Thursday, December 07, 2006

You Walked Right Into That One

MANAGER: It's a damned shame no one ever taught you how to open a big screen TV.
MANAGER: I said, It's a damned shame that nobody ever taught you how to open the box of a big screen TV.
GRUNT: ...
MANAGER: You're supposed to turn the box so that the TV is right-side up inside the box. See? Then, you tear away the box and all the packaging around it. That way you don't have to flip the TV after it's out of the box. (Smugly.) That's how you open a big screen TV.
GRUNT: ...
GRUNT: I wouldn't know. I'm poor... I can't afford a big screen TV.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Serving Time

I HAPPEN TO LOVE catfish: blackened catfish, cajun catfish, catfish with blackbean sauce, catfish & grits; Catfish Masala, Catfish Provencale, Catfish Piccata, Catfish Almondine; pecan-crusted catfish, panang catfish, pan-seared catfish, and the Great Granddaddy of them all, good old fashioned southern fried catfish.

Yes, heaven is an all-you-can-eat buffet of catfish.

My friend, _ar____ had been promising to take me to a catfish joint in Austell which he's been raving about for the past two years - the kind where, on Saturday nights, people stuff themselves four generations at a time; the kind of where people walk in, but have to roll themselves out.

We finally made it there this past Saturday. Though the place was packed, the hostess was able to seat us immediately.

Before I could open the menu _ar___ said, "Salt & Pepper catfish."

"What?" I said.

"Salt & Pepper catfish. You can look at the menu, but the S & P catfish is great. Trust me on this one."

"Okay, Salt & Pepper it is," I said and tapped the menu shut.

As the waiters scurried to and fro balancing platters of crab, oysters, and fish, two of them nodded at _ar___, recognizing him from his previous visits.

"I come here almost every week," he said.

When our twenty-something waiter arrived, he seemed a little awkward in taking our drink orders. He wasn't very personable.

"You want water... and lemonade?"

"Yeah," I said. "A water and a lemonade."

In an effort to change the vibe, _ar___ made some small talk. "You're new here, aren't you?"

"No," the waiter replied indignantly. "I've been here a whole month."




Thursday, November 23, 2006

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED # 28: The Stuff of Stuffing

SO, I ARRIVED AT THE DEKALB COUNTY JAIL's back entrance and pressed the buzzer.

"Do you have any of the items posted on the sign to your right?" a voice over the intercom said.

Suddenly, I couldn't read. A man I recognized from television as Sheriff Thomas Brown appeared next to me and, with his index finger, underlined each red-lettered item on the sign.

Cell phones.

Then, I realized that I'd ended a call just before I pressed the buzzer. Clearly, the voice over the intercom must have seen me talking on my cell phone over the security camera. Surely, it is what prompted her to ask the question.

There are few things more annoying than a person asking you a question they already have the answer to. And here, with the sherriff standing next to me.

"Yes, I have a cell phone."

"I'll need you to secure your cell phone before you enter," she said.

Secure? Like, in my pocket?
Rather than be a wise a$$, I assumed she meant that she wanted me to leave it outside.

"Um, okay. I'm going to put it in my car," I said. (I was coming to serve - not be served. I wasn't trying to spend the night in the DeKalb County Jail.)

I returned and rang the guard again.

"Did you secure your cell phone, sir?"

"Yes," I said.

She buzzed me into the barbed wired gate, and I walked up the ramp to the back entrance to the jail where I - without a strip search, without a pat down, without so much a waved wand - signed in and, within 3 minutes, was in a hairnet and apron ready to begin my shift for goal #28: Volunteer for Hosea Feed the Hungry.


Hosea Williams was one of the most outspoken leaders of the Civil Rights movement. During the 1965 march on Selma, he was beaten to the point of unconsciousness. This proved perhaps his most remarkable quality: his hard-headedness.

His motto was "Unbought and unbossed." In fact, Martin Luther King once called him, "My wild man, my Castro." Lacking the tact or diplomacy of King, Joseph Lowery, and Ralph Abernathy, Hosea never really got the national attention of the others. But Hosea's mission was primarily to carry on what King considered the second phase of the Civil Rights movement, which King began just before his assassination in 1968: the Poor People's Campaign.

One of Hosea's greatest accomplishments in this effort was Hosea Feed the Hungry & Homeless which offers hot meals, haircuts, and clothing for the needy in Atlanta each Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also providing job training and rent and utility assistance, today, the program serves over 55,000 men, women, and children each year.

I'd never seen so much bread in my life: White bread. Brown bread. Publix bread. Colonial bread. Bread ends. Bread middles. Bread stacked 8 ft. high. Bread from wall to wall. Bread for rooms and rooms.

I was assigned to a group of a dozen or so volunteers for the 6 - 9 p.m. shift, whose duty was to tear bread for stuffing for the next day's Thanksgiving dinner. In two lines of chairs, we faced each other: elderly, young; Black, Asian, White; each leaned over a 30-gallon bag waiting to be filled.

19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.

21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

Like clockwork, we took loaves, opened them, and tore and tore and tore the bread; four slices at a time, five slices at a time; into fives into tens. And over poorly-rendered Christmas carols - What did the true love give on the 12th day? - and out-of-tune TV jingles, we each filled the bags with pieces of bread, with the stuff of stuffing, with pieces of our lives.

There was something very therapeutic about all of this tearing and joining and joining and tearing. In other halls and other rooms in the basement of this jail, some cleaned turkeys, others chopped onions, others emptied vats of green beans.

