a Bible in over a decade, should have been an indication that it perhaps was not God - nor a higher deity - Who was speaking. Which is how - despite her unanswered letters and cards, her photographs, and her phone calls, which all entered a bottomless pit called Leon - she wound up crashing opening night of the world premiere production of “Confessions of a Cornbread Queen,” just to show her support because that is, after all, what mothers do, and what families do and wasn’t that what she was, after all? Family, too?




“Don‘t call me that. My name is Leon.”

“I know. I’s the one gave it to you,” she cleared her throat. “This is Tammy, your Mother.”




“Are you alright, son?” He hated when she called him that.

“What do you think?”

“Well, I’m not alright, son. This is why I‘m calling.”

“Really? What’s wrong?” he asked, not even attempting to hide his enthusiasm.

“Well, I don’t know if you know this, but I came to see your play.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Yeah, I had a little fall.”




“Son, my fall was pretty bad. I broke my ankle, my hip, bones in my back - I even broke bones I ain’t know I had. They took me to Grady and once they got me stable,” she paused, trying to hold back tears, “they released me. They said there was nothing they could do for me. I’m doin so bad,” she began to whimper, “they sent me home… to die.”

“Oh, that’s terrible.” He held the phone, allowed her to bawl.



“I was wondering if you could do two things for me, son.”

”Sure.” For the first time in his life, Tammy was actually saying something that had Leon excited.


“I want you to come by and see me, son. Tomorrow, if you can. I want to just shake your hand, one time,” she said, “before I pass.”

“Sure, Tammy,” he said, this time a little more sincerely, “and what’s the other thing?”

“Just one time, can you call me,” she asked, “Mom?”

“Sure,” Leon said. “I’ll be there tomorrow. Then he added, reluctantly, “Mom.”

Next: Part 3 of 3 in my entry to the Creative Loafing Annual Fiction Contest.

Monday, November 08, 2004

How to Prune a Family Tree (Part 1 of 3)*


SHE WAS A LOT OF WOMAN to be falling that far.

A split second before, the woman had downed two mouthfuls of peach martini to lessen the likelihood of its spillage in the whir back to her seats. The curtain already risen for Act II, she was late from Intermission. There were five perilous steps between Row K and the front of the stage.

Sold out for months, it was the world premiere of Ashby’s scandalous "Confessions of a Cornbread Queen." Emily Ashby (originally from Alabama, now residing in England) would only be the greatest Southern playwright since Tennessee Williams! Earlier in the day, Jamaal, the male lead had suffered an allergic reaction to some gumbo - which fellow cast member, Leon, had been kind enough to bring back for him during the final run-through, which ran well-through lunch.

"It‘s chicken gumbo," Leon assured the starving actor, handing him the Cajun poison. "I even asked the cook for a list of ingredients. I explicitly stated, No shellfish! He’ll swell up, turn colors… die, even."

Jamaal didn’t die from the gumbo, but the actor, in spite of his naturally tar-like complexion, did turn lots of colors. And guess who just happened to be his understudy…

When Leon first held the holy script nearly two years ago, he saw the Light (even if it was a stoplight.) And when he learned that the Appliance Theatre was staging the world premiere production in Atlanta?

He took a university course on Homiletics; he set up an altar to the playwright by his bed; he even shaved his beloved auburn dreads. He put on thirty extra pounds; nothing was going to stop him - not even the Casting Director casting Jamaal in the role instead.

All of the city’s major theatre critics were there: Dolores Stein from City Papers, that blue-haired ice queen from The Journal, the pearl-clutching Oscar Martinez from Black Box. Even the famed playwright crossed the Atlantic to be in attendance. But then again, who wasn’t at the world premiere of Ashby’s latest masterpiece, starring – not Jamaal, but – Leon Lattimore as the charismatic Pentacostal preacher, Reverend Brown?

Act II, Scene One

Leon poised to launch into his monologue—the monologue. The one where Reverend Brown defies all pastoral decorum and, eight feet tall in the pulpit, unveils his undying love to the lowly Cornbread Queen, a lost congregation of one.

Two years Leon had waited for Atlanta’s adoring eyes, their eager ears, their applause. His jaw trembling with the nuanced tenor of a Pentacostal preacher, he began, "When Gawwwwwwwwwd made Woman-"

Leon sent chills even down his own spine. As he summoned his next breath, the audience murmured with anticipation.

He continued:"He took the riiiiiiiib-"

Then, Crack!

