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,