How humbling it was to play such a small part in a project that would, the next day, serve a multitude of 5,000 - threefold. Fifteen thousand men, women, and children all made possible by thousands of volunteers giving the greatest donation of all: Time.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED #28: Volunteer for Hosea Feed the Hungry.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

REVIEW: Dolores Kendrick's The Women of Plums: Poems in the Voices of Slave Women (William Morrow Company, Inc. 1989)

In his 1979 critical collection, From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative, Robert B. Stepto posits, "The strident, moral voice of the former slave recounting, exposing, appealing, apostrophizing, and above all remembering his ordeal in bondage is the single most impressive feature of the slave narrative." But what of a collection of poems based on slave narratives? Is the remembering enough? And if it is not enough, what elevates this remembrance to poetry? This is the challenge faced by former Washington, D.C., poet laureate, Dolores Kendrick’s award-winning 1989 collection, The Women of Plums: Poems in the Voices of Slave Women.

The Women of Plums is based on actual interviews of female slaves conducted by the Federal Writers’ Project. Ambitious in scope, these poems, mostly dramatic monologues written in the voices of slave women, humanize the horrors of slavery. In "Sophie, Climbing the Stairs," a slave braves the threat of flogging to learn how to read. In "Leah: in Freedom" a runaway slave refuses to let her spirit be broken despite repeated recapture. In "Ndzeli in Passage," a slave’s sister chooses death by drowning during the Middle Passage over a life of enslavement in America.

While these situations are moving, the poems themselves, often, do not move. The lyrical execution of the dramatic scenes is largely uneven.

True, there are moments when Kendrick’s technique dazzles. Alliterative and assonant, "Liza Lily in Silks" turns and turns and turns, reveling in its own sounds:

Oh, this is a quiet dress.
Light. Airy.
I can take off soft

in it anytime I please
if only to tease
Edam. Get him away

from the horror of his hope
That traps him in that
House that both of us hate.

I wait…

Written in the form of a shopping list, "To Market, to Market" chills the reader with its utter inhumanity:
one Spinning Wheel
one Dresser Mirror
one nigger wench & child

The ballad form beautifully amplifies content in the tragic "The Ballad of Bethany Veney" where:
...when old Kibber came upon
us running brave and free,
he made John climb
(for the last time)
the way away from me
  Good God! the way from me.

With its crisp monosyllablics, the images in "Julia Carrying Water" sing with the clarity of Lucille Clifton:

though I walk through
briars and bristles

up hills and over
stony paths

in rooms brightly dark
with watery movin’

But in other places within the collection, the language too often dulls into what reads like transcriptions arbitrarily broken into lines, as in these prosaic passages from "A Slightly Colored Lady":

In slavery you had to be good or you’d
Make Marster mad and he’d sell you
Or beat you or both…

And you wouldn’t know ‘till ‘twas too late
‘bout Jonah who be sold ‘way from his family
And Lilliemae who stood on the auction-block

Or these lines from "Sidney, Looking for her Mother…":

And you detain me unlawfully. Do you understand the
papers, suh? Can you
read? No offense, suh. Oh, no! but the train for Austin be
here any
Minute and that be the place where I last heard my mother

Or still worse, these lines from "Jo Abandoned":

At least I think he could Though his feelin’s be slow
They usually firm and honorable Just wanted the best
Jack always wanted the best for himself I didn’t fit

Where is image? Where is metaphor? Where is music?

Ironically, the most lyrical language in The Women of Plums actually occurs before the title page in "Canticles of a Black Lady," the prelude to the collection. Hear the lovely music in "…Fly winds to sea-rocks and break/ a round of prayer upon their backs," "Their ripe dreams bitten into leave a sour sweetness in the membranes of the mouth," and "The women of plums are sweet and black./ Their flesh moist with tears of joy."

It begs the question whether the need for verisimilitude to the slave narrative transcriptions shackles Kendrick’s ability to lyrically deliver.

Dolores Kendrick does get credit for originality in content. Along with Rita Dove’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Thomas and Beulah, Kendrick’s The Women of Plums helped lay the foundation for the recent rash of book-length African-American verse based on historical figures including Natasha Trethewey's 2002 Bellocq's Ophelia, Quraysh Ali Lansana‘s 2004 collection, They Shall Run: Harriet Tubman Poems, and Tyehimba Jess‘ 2005 National Poetry Series winning Leadbelly.

As Stepto proposed was true of the slave narrative, The Women of Plums’ real strength is in its remembering and in its engagement of the "moral, strident voice." While some of the poems struggle on the page, they consistently cry out to be voiced. Thus, it is no surprise that Kendrick adapted the collection for the stage, where it won the New York New Playwrights Award in 1997.

Before The Women of Plums, never before had there been such an assemblage of voices of female slaves in verse. But poetry demands more than originality in content. It demands originality in technique. In this regard, the fruit of The Women of Plums is lyrically bittersweet.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The End

This is it. Thursday, 26 Oct 2006, 1:29 p.m. The last straw.

I'm not mentioning who did it, or where it happened. But as of right now, it is over. Finis. Done. Rubber stamp it. Slam the gavel. Seal the coffin. Stick a fork in it.

Take a good look at these shoes, cause soon you're gonna hafta fill 'em.

So it is written.

So it shall be done.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Not Everyone's Dreading It

THIS WEEK I GOT HIT WITH what many consider to be the most dreaded of all civil services. Eight long hours, one short check: Jury Duty.

Reporting time was 8:15. So, I rose with the roosters to make the rush hour drive downtown to the zoo which masquerades as the Fulton County Justice Center.

After security clearance and the 7-story elevator ride, at 8:00 I checked in with the clerk and, with the rest of the pool of groggy jurors, joined the drone of bureaucracy. All was relatively quiet, that is, until one of the elevators opened up and a 5 1/2-foot tall cannonball shot out.

A bearded Black man carrying what appeared to be all of his earthly possessions: On his legs, two pair of pants. On his back, every shirt he owned. Over his shoulder, a dufflebag stuffed beyond recognition.

"Where I need to go for Jury Duty?" he asked - about ten times too loud for 8 o'clock in the morning and to no one in particular.

Someone answered, but he didn't hear it. After gathering his bearings, the homeless man found himself a line and stood in it.