The heel broke.

Then, an eardrum-bursting, "Whoop!!!!! Whooooooooop!!!" echoing from wall to wall as the woman with the peach martini collapsed like a house of one hundred thousand Tarot cards.

That’s how long it took. A hundred thousand cards.

She rolled. Her rolls rolled. Her rolls’ rolls rolled. Eventually, all 350 pounds of Leon’s Mother tumbled down the aisle. (Imagine some large planet, like Saturn, hurtling out of orbit.)

Blinded by the spotlight, Leon recoiled at the sound. Though disoriented, he would not be denied.

"But God said,” Leon stammered in character, “God said," as if a heavenly commandment might avert this hellish disaster, "God said, The show must go on!"

But rather more like Godzilla than God, the show went. What Leon heard: A chain reaction of gasps and screams warning unsuspecting patrons seated in his Mother’s wake. One considered leaning in to her rescue while the rest scrambled on hands and knees for dear life. (Imagine Saturn, hurtling out of orbit and dragging its dozen moons with it.)

What Leon saw: At the periphery of the blaring light, a ripple through the audience. And on the very front row, the playwright, Emily Ashby, as astonished as if she had just witnessed the Rapture – and been left behind.

Leon was a deer in headlights when his mother finally crashed on the interior of Row B - seats 4, 6, and 8. An unsuspecting Black boy, seated at ground zero, wound up traumatized to such an extent that this first theatre experience of his life would be his last. (Decades later, it would take a group of expert Emory psychotherapists to finally diagnose the man’s condition – Caucasiamammariaphobia: fear of the White titty.)

Emily Ashby did manage to stand - just before fainting. Oscar Martinez, the critic, snapped his imaginary strand of pearls. The house lights went up. The curtain crashed down. And behind its red fabric, Leon remained paralyzed, his mind emblazoned with this final image: The woman, who called herself his mother, in tacky floral print and loud red curls – arms out, legs up - lowly moaning like a beached whale.

Oh, how the paramedics rushed in; oh, how they heaved-and-hoed to carry her out; and oh, how the 700-plus hysterical patrons scattered from the theatre.

The Appliance refunded everyone’s money, but who would refund Leon’s pride? And despite Leon’s most imaginative efforts, naturally, Jamaal, the male lead, wouldn’t miss another show.

Next: Part 2 of 3 from my entry to this year's Creative Loafing Annual Fiction Contest

Thursday, November 04, 2004

In Case You Were Wondering

where I've been, I've been busy at trying to finish my entry for the 2005 Creative Loafing Short Fiction contest. This year's theme is "Smoke." There's a maximum word limit of 3000. Right now, I'm at about 1300. The deadline is this Monday, the 8th. I'm a little embarrassed at how it's been going.

I'm hoping that by posting this blog entry - by putting it out there, that is - it'll force me to finish. Last year, when I came in 2nd, I actually didn't finish the story until 2 hours before the 5 p.m. deadline. I hand delivered to Creative Loafing in rush hour traffic.

Anyway, it helps that the Falcons don't play this Sunday, so I can actually get some work done. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Not Quite a Gray Hair, but...

BACK IN THE DAY, EVERY FALL meant a brand new pair of sneakers. And with it, a brand new chance to jump up (or down) the Cedar Grove social ladder.

And when it came to Candy Furcron (the only girl in the 4th grade with titties), you couldn't even think about kickin game to her (or climbing her ladder, for that matter) if you ain't have the right kicks.

Are those Pro Wings? You are WICK-WICK-WHACK! Step off!

As it turned out, I couldn't step to Candy anyway. But that's another story. But at least I didn't have to step off because of my shoes!

In '84, my white and blue Cortez Nikes wz classic. In '85, my white Asahi's wz live. In '86, my gray Adidas wz in da mix. And in '88, my black Le Coq Sportif's wz straight!

But at some point in my life, my feet stopped growing. Instead, I had to. Read: My folks put a period to too-extravagantly-priced kicks.

(On the real, when Air Jordans came out at $100 a pop, my parents put a period to all of that.)


This past Tuesday, I went shopping for a new pair of sneakers. This would be my first pair this decade. And this century. And this millennium. Suffice it to say, I was overdue.

Amid the towering aisles of the Nike Factory Outlet, I got dizzy, I was so out of touch. Dozens and even hundreds of shoes, but all my 30-year-old eyes could see were price tags:

Ooh, $54.99!