The room murmured a little, and then a little more until the man made his way to the front of the line.

"Here for Jury Duty?" the clerk asked.

"Yes," the man said, suddenly articulate.

"May I have your summons?"

"Yes, ma'am" he said. He fumbled through one pocket. Then another. Yet another. "Oh, oh, here it is."

Before asking the man for his ID, the clerk studied the summons. True, it was printed on the same baby blue paper as everyone else's, but then she looked back up at the man, confused.

"Sir, you're in Group 18," she said, as if speaking to a child. "Only Group 19 was required to report. You're free to return--"

"I know. I know that," he said. "But what I need to know is, am I still getting my $25 check?"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stand Up, Stand Out: Honoring the Life of Tamara Dobson

TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH I had never heard of her until Digable Planets' first single, when Mecca said:

Ask Butta how I zone

and Butterfly replied

Man, Cleopatra Jones

The year was 1992 and I wanted to be Cool Like Dat! Whatever dat was. And ya know I had to find out. So, I went to the Wesley Chapel Blockbuster, found the blaxploitation section and bam! Right there between Coffey and Shaft, there she was, 38-26-39:

I popped in the video cassette, and I was immediately souled.

I mean, how could you not love a woman who stood 6 -foot plus and had the nerve to sport 4-inch platform heels? Ow! Who could casually Kung Fu kick The Man without even needing to retouch her lipstick. Shonuff! Who before Foxy, before Coffey, before Christy, broke the blaxploitation gender barrier - before anybody had heard of a Charlie or an Angel. All in a day's work, baby. Bam!

Earlier this week, Tamara Dobson made her transition due to complications from MS, but during her life, in her no nonsense glory, the real woman martial artist behind Cleopatra Jones was a true shero. Face of Revlon, Chanel, and Faberge, she made being Black proud, unapologetic, and downright bad!

So, here's to standing up and standing out. Scram all you jive suckas. This space is to honor the life of a graceful and true Black beauty, a pioneer.

Tamara Dobson
Rest in Peace

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


TODAY, WHEN I returned from lunch, I placed a small Vanilla Frosty on her desk. I knew she liked Vanilla Frosties.

She took her eyes off of her monitor, looked down at it, then quizzically up at me.

“What?" she said. "You didn’t want it?”

“No,” I said. “It’s for you.”

“Well, I mean," she stuttered. "I’m not even hungry.”

“Okay,” I said, and thought, That's why I got you a Small.

I handed her a spoon. Started for my cubicle.

“Hey," she yelled, quicker than a woman can change her mind. "Do you have a straw?”

“Yes,” I said, and gave her a straw.

A few moments later, I reappeared at her desk. She was smiling - eyes focused in her cup.

“You’re not used to people giving you things, are you?” I said.

“Wh- What? Why would you say that?”

“Well, when I gave you the Frosty, the first thing you said was, What, you didn’t want it?

"You assumed that I was giving you the Frosty because it was something I was rejecting – like I couldn’t have possibly bought it just for you.”

“Well, um, I guess you have a point,” she said, between sips. “Thanks!”

“You’re welcome,” I said to her.

How sad, I thought, as I noted her half-empty cup.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Frottage (with the Forsaken Flavor)

AT A COMPANY BIRTHDAY FUNCTION last week, a co-worker pushed up on the table and asked, "What kind of ice cream is that - plain?"

"Plain!" I said. "What do you mean plain? It's vanilla! Vanilla is a flavor, too!"


When people want to describe the epitome of Plain Jane, vanilla's the flavor of choice. Vanilla sex... Vanilla Ice...

How has vanilla gotten such a bad rap?

Ooooh. That was bad.
During summers, when I was much younger, I would wait until my Mother was safely distracted upstairs, doing something vanilla - like, say, cutting out McCormick sewing patterns. I'd wait until my infant brother was counting sheep. Pops on the factory line at the Lakewood plant, I'd descend downstairs into the kitchen for some 5-year-old freakin!

I'd pull myself up onto the formica countertop, peel open the cupboard like a white linen dress. I'd bypass the swarthy cinammon and persimmon, black pepper and salt, until... until...

Ahhhh.... Vanilla extract.

I'd unscrew the top and then: Wait.

I'd leave the bottle open. Ooh, was I open.

Let vanilla linger. Let the aroma waft through the room. Let me wear vanilla in my hair till I lather in its oils. Let me rub my tongue in it.


Aren't those tomatoes still
blushing on the window sill?

The facts:

Native to the Americas, there are about 150 types of vanilla, though only two types are used commercially. In the 1500's when the vanilla plant first left the Americas for Spain, the Spanish believed it only had value as a perfume. Vanilla grows in the tropics - within the 20-degree latitude band on either side of the equator. Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family.

Tropical? Edible? Orchid? What's plain about that?

Say it with me: Va. Nil. La.

To say it, you must first bite your lip.


Then, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.


Now, flick your tongue at your partner and release.

I think I hear her coming. Should I climb down?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Art of Appreciation (Part 1 of 3)

LILY TOMLIN IS quoted as saying:

Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.
Fellow blogger, Lisa Williams, says:

It's really easy to complain. If you're not careful, then you end up complaining about your whole life. Concentrating on the good things is really good. Catch people doing good.
So, I'm taking her up on the challenge in part 1 of 3 of my pursuit of goal 89:

89. Write (and send) 3 letters of appreciation for excellent customer service.
The unintended consequence of writing the following letter to the owners of DeKalb Tire is that it gave me perhaps more pleasure than it will give its subject employee, Mr. Spe_r, whom I also mailed a copy:

30 September 2006

Mr. & Mrs. H____n
DeKalb Tire
6179 Roswell Rd., NE
Atlanta, GA 30328

Dear Mr. & Mrs. H____n:

I am writing to express my appreciation for the excellent customer service I received from Ad_m Spe_r and the staff at DeKalb Tire (Roswell) on the morning of Saturday, 30 September. I always receive good service at DeKalb Tire, but I must say that this was the most painless experience I have ever had with auto repair.

Around 7:30 a.m., I went in for a routine oil change and rotation and asked for an inspection of the CV axles on my I_____i I30. After the oil change and rotation had been completed, Mr. Speer invited me into the bay to see the damage to my CV axle.

I asked Mr. Spe_r for an estimate for the cost to repair and the time it would take. When he told me that it would require transporting parts from another location and about two hours of labor, I felt a sudden weight at the thought of waiting. So, I declined the service until a time when I had more time. But I was troubled at the thought of continuing to ride around with such a serious potential problem.

Then, without my saying a word, Mr. Spe_r offered me peace of mind: a courtesy ride while the car was being repaired. He informed me that the technicians should have the repair done by a little after 12 noon.

H_ns, the technician providing the courtesy ride, had me back home within 10 minutes - before 8:30.

Much to my surprise, I received a call from Mr. Spe_r at 11:00 a.m. telling me that my repair work was complete. A full hour ahead of schedule! And within fifteen minutes, H_ns was back at my doorstep to pick me up.

You may consider nothing extraordinary about this service, but that’s what keeps me coming back to DeKalb Tire. You make extraordinary service ordinary.

For tires, for maintenance, for repair, I will continue to send people I care about your way.


M_rvin Heath

Sunday, October 01, 2006

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED #13: Reclaiming my Inner Geek

WHY DID I do it? I love mental challenges. So, one day last Spring I challenged myself to take the test for Mensa.

The total testing time was about two-and-a-half hours. Two timed tests.

The first IQ test was over in a flash: 50 questions, 12 minutes. It was the notorious Wonderlic test - the very same Wonderlic test given to incoming NFL football players, the one on which a very promising recent quarterback prospect allegedly only scored a 6.

The questions aren't as difficult as one might think - math (arithmetic, algebra, geometry), verbal (vocabulary, analogies,etc.), and logical reasoning skills. Pacing is the issue. You just have to average a little over 4 questions a minute.

You're not penalized for incorrect answers. So, while I put an answer for every question, I really only completed about 44 or 45 questions. I tend to favor accuracy over speed. (Here's a link to a few dozen contemporary other quarterbacks' scores.)

The second IQ test, the Mensa test, was very bizarre. It began with the proctor reading a 3- or 4-minute long passage about, of all things, Greek pagan theatre: Circles. Drums. Priests. Fire.

We were forbidden to take notes.

Then, the proctor gave us pencils and administered 6 very abstract mini-tests (what shape next in this sequence) ranging from 10 minutes to about 20 minutes each, before giving a final test asking 30 questions about the passage on Greek pagan theatre, which we'd listened to nearly two hours previously. Surprisingly, on that section, I remembered enough where I only had to guess on 5 or so answers.

Due to advisement from their legal department, Mensa no longer gives your actual IQ score by mail for fear of litigious test takers - something about liability for the potential psychological trauma of receiving an IQ score without the presence of a licensed psychologist. Nowadays Mensa only notifies you on a pass/fail basis, whether you meet their requirements.

You have a choice to either pre-qualify from a test from your youth, or to qualify on one of the two proctored tests.

So, two weeks later, I received my results from the proctored tests by mail:

My first official Mensa "event" is this week. Talk about interesting material.

I'll let you know how it goes...

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED # 13: Become a member of MENSA.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Sentence: 10 Years of Detention

I love my _o_. I love my _o_. I love my _o_. I love my _o_. I
love my _o_. I love my _o_. I love my _o_. I love my _o_. I love
my _o_. I love my _o_. I love my _o_. I love my _o_. I love my
_o_. I love my _o_. I lo

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Now, it's Literal

AS I AM SIPPING my 3rd cup of joe, freshly brewed in the company breakroom, I receive the following e-mail from the Facilities Manager:
Our water supply is still slightly discolored. This problem is affecting our neighbors as well. I have contacted the Forsyth County Water Department. They are sending someone out to investigate. I will keep you posted.

This place is killing me.
Sip, sip, sip...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Live a Little

SOME OF YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW, but in a very strange twist of irony, this Spring I'll be a McEver Visiting Chair in Writing at Georgia Tech. Those of you who've been following this blog know that I, er, left Georgia Tech as a Junior Electrical Engineering major over 11 years ago because, when I needed it, no such program existed.

Since 2002, Poetry at TECH has become the premiere reading series in the city, showcasing such voices as Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Gerald Stern, Stephen Dobyns, and Lucille Clifton. When I was enrolled, Tech only offered one poetry workshop... every two years.

Live a little, the old folks say.

In addition to teaching an undergrad Creative Writing workshop in April, I'll be one of five poets (Sharan Strange, Travis Denton, Anthony Kellman, and Thomas Lux) conducting a free Community Poetry Workshop in early 2007.

The day-long workshops are open to the public, but space is limited. The application deadline for all of the workshops is November 10, 2006. To request an application, e-mail, or call Poetry at TECH at 404.385.2760.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Return to the Slave Plantation (Part II)

HERE'S THE TRULY AMAZING THING about blogging. You make connections in ways that would have been virtually impossible in the Pre-Virtual Era.

In this case, I bumped into a descendant of John Fitz Jarrell. Rather, a descendant of John Fitz Jarrell googled his family name and discovered my March 2005 blog entry, Return to the Slave Plantation (Part I), in which a phone call to the Jarrell plantation was the final in a series of futile attempts at locating a slave cabin to visit.

The descendant posted anonymously - pleasantly enough. So, I'm posting our dialogue here.

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous said:

As a descendant of John Fitz Jarrell, I can tell you that the reason there are no slave cabins there is that the plantation became what most plantations became after the Civil War...a family farm - same thing as before, just farmed by former slaves. The cabins weren't needed so they were torn down or allowed to fall down. The family was working hard to survive, why would they put effort into maintaining buildings that were no longer being used? Jarrell plantation is a realistic view of a real plantation - not some sprawling, manicured Tara-like estate, but a medium-sized family-owned farm.