Ooh, ooh, $44.99!

Ooh, ooh, ooh, only $39.99!

The shoes themselves? One big blur of rubber, leather, and plastic.

No. Too many colors.

No, no. Too much sparkle.

No, no, no. Too much... money.

What happened to my cutting-edge sense of style? Every pair I settled on was $39 and blue gray silver white on white. Am I becoming corny? Or worse, am I becoming... old? I quickly scanned nearby for a... (it pains me to say this) young person's opinion. Noooooooooo!!!

With it being lunch hour on a weekday, naturally, no young person was around. Was the air getting thick? I started having hallucinations of me performing in front of a class of high schoolers with all of their eyes focused on... my corny shoes!

I scrambled for some other reference point. I scanned the names of the various Nike product lines for any name that might seem familiar from a rap song. My Adidas? No. Um, Air Force Ones? Where are Nelly and G-Unit to validate my consumer decision when I need them?

Ayo, gain your bearings.

1. Are Nikes even cool?

2. Okay, okay. Are you even cool?

3. Okay, okay, okay. Are there even any cool people in this store?
I looked around. Aha! Here was my answer.

Where you find cool people, you will find cool shoes! This Nike Factory store looked to be holding a casting call for the Miller High Life ad campaign.


And so, I passed beer belly- Excuse me, sir - after beer belly - Excuse me, sir - stroller after stroller, and left the store empty handed. Into October, blinded by turning leaves, I dreamed of a world filled with cool sneakers. I sighed.

Maybe tomorrow I'll try... the Adidas store?

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Genealogy of the Byrd Family: The Backstory

SO, I'VE BEEN DOING TIME at this company a little over X years, just a little longer than my co-worker (let’s call him… Eddie.) Eddie’s just over 30. He’s what some would call… royalty. Growing up on that fine line between The Backwoods and The Country, he’s a Queen trapped in a hillbilly’s body.

To cope with his lack, Eddie’s become what psychiatrists call a megalomaniac.

We just call him a liar.

Eddie also exercises what I call blind bigotry. Black, Asian, Mexican, gay, or straight, when he stereotypes, he doesn’t discriminate. Even without my embellishment, Eddie’s quite the character. But I tolerate him because it’s all part of the package—overbearing supervisors, whining clients, annoying co-workers. It’s a job. 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 some-odd weeks a year, etc. It’s not in my best interest to create any extra stress.

If you can name a place at the most distant corner of the Earth—from Pisswater, Pennsylvania to the temples of Timbuktu—Miss Scarlet O’hara has been there, done it, and gotten the tee shirt. Not only does she have the tee shirt, but there’s a famous street there named for her Great Uncle’s Brother’s Cousin (who, in a different family tree, happens to be his sister) on his Mother's side.

And in that distant corner of the earth, there’s the fabulous best friend there named Nepali or Nefertoto [OR INSERT OTHER FUNKY SOUNDING ETHNIC NAME HERE] who stays in a mansion with grand Victorian columns (whether in a city or a jungle, whether in South Philly or the South Pacific) where they eat fresh shark and shrimp before going out for cocktails on the best friend’s yacht which, naturally, docks at the front door.

Same story, different places—road named after Eddie's family, Victorian columns, and everything. In hindsight, it's really quite pathetic. But pity doesn't make for good drama. What makes for good drama is this: I am Black and Eddie is White; and, in the world of these cubicles, that makes all the difference.

So, I am sitting in my cubicle, a corporate slave, minding my own business, blinking at the blinking cursor (that would be, doing my job) when, out of the blue Eddie asks, “Hey, Marvin. Your last name’s Heath, right?”

Now, Eddie’s had to e-mail me more times than I care to count over the past 4 years. Though his grammar and spelling are as broke-down as his trashy excuse for a childhood, they’re good enough to know my last name.

Plus, an Eddie question is never just a question. It’s a set up. So, I brace for the worst.

“Yeah, my last name is Heath.”

“Well, my cousin Dixie, Dixie Flagg [I wish I were kidding], is dating this new guy, Parker, Parker Heath. He's from The Heaths of south Georgia. Parker's got these beautiful blue eyes and this gorrrrrgeous, curly blonde hair. And Dixie's blonde... oh, they're gonna have such beautiful children! Anyway, Parker's family is really rich and lives down there near Columbus. Isn’t that where you said your people were from?”

“Yes,” I say, feeling suddenly nauseous.

“He's got a Mercedes for work, another Mercedes for the weekend, and another one that he just keeps parked in the garage. Anyway, these Heaths, they're big in textiles. I'm sure you've heard of them, haven't you?"


"Well, they’ve had money since, like, way before the Civil War. Anyway, Dixie was telling me about this really cool mill that Parker took her to last weekend. A mill that his family, the Heaths, still own.

“I don't know," Eddie's voice twanged like a poorly-tuned banjo, "but I wonder if you and him are related..."


Genealogy of the Byrd Family

My Mama maiden name is Byrd. Word is
da name came from my Great-Great-Great Granddaddy Junie
who useta catch da Holy Ghost in da cottonfields
spinnin’ round & spreadin’
his long black arms, wide like wings against da sky—
Dey say like dat eagle who teach da angels
how to fly.

But Big Mama Sadie say, Unh, unh.
Dat name come from Great-Great-Great-Great Auntie Boo
who useta lead da worksongs in da canefields
with an alto so high&sweet
she made da bluest hummingbirds dance
& da greenest cane lean down & weep rivers
of brown sugar.
Sweet Jesus!

But Big Uncle Toonkie say, Naw naw naw
Dat name come from Great-Great-Great Great-Great Grandpapa Adika
who on da ninety-ninth lash in da ricefield
finally fell to his knees before da overseer
turned east toward Africa (Glory)
sprouted wings like a sankofa* (Oh glory!)
rose toward freedom &jus
flew away!
Good God Almighty!

Dat’s what dey say.

But da truth of da matter
is dat Byrd come to us from a Carolina slavemasta
who folk in England ran dis ol’ country inn
dat for generations came to be known da whole kingdomwide
for dey collection of exotic African birds
which never flew,
but which dey kept
caged-up inside.

* sankofa: a bird of Ghanian mythology whose
head faces the opposite direction of its body so
that, even as it advances, its eye is constantly
on its past. From Akan, translated literally:
One must return to the past to move forward.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

MFA Application Update (4 of 4)

This just in from New England College:

Dear Marvin,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the Master of Fine Arts Program in Poetry at New England College. Your application materials indicate that you have the talent and ability to succeed in this highly selective program.

We have enclosed important information about the structure and philosophy of our MFA program. During the January 2004 residency,
Marilyn Nelson and Michael Waters joined our already outstanding staff. Alicia Ostriker and Judith Hall joined us this past summer. The extraordinary range of our prominent faculty offers a seasoned, as well as diverse pedagogical presence. Students and faculty comprise a vital creative community at the NEC MFA Program, complementing the...

So, here we are.

Four months ago, I had no undergraduate degree, and no foreseeable plan out of cubicle life.

Two months ago, I had 4 application packets and a prayer that 1 admissions committee would be willing to look beyond the blemishes in my academic record.

Today, I have 2 rejection letters, but also, more importantly, 2 acceptances. Today, I have choices!


I suppose here the string section should start. And the narrator should say something inspirational about stepping out on faith, or about attempting the impossible. But that is the language of endings, and this is just a beginning. I've waited 10 long years.

Now, my friends, I'm ready to start.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Lord, a Prince... a King?

I FIRST TRIED TO LEARN THE LORD'S prayer from an 80's pop song. Which is to say I didn't grow up very religious.


Why I learned the Lord's Prayer is not because I survived some harrowing near-death experience like, say, surviving a gunshot a quarter-inch from my heart, or narrowly missing being smashed by a bus; rather I learned it so I wouldn't be embarrassed by not knowing it again on the second day of 8th grade football practice during team prayer. If you will recall, one of the worst things you can do as a teenager is to stand out.

To conclude the first day of practice, Coach H___ton, at one end of the litmus blue sky, said, "Let us bow our heads."

Our Father, began the voice with fifty throats.

Startled, my eyes darted from face to face. Every mouth was moving but mine. The sound that September, like Doom.

I grew small.

Weeds and briars, like bony fingers, crept in through the chain-link fence. The woods, more dark than green, grew taller and taller in the fading summer light. Four walls of pines leaned in with covetous branches, each to reclaim me, the unholiest of the dandelions, from the weed-infested field-

I panicked.

What is this? And when did they all learn it? My God! Was that thunder?

I'm sorry, now I've taken Your name in vain.

What will they think if they see I don't know the words? What will You think? Does this make me a heathen, Lord? Please, oh please, just don't let anyone open their eyes!