Then, At 7:39 AM, M. Ayodele Heath said:

Thank you, Anonymous, that's the most information I've received to date regarding my difficulty in finding a slave cabin to visit in Georgia. Someone should tell that to the groggy woman answering phones at your forefather's plantation. Your information is revelatory.

It once again stresses the importance of each individual taking responsibility to tell/preserve his/her own history. You're correct: Why would a family working hard to survive put effort into maintaining buildings no longer being used?

Of course, slave cabins have historical value today as do concentration camps in Europe. The experience of visiting these no-longer-used facilities has great spiritual value for the descendants of those who suffered there.

Your information also stresses the importance of my actually visiting an actual slave cabin and using my gift to report on it in verse. For if the physical buildings don't exist, how else will the memory of those who suffered be kept alive?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Crossing the Pond (Part 1)

TODAY, THE PHONE AT MY DESK RINGS AND it's a good friend who lives in Florida with whom I don't get to chat very often.

"What's happening?" I say.

"Not too much, man. We've been playing phone tag and I figured I'd try you during the day when I knew you'd be at your desk."

"Ah, cool, cool. So, what's going on witcha?"

"Well, two things," he says. "One, I just got some good news."

"Yeah? Spread it!"

"Well, you know, my performance piece, _ri__, that my group performed at the NYC Fringe Festival a couple of months back?"


"Well, there was this guy there with this theatre festival in England that just called and invited us to come perform it there."

"Man, congratulations. That is good news."

"Thanks. Well, the second part of the news is that I'm planning to go over a little before the festival to do a few spoken word shows..."


"...and I was thinking it would be nice if we could do the shows together."
Goal 25 here I come!

"Ah, cool. So, when are you talking?"

"... October."

"As in, a-coupla-weeks-from-now October?"

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED #2: I'm sittin on the FRONT row

I NEVER SIT ON THE FRONT ROW at anything. Something about being that close to a lecturer/performer typically makes me uncomfortable. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but I think it has something to do with feeling on the spot. It's like, say, being on stage. You might think it odd that a performer would be uncomfortable with being on the spot, but that's me - odd!

When you're on the front row, everyone knows your business - when you're going to the bathroom, when you're doodling, or when you're - God forbid - nodding off. So much pressure!

So, here I am - not going to the bathroom, not doodling, not nodding off - but sitting on the front row with my two very lovely New England College classmates, Issa Lewis and Tara Betts, at Ira Sadoff's lecture during this on the poetry of Frank O'hara at this summer's residency.

Mission Accomplished #2: Sit on the front row at anything.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


TALK ABOUT IRONY. For those of you familiar with my poem, "On Closing Woodruff Park," which I wrote a little over ten years ago about the eviction of the homeless from the park, now the homeless are being invited back to the park with the

Yes, the Woodruff Park Reading Room.

First of all, class, today's vocabulary word is room. Rhymes with broom. Let's say it together now:

room (n.): an area within a building enclosed by walls and floor and ceiling.

Now, re-read the definition. Ceiling. Say it with me: Ceeeeeeeiling.

Since when did parks have ceilings?

I suppose the effort to foster literacy is commendable. But on the other hand, instead of working toward providing affordable housing downtown where monthly rents are $1500 plus, the idea is to make it more comfortable to live outside?

I can see the promo:

We could split a latte, if we had mo change.
Now, hurry up with the Funnies before it rains!

I feel another poem brewing...

For those of you unfamiliar with the poem, you can hear it at my website. Follow the Words link in the navigation bar.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


IN THE 10TH GRADE, I'D PRACTICALLY reached my maximum height somewhere between 5'10" and 5'11", and I weighed 145 pounds.

I was a rail, an ectomorph - what is commonly called a "hard-gainer."

I received all sorts of magical weight-gaining advice from friends - Eat a potato everyday - and from coaches - Do lots of heavy squats - and family members - Wait till you're married! None of that worked. Well, I didn't exactly try marriage.

And I don't know about others' experiences with weight-gain formulas, but every one I tried sent me straight to la toilette. How sexy is extra mass when you're strapped to a commode?

Granted, I did gain a "freshman-fifteen" over my early 20's which put me around 160, but it seemed, no matter what I did, that I just could not gain weight! (I can feel you rolling your eyes; but, hey, we all have our problems.)

Whether it was a combination of accomplishing goal 8, goal 69, or whether it was hitting age 30, I'm not sure, but, at any rate, I'll take it!

True, if you look at me today, I still look slim, but at least there'll be no more Starvin Marvin jokes!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED 86: Achieve and maintain a weight of 170 pounds.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Book Meme

I'll have to admit. I'm not much one for forwarding chain letters, jokes, and the like, and I normally wouldn't have engaged in this book Meme except that I got tagged from both sides. (Thanks Blue and Collin!) So, here's my contribution, but I'm not going to tag 5 people as instructed. In fact, I'm not tagging anybody. (At least, not in public.) However, if you're visiting and you want to post your answers to the questions, feel free to do so. My days ofprostitution, er, solicitation are over. ;-)

ONE BOOK THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE: Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, ed. Miguel Algarin, Bob Holman.
IN 1994, WHEN I was teetering alone on a ledge 7 stories above Margaret Mitchell Square, this book saved my life. Not physically, but certainly spiritually. It reminded me I had a literary bloodline, a family, and gave me the courage to stand for what I believed – the courage to perform. There are so many books I could name here but this was probably the greatest literary discovery I ever made. Thanks, Miguel and Bob, for having the vision to pull this anthology together. ___________________________________________________
ONE BOOK THAT YOU'VE READ MORE THAN ONCE:Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.
I READ THIS in the 4th grade. I think it was the first book I ever read about a Black family – and in the South, no less! And so I read it over and over to hear stories like my mother and her sisters would tell, around gingham tablecloths, eating fried fish.