Already damp from end-of-practice suicide sprints, my palms tingled; my sticky back ran with sweat.

As they recited in unison, I tried to mentally record the prayer, Hallowed be thy name. Yet the cadence - thy kingdom come... thy will be done... - seemed vaguely familiar.

Is that... Yes! Yes! It's "Controversy" from Prince! All that's missing is the electronic synthesizer. God, if You just let me make it through to Amen, I promise I'll go straight home, find the record, and learn this prayer. Tonight!

After dinner, before even showering, I leapt eight steps in a single bound, up to my room, to search my skimpy album collection for the Prince cut that would be my saving grace.

(Why didn't I look in the Bible? Because, Tammy, I didn't even know what the prayer was called!)

Unfortunately, my obesession with Prince began in 1984 with Purple Rain. That would be three years after the Controversy album. Which, it turned out, I did not have.


Next, I rummaged through the hand-scribbled titles in my collection of gray Maxxell cassettes - T'pau's "Heart & Soul," Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam's "Head to Toe," Beastie Boys' "Brass Monkey," MC Shy D's "Got to Be Tough." I know I have this song somewhere. God, why are you doing this to me! If I show up tomorrow without knowing the words, it'll be worse than having my mom show up at school in hair rollers - worse even than wearing highwater pants!

The Prince song was nowhere to be found. I was running out of time. Besides, I had Geometry homework to do.

To take my mind off of my unbearable 13-year-old stress, I bisected some obtuse angles. Then, I showered.

The preceding nights, the Sleep Fairy had skipped over my bed. Today, I was beat-down from the first day of practice. Which is to say I was tired. I prepared for bed.

Before I learned the art of self-pleasure, I got my nighttime kicks from horror. At 13, my obessession was Stephen King.

I'd already consumed Pet Sematary [sic], The Dark Half, and The Dark Tower that summer. My reading that night happened to be the vampire tale, Salem's Lot.

As the minute-hand neared 2:30, I rose to shut the moon out of my window.

But vampires continued to multiply throughout the night, rattling burglar bars, scratching at shutters, whispering at the foot of the stairs. As I descended deeper and deeper into the chapters, every creak - every silence - made me jump.

My heart raced uncontrollably as Father Callahan stood over the bloodless body of the young Danny Glick in a graveyard. The darkness was consuming.

Which is when, buried among the pages of Stephen King, no less, I stumbled on this:

Our Father, who art in Heaven...

No way! I read on.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth, as it is...

My God! Could it be? But does it end the same way coach ended it in practice?

...the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.


I stayed up till nearly 4 that morning reciting the Lord's Prayer, as one ghoul after another peeped through my pane.

But with the prayer securely in memory, I fell fast asleep for a full two hours. Better than I'd slept in days.

I was fully prepared for whatever tomorrow might bring.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Brief History of Okra: Master's Take

Found in its wild
state on the floodplain of the Nile, Okra arrived
at the Port of New Orleans circa 1700 - germs stored
in a drum. NOTE: Start

okra from seed. It does not transplant
well. It is best planted
directly in Southern soil
after all danger

of frost has passed. RULE
OF THUMB: Keep the plants
separated. Okra seeds
are large, easy to handle, but they need

warm weather to grow well; which means
in Northern climes, you may not have
much of a crop. Picking
pods while wet may darken

the skin. They may seem bitter
at first, son, but really, the taste
is not affected. Unlike
her cousin, Cotton, Okra's showy

yellow flower will bloom jus one
day each year. Jus make sho
that day don't last

too long.

Monday, October 11, 2004

What I Did Sunday Night

"I'M GONNA RAPE your d*ck till it bleed!" the red-head screamed repeatedly, at what must've been 90 Decibels*.

*According to the League for the Hard of Hearing, 90 Decibels is the approximate noise level of:

A) a tractor

B) a shouted conversation

C) a garbage disposal

Had I actually been naked and in bed with Gi__, the thought of having my d*ck raped till I bled would've had me a little concerned. Fortunately, I was not naked, but rather fully-clothed and emceeing the 2nd Sunday Slam at Java Monkey Coffeehouse in Decatur.

The 2nd Sunday Slam is the resurrection of Atlanta slam after 3 years of slamlessness - three years since I last hosted Slam City! at the now-defunct Paradigm Artspace in Midtown in 2001. The 2nd Sunday Slam will serve as the local track to the 2005 National Poetry Slam in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This past Sunday's event was the first of 6 monthly qualifiers for the final 2005 Atlanta team selection in May.

Ten poets signed up to compete. Gi__, the 6th poet in the first round, delivered the evening's 4th rant.

rant [n.]: violent, high-sounding, or extravagant language, without dignity of thought; noisy, boisterous, and bombastic talk or declamation; as the rant of the deranged.

Supposedly, this rant was about turning the sexist notion of rape on its head (no pun intended), as the poet speaker took on the persona of a ruthless female rapist. Actually, it was a crock of-

Well, let's just say that it could have been a lot more artfully done.

I took the stage to call for the judges' scores. And when I couldn't tell if C__rr__'s scorepad said 6 or 0, I seriously began to question what I'd gotten myself into.

Several in the audience had never seen a slam before and many had negative perceptions regarding slam's lack of artistry, lack of literary quality, its rah-rah-rantiness. Yet here was my face attached to a what was become a giant rantfest!

I_o_, the 6'4", offensive-linesman-sized penultimate reader of the first round, ranted so hard he broke the microphone to pieces.

No, you're not hearing me. Literally, when I_o_ left the stage, the microphone, which was whole when he started, ended up on the floor in separate pieces.

I wish I were kidding.


Before you get to thinking that the event was a total disaster, let me tell you the ways (largely because of Kodac's motley core audience at his weekly open mic series) in which it was a runaway success:

  • the audience was very diverse by age, by race, by gender
  • 6 of the 10 competitors were women (women are typically underrepresented in slam)
  • the performers were ethnically diverse
  • the audience was amped - enthusiastic and extremely responsive to the performers
  • the outdoor patio at Java Monkey was packed beyond packed - to the point that a small crowd was gathered outside the gate on the Church St. sidewalk
  • the show started on-time, 8:00 p.m., and ended at 10:10, which included a 10-15 minuted intermission
  • not a single one of the entrants was a bad performer - even the evening's lowest scorer was engaging
  • there were at least 4 writers who had me excited about their potential, one of whom actually won.
Aside from the internal drama I was dealing with in my previous Venting: Poetry Politics in Atlanta post - about my feeling like the Uncle Ben on this box of rice - now I was struggling with this swelling tide of ranting and with its possible long-term effects on this newborn slam series.

Did the audience contain potential performers who would be intimidated by the bombardment of yelling and screaming thus far? Might these people who were not yellers or screamers never compete because they thought this was the only way to slam? Would there be others who'd never before attended a slam event, who might now write it off as the Dogma of the Deranged?

Something needed to balance the event.

Fortunately, at this kickoff slam, I would also be the featured poet. My mission: To break the box - to shatter many long-standing myths which the first round, unfortunately, was reinforcing about slam.

1) The only way to deliver a poem is to SCREAM at the top of your lungs.
2) Anger is the only valid emotion.

For my first poem, I did "Conjurewoman," which is quiet, playful and seductive.

3) Poems must be memorized.
4) Political poems must contain at least five words ending in -ism, ten words ending in -tion, and must all directly reference President Bush or some other conservative villain in public office.

For my 2nd poem, I read the, again quiet, "On a Fieldtrip to the Botanical Gardens, Kenya Gets a Lesson (Not in the Lesson Plan)," which addresses colorism, reading from the text in my hand.

5) Poems must use the entire three minutes.

For my 3rd poem, I did the 45-second, "Uncle Charlie Comes to da Family Reunion."

6) Hip-hop vernacular is the only acceptable language.

For my 4th poem, I performed the 'literary' "The Dreamlife of Dr. Bledsoe's Inner Pickaninny."

7) Hip-hop posturing (that awful b-boyish gesturing with the hands) is the only acceptable range of body movement.

For my 5th poem, I did the Black rural vernaculared, Baptist-church-inspired "Genealogy of the Byrd Family."

8) If an audience is not vocally responding by laughing or hooting during your performance, then it doesn't work as a slam poem.

I closed with the somber, "Elegy for 7 (the Space Shuttle Poem)" which leaves an audience, unsure whether to even clap - that is, largely silent.


At the end of my set, my eyes were shut. I held the final moment of the Columbia disaster.

My first thought, before I opened my eyes, was that I was proud of how I had represented the art form to the audience. Sure they hooted and cheered the ranters before, but I cared less that they had the time of their lives and more that they saw different possibilities of slam. I wanted them to stretch. I wanted them to think.