Even at a young age, I was drawn to the balance of the emotional and the socio-political themes in this book. Love my mission or hate my mission, blame Mildred Taylor for it!

ONE BOOK YOU'D WANT ON A DESERT ISLAND: The Essential Neruda by Pablo Neruda.
IF I HAD TO BE stranded away from human touch, I’d definitely want Neruda to remind me of the sensuality of the natural world.

ONE BOOK THAT MADE YOU LAUGH: Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara. NOBODY'S BITE is like Bambara's. If Alice Walker was the champion for Zora Neale Hurston, I hope to one day be a champion for Toni Cade Bambara.

ONE BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. THE LAST PARAGRAPH IS ONE of the most chilling I've ever read. I shed tears because suddenly I felt like a foreigner in my own body and knew that I could never look at Africa with the same eyes again. This book moved me to take a West African penname.
ONE BOOK YOU WISH HAD BEEN WRITTEN: Ralph Ellison's follow-up to Invisible Man. Obviously, he was a perfectionist of the worst possible kind. And not that I believe he could improve upon Invisible Man, but it would have been interesting to see him try - not in what has come to be known as Juneteenth, but in an actual finished product.
ONE BOOK TWO BOOKS YOU WISH HAD NEVER BEEN WRITTEN: I couldn’t choose between these two, so I’m cheating (I sooooo enjoy this):

1) B-Boy Blues by James Earl Hardy. TRASH, JAMES, ARE you listening? Trash! And you had the nerve to write a – Trash! – follow-up? You might’ve better served as a pizza-delivery-plotting porn director. Put down your pen and get yourself a video camera.

On second thought, maybe not. James Baldwin is turning ovah in his grave, honey. And then you had the nerve to write more sequels? Tr-tr-tr-tr-tr-tr-trash! You make E. Lynn Harris look like William Faulkner!

Girl, give it a rest. ______________________________________________________

2) The Cantos by Ezra Pound. IF ALEX TREBEK WROTE poetry, it would be this. Any book of poems that requires over 800 pages of footnoting should have never been written. Yeah, I said it. Ezra, I am blaming you singly for why modern Americans hate poetry. You. Ezra. Poetry. Hate. I. We. All.

I'll take ERUDITION for $200. How could you write a document as lucid as ABC of Reading and then write this? I'll take CHINESE ENCRYPTION for $600. Maybe all you needed was a good double-date with Alex Trebek to get this out of your system. Then, we wouldn’t've all had to suffer through this garrulous doorstop.

How's that for a daily double!

Antipoems by Nicanor Parra.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Monday, August 28, 2006

To Receive

Alan Sugar, an audience member at Java Monkey last Sunday, wrote this poem after seeing my performance. As it is a really special moment for me, I thought I'd share it with you (after obtaining Alan's permission, of course.)

As an artist, for a decade you grow this vision, hoping others might see it, and then, what a joy when it gets reflected back to you like this - the highest compliment anyone could give a poet: a poem.

Thanks, Alan. This just might carry me through the rest of my life. Enjoy.

Ayodele at Java Monkey

Vulnerable you appear to us, and yet you are commanding—
Like a laborer who bows before the field, so strong, so understanding.

You kneel so silently on the earth as it softly sings.
Your words are like the shape of birds testing their new wings.

You take the truth and uncover it, revealing all its holes.
And in the mist of twilight, you gather up lost souls.

Humble and proud, your dance is life,
The sea is your son, the heavens your wife.

It is black. It is bright. It is all that you give.
The angels all flutter around the home where you live.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Day 7: Rx

                      This blue pill
stops the virus from replicating. Take 5 every
twelve hours with food, or milk, else
it won’t work at all. This white pill
works with it, but causes dreams
which some can't bear. The blue
and white are your Miracles. Never miss a dose
for the rest of your life.
                        Take this one
with lots of water: 6, twice a day,
to root out your pneumonia.
IMPORTANT: Don’t stop till the end
of 6 weeks. If the cough comes back,
you could literally drown
in your own phlegm. Also, stay out
of the sun.
this big white pill each morning.
Dissolve it in water or juice; it’s too
big to swallow. It will be bitter, but it’ll
make the dark rashes
on your torso and face
disappear. It is not to be confused
with this pill, which is for thrush –
to relieve the raw white patches
covering your tongue
and the insides of your mouth.
This pill is for the diarrhea those pills
will cause. Take two, as needed, after each
loose stool. Oh, & this iron pill
in case you have fatigue.
                     This brown pill
will help you regain your weight, but it may
raise your cholesterol. These pills will
counter that. Remember, you must eat
or the blue pill won’t work. One
more thing:

Be careful –
be very careful
when you take the blue pill
the first time: In some,
it causes hypersensitivity—
high fever, bloody
stool, aggressive rashes, and (if not stopped
Call us without delay
should any of this
begin to happen. Take care. Here’s
your bag.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Day 6: Journal Entry

I will
I will not
I will not kill
I will not kill my
I will not kill my self
I will not kill my self any


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Day 1: The Diagnosis


are HIV-positive: This is not
a death sentence. This is not
the end of the world. Not

the end of your life. It is
a beginning. It is your walk
to walk. You will not walk

alone. For the rest
of your days, your blood
will tell us all. Imagine one drop:

When negative, your viral load
was zero. Today, it is 196
thousand. Which says you’ve had this
a very long time.

In this same drop,
T-cells are your soldiers.
A negative man’s army?
About one thousand. Yours?
12. Which means your body

has already surrendered.

I am not here
to alarm you, but you cannot
leave here and continue
to live like this

There is help, but we can't help you
here. Take this card.
your eyes. You’re so
young. We see so many
like you. Why do you

so long?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Day Negative 7 (Mother's Day)

C_llin, since I feel like I shorted you on new material, I decided to post the 1st of the 4 AIDS poems I didn't read at Java last night, "Day Negative 7: Mother's Day."