To my surprise, my eyes opened to a standing ovation.


Overall, the slam was high-energy, even if light on poetry. with genuine moments of honesty and bravery - lots of raw talent that needs to be challenged to think outside of the box.

Theresa Davis, Adriana, and the winner, a crafty blonde-dreadlocked poet, Bryan (who got five 10's on the night), all looked very promising for this new season. I'm excited about watching them grow.

"Thanks for doing this," Bryan said afterwards, "for us."

And I thought (reluctantly), Maybe this won't be so bad after all.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Reading the Room: On Set-Selection in Performance Poetry

"WHAT ARE YOU doing?" __l_i_ asked, as I scribbled on a sheet of paper, scanning the audience of the 9/11 reading at the Carter Center.

"Deciding what poems I'm gonna do in my set."

"But aren't you up next?"


He scrunched his brow. "Isn't it a little late for you to be doing that?"

It is a question I have asked myself, oh, probably a couple of hundred times. That would be roughly the number of times that I've been a featured performer to this point in my 9-year literary career. You'd think something like Wisdom might set in and teach me a lesson - that I'd grow weary of the frantic last-minute scrambling moments before taking the stage. But if you are a poet, or any speaker/performer for that matter, who frequently presents in public, then you already understand, if you desire to be effective, some degree of uncertainty is part of the territory.

Outsiders may perceive it as a lack of preparedness, of irresponsibility - may chalk it up to the flighty nature of artists. But I assure you there is a method to my madness! It boils down to what is the cardinal rule in effective communication. Whether preaching to Pentacostals or reciting poetry to college faculty; whether singing for the Pope or crooning at a New Orleans speakeasy; whether writing an article for Hustler magazine or an essay to a graduate admissions committee, it is essential to know your audience.

Sure, if you're performing for a niche audience such as the local NAACP chapter or a Women's History Month event, then it is, of course, possible (and advisable) to research the audience and preselect a set. But most audiences are not so specialized, and you really have no idea who you will be reading for until you arrive at the event. Further, even when describing their predicted audience to you in advance, in this age of political-correctness, event organizers are sometimes not so straightforward, leaving you in a situation which was not quite what you bargained for.

So, through my years of performing for random selections of judges at National Poetry Slams in Chicago, Providence, and Seattle, and while performing at dozens upon dozens of other more specialized venues across the country, I have fine-tuned a skill for "knowing your audience" on an impromptu basis. I call it 'Reading the Room.'

But before I go any further, let me provide some examples of the rather unlikely places I've wound up reading poems to an audience that, in some way, was not quite what I'd expected. Hopefully, this will illustrate why reading the room - as opposed to approaching a gig with an etched-in-stone set list - is such a priceless skill. Just imagine yourself in each of the following situations, five minutes before going on-stage:

  • a redneck bar in Americus, GA
  • an assembly of high schoolers in Pittsburgh, PA, their parents frantically removing them from school on September 11th, just after the 3rd plane has crashed in a field less than 60 miles away
  • the out-to-humiliate-you producers of the game show, Weakest Link, in Hollywood, CA
  • a Christian singles conference
  • an Atlanta hip-hop club, where there has been a scheduling mix-up resulting in the deejay abruptly yanking the music, clearing the dancefloor, and contemptuously shouting at clubgoers, Sit down, now we're gonna hear some poetry.
  • a room of 1st graders at Queen of Angels Catholic school in north Atlanta
  • the Artistic Director and Assistant Artistic Director of Atlanta's Alliance Theatre
  • a Republican fundraiser (billed as a My South party) in NY, NY during the 2004 Republican Natl Convention
  • following a 50+ member gospel choir at the 2004 Turner Trumpet Awards Black Cultural Explosion in an event featuring former member of Arrested Development, Dionne Ferris; comedian, Ricky Smiley; opera singer, Djore Nance; jazz violinist, Karen Briggs; and Gospel singer, Smokie Norful

Now, hopefully you understand that it would be the equivalent of performance suicide to take the same 15-minute set of poems and read them to all of the aforementioned rooms. Obviously, what works in a captive room of first graders at a Catholic school is not best-suited for an audience of liquored-up hip-hoppers whose groove has been disrupted by your unexpected poetry performance.

So, what exactly am I doing when I am reading the room? Well, I am doing the antithesis of what I preach in the majority of my own work: I am stereotyping.

I survey the room by demographic - race, age, gender, religion, education, class, sexual orientation, etc. Then, I base my set selection on, say, 75% what I think will make the audience comfortable in subject matter and diction and, say, 25% of what I think will make them squirm or stretch. My personal goal is to make audiences, after one of my performances, see - 1) poetry, 2) Black people, and 3) themselves - in a new light.

But first of all, let me say that the wider your range of material, the greater your possibility for success. And by wide range I mean by subject matter as well as by level of diction. If most of your material, for example, bashes women, then chances are you're not going to be very effective at an AKA sorority luncheon. If all of the poems in your repertoire are written in metered Elizabethan English, then chances are you won't be very captivating to a classroom of inner-city 6th graders. Or if your poems are colored with four-letter words, then you're probably not going to be reinvited to read at the nunnery. You may think that these things are common sense, but many of you readers have seen, with your own eyes, the number of otherwise 'educated' poets, who make even wronger badder less sensible choices.

So, here, I'll present you a short list of poems in my repertoire to show how I make the decisions whether or not to perform them, as I 'read the room' at a venue:


I perform this poem whenever I'm in a majority Black room, in a church, or in a primary/secondary school. Because of its conversational diction, it is easily accessible for younger and less poetry-savvy audiences. I do try to limit performing in Atlanta because everyone's seen it before. If I am in the South outside of Atlanta, I perform it for any audience, regardless of race because of its Southern themes.

I very rarely perform it in universities or other quiet audiences where the crowd is very literate because it's been my experience that these audiences are put off by the melodrama of my performance. Further, academic types view this piece in the way that adults view Now&Laters or Jolly Ranchers: Anything that sugary couldn't possibly be good for you.

"The Dreamlife of Dr. Bledsoe's Inner Pickaninny"

I perform this poem when the audience is very literate - universities, bookstores. Ideally, the audience is racially mixed. Because it blatantly confronts Black stereotypes, people (Black and White) uncomfortable with themselves don't know whether it's okay to laugh. I enjoy the tension it creates.

"Genealogy of the Byrd Family"

I consider this poem the most theatrical in my repertoire, so I very rarely perform this poem at readings with academics. Also, I rarely perform it in Atlanta, unless it is an audience of mostly people who've never seen me before. I also tend to perform in medium-to-larger spaces with audiences of 100 or greater because of the exagerrated body movements. I prefer to perform this when a room's natural acoustics are good, so that I can be off-mic. The ideal space is a black box theatre.

"Urban Percussions"

The most stereotypically 'Black spoken word artist'-ish piece in my repertoire, I rarely perform this poem because it is over 4 minutes long. When I do perform it, it tends to be one of two audiences: 1) predominantly Black males adolescents who think Trick Daddy should be Atlanta's poet laureate (to show them there's another way), or 2) people like me - Black and White twenty- or thirty-somethings who grew up with A Tribe Called Quest stickers plastered all over their high school lockers.

"Conjuring the Whole Note"

I tend to perform this in very quiet rooms, mostly among academics when I don't feel like rocking the boat. The narrative is loose and the subject a bit more abstract. If I perform it in a room for a general audience, it is one of the poems I typically use to make them stretch.

"Elegy for 7 (the Space Shuttle Poem)"

Because this poem requires a lot from me in performance, I tend to perform it when the audience is giving me a lot of energy. Also, since I don't perform it often, I tend to reserve it for medium-to-large audiences - say, 100 or greater. I prefer that the room is mixed by race, gender, and age - that the audience somehow reflects America. The ideal space is a black box theatre.

"The Tragic Mulatto, or One-Drop Rules Hits the Silver Screen"

I perform this only in racially-mixed rooms because it makes everyone uncomfortable. The older the crowd, the better - particularly if they have memory of separate-but-equal facilities. This is another poem to make audiences stretch.


I never perform this poem for young audiences. I like to perform it most in a racially-mixed mature audience because it places the Black woman on a pedestal, and I want the whole world to see.


Here, in a tribute to old-school hip-hop I'm actually rapping! I reserve this for young audiences and 30-40 year-old audiences. Ideally, there are two microphones and I call someone from the crowd to beatbox on-stage. I would never perform it for an audience of serious hip-hop heads for fear I'd be laughed off the stage! Because it includes audience participation, it's mainly for fun.


So, the next time you're at an event and see a poet administering a cure for insomnia, or any other performer losing his audience, make the world a better place and pass along this tip:

Read the room.