16 May 2000. He is flying (or falling) – no – lying
to himself. Death traps his breath in a lode-
stone BOX (N.) -->
           corner: a predicament from which
           graceful escape is impossible
Who owns the air? the voice asks. Who,
the Earth?
                          fights God with eight
translucent arms. The thick yellow fog
is boiling. Boils
for eyes. Swirling black columns
of smoke rise like stilts as he walks
Who owns the flowers? When he climbs
into the coffin, Venus
flytraps of lightning
open: knock-knock. All bone. Who owns
the sea? Can you? Another black O
on his thigh. A pair, a MOON (N.) -->
           a small body in orbit about a planet
(I am coming back.)
K.S., night sweats, an opera
of coughing. A coffin. Too short. Pulse?
Pulse? One hundred
thousand black ants scurry
through the artery. No
escape. Who owns this
over Miami. Hands
in every crevice. Breath.
Stone. Mother. Who owns
Reach. No flowers but
(I am coming back soon.)
gravestones. First
son. Last
light. First
love. Last
LUST (N.) -->
           one of the seven deadly
Future. Face it. A bouquet
of injections. ER.
Your status, sir, your status?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Java Monkey & Jungle Jitters (or, Ayo, the Punk A$$ed B*tch)

I REALLY APPRECIATE ALL OF YOU WHO BRAVED THE RAIN (and the long distance charges, Ch_rryl) to come out to the Java reading last night. It was great seeing the familiar faces (Collin, Rupert, Karen, Kodac, Lady, Brian, Lisa), but it was also nice to see so many new faces. I speak for all Black people when I say this:

You were a great audience. (Had to be there.)


Why did you cut it short? Ch_rryl asked.

Well, I suppose I had a case of the jungle jitters. I had a brand new sequence of 4 AIDS poems I was going to read, but I felt like I'd been on stage a long time. When I reviewed my set after sitting down, I realized that I'd only read 6 poems. Oh, well, there'll be other features.

Anyhoo, for those of you who came in search of the sorts of banned cartoons that inspired my poem, "Americana 2," here is one called Jungle Jitters:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Monkey Do

Hey Pos and Poettes,

Due to a sudden change of events, I'll be featuring this Sunday at Kodac's reading at Java Monkey in downtown Decatur, across the street from the Decatur MARTA station.

I don't think I've given a local feature since, like, February? So, brace yourself people.

Black man.
Build up.

I don't know what's going to happen.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Grammar Granny Strikes Again

USUALLY I'M PRETTY COOL when it comes to casualizations of language, being I'm a poet and all, but some things get my IGG (Inner Grammar Granny) a little tight in the sphincter.

Today's offender, a certain, otherwise articulate, manager here at the plantation:

... we need to determine the heighth of the monitor from the floor before we can...

Heighth? Heighth? Is that Sprench for height?

It just makes me want to run over into his cubicle, ram two fingers into his mouth, hold his tongue down and go, th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th-


th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th- th-

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A (Final) Semester in the Life of a Low-Res MFA Student: The Reading List

Following is my reading list for the Fall Correspondence Semester in the New England College MFA in Poetry Program. The four areas of study are mostly my choice. The reading list is jointly designed with the input of my faculty advisor, Ira Sadoff. (NOTE: Not every book in each packet corresponds with that packet's goal. Also, I'll be reading the Old Testament over the course of the entire semester.)

Packet # 1: Crafting the Long Line (August)

1. CK Williams, TAR.
2. DA Powell, TEA
4. The Old Testament (King James Version) - whole semester

Packet # 2: Irony in Social Commentary (September)

10. Patrick Rosal, UPROCK HEADSPIN
12. Major Jackson, HOOPS

Packet #3: Line Break (October)

13. James Tate, THE LOST PILOT (neo-surrealism)
15. Yannis Ritsos, tr. William Keeley
16. Fernando Pesso SELECTED POEMS, tr. E. Honig
17. Rafael Alberti, THE OWL’S INSOMNIA

Packet #4: Writing for Performance (November)

20. William Shakespeare, ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
21. Robert Hass, PRAISE
22. Susan Mitchell, RAPTURE
23. Cesar Vallejo, SELECTED POEMS tr. Wright and Bly or Alistair Reid
24. Pablo Neruda, Selected POEMS tr. Wright and Bly or Alistair Reid

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Recovering your personal DNA

IT'S BEEN A WHILE SINCE I blogged about my employment situation. Here's an update. After 4 lateral moves, I received my first promotion in January.

Before you congratulate me, I should tell you that I've been working at this company for 10 years. I first walked through its doors in September 1995 at age 21. As I'm not feeling terribly creative these days, I don't have many words to describe the new position, but the words living hell do come to mind.

Anyway, as I approach the final stretch of this marathon before entering the stadium - feet bloody, dehydrated, delirious - I look for constant signs to remind me of who I am. Today, I took a Personal DNA test which says I am a

Here's a link to my results in more detail: My Personal Dna Report
Here's a link if you want to take the test yourself.

Monday, July 03, 2006


SHE WAS TOO CHICKEN to play me one-on-one. So, I had to give a double-beatdown A-town style during our June residency in the New England College MFA in Poetry:

AYO: 241
ISSA: 209
T_RA: 148

Mission accomplished #36: Beat T_ra Betts in Scrabble

That would be 93 points, T_ra. Ninety-three, without even adding your and Issa's unplayed tiles! But who's counting?

Imagine the beating if you didn't have Issa to buffer my booyakuhs!

Look at the bright side, T_ra. At least I saved you the embarrassment of posting both of your defeats. Oops, did I say that? In January, maybe you two should play me 2 on 1. But let me stop before I'm accused of trash talking.

Oh well, too late!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Americana Take 2: Starring Droopy & Daredevil Dog

With a lit stick of dynamite
behind his back, the bulldog, Spike,
tries to time Droopy’s knee-hang swing
on the flying trapeze: Ooouuuuut…
& baaaack… - Oooouuuutttt…
& baaaaaaaack…
Ostensibly to jump
& join the blasé bassethound
for the standard death-defying fare – no

net. But Spike’s real fool-
proof plan: Just before the fuse goes
to hand off the volatile baton
to the nonchalant pup with his paws outstretched,
leaving Spike, like every TV villain, to revel
Ha! Ha! Ha!
in his victim’s demise.
But when Spike finally leaps

to pass the dangling hound the explosive
stick, there’s a change

in plans:
Spike in mid-air
with a finished fuse!
Ha! Ha!
goes the audience.
goes the fuse.
& in lieu
of Droopy’s demise, the daredevil’s
fall; which consists:
Of bulging eyes,
thick lips, pickaninny plaits, & worse—
& worst of all: a Black



Poor Spike.
Poor Daredevil Dog.

If you're under 25, you probably think this is the stuff of my imagination. Unfortuantely, it isn't.

Check out this video footage of more Americana you won't see - one of many such uncensored episodes featuring Droopy & Spike, "Droopy's Good Deed." The "incident" occurs at 5:17.

Monday, May 29, 2006

I Turned Around

TOWARD THE END of the breakfast shift, I was standing in line with a buddy at Hardee's, examining the menu, when suddenly I felt a sheet of sandpaper chafe my tricep.

Before I could turn around-

"You need to stay out of the sun," a stranger's voice twanged like a banjo. "You gittin too dark."


About five-and-a-half feet above the floor, it was the face of a White man, 70 -or-so years old. His teeth, riddled with holes, were the color of spoiled milk. If I would have leaned in closer, his breath would have stank. The sandpaper I'd felt was his right hand.

Is to touch, to possess?

He was grinning.

"You gittin a lot darker than your friend here," he said, as he held up MyFriendHere's buttery arm for comparison. MyFriendHere's plastered smile strained with disgust.

As the stranger released my arm, I beheld the full picture: the gray wisps impossibly stretched across his skull, the roughened palms of a lifetime working outside, his khaki skin creeping closer toward the color of dirt, the bent back leaning day-by-day closer to the ground. I beheld this man, an elder to my own parents, and looked into his shining eyes, blue and bright with the electricity of connection.

Something shot through me.

And so I said back to him, the only thing I could have possibly said:

"Yeah, yesterday we all spent a lot of time out in the sun."

And I turned around.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


31. Tell __i__
A: __'_ a __tt__ __g_r_
I: I mean there's ___ing __g_r_ and then there's-
A: I mean __g_r_
I: Well, how do you know?
A: Cause _'_ ___g_r_ _o_

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Note to a 12 Year-Old Wordsmith at Henderson Middle School

Dear K_lly:

Your third eye sees things which others cain’t. Your pen reveals all to this world.

Who sees hair moving “like a golden sun… like 50 golden daisies?”

Who makes oceans turn into marbles? And eyes turn into oceans?

You do.

You are a poet.

What you have cannot be taught. Nor can it be purchased. What you have is Imagination.

Run wild with it, K_lly. Never let anyone steal it. It is what makes you special.

Write on. Write on. Write until your insides become the outside.

Write until it shakes.

Write until it shines.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Beware the Dog

I TRY TO SHARE ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS WELL AS disappointments in this space. Here's a minor downer.

Usually, I don't sweat rejection slips, but this particular one keeps growling at me from the nightstand. About a year ago, Cave Canem, America's premiere organization committed to the cultivation of new voices in Black poetry, sent out a call for poetry submissions about 'the Southern experience and its influence in contemporary poetry.'

Southern. Experience. Poetry. This has my name written all over it! I thought as I licked my submission envelope shut.

True, I expected that the anthology would attract a deluge of Black southern poets (and I personally know quite a few excellent ones), but I thought that surely, in my six page submission, that there would have been something that would have struck a sweet spot with the editor(s).

Apparently not.

The rejection letter was polite enough. In fact, the rejection made me respect Cave Canem all the more. But this is an occasion for some serious introspection: If I, a contemporary Black southern poet, can't cut it for an anthology focusing specifically on contemporary Black southern poetry, then that says something.

Loud. Even if I don't hear it, I can feel it.

Something's stirring...

Monday, May 15, 2006



Defying a myth, or


She was sweet. She was cute. So I said, What the heck?

38. Give a waiter/waitress a tip larger than the price of the food I ordered.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


SO, I'M ON THE WAY to my folks' for Mother's Day, and I have a choice:

1) I can take the the Perimeter, which is a shorter ride, but which suburbanizes the senses with one corporate logo after another babbling above the pine trees - BP, Knights Inn, McDonald's, BrandSmart, etcetcetc.; or

2) I can take Georgia 400, which, though it is about 10 minutes longer, is a much sexier ride under the svelte silver towers of Buckhead, racing the train toward Arts Center Station until it dives into the belly of skyscrapers of Midtown.

No matter how many times I take this route - this weekend ride on this jet black stretch of Georgia 400, which always feels freshly paved - my heart races with excitement. Since I had a little time to spare, I opted for sexiness; but even moreso because it was an opportunity to accomplish my first task from my 101 in 1001 list:

7. Pay the toll for myself and 9 vehicles behind me.

Those of you in other areas of the country may be shocked to know that the toll on Georgia 400 is only 50 cents. So, for a five-note, I could nix number 7 from my list. I reached in my pocket, fingered a ten and within sixty seconds, I was braking at the toll plaza.

"I'd like to do something a little different this morning, " I said. "I'd like to pay for myself and for the next 9 cars behind me."

The cashier's first reaction was mild stankface.

So, I flashed her a 60-watt smile, then watched her stankface dissolve.

"That's really nice of you," she said.

But as she began to count my change, I realized the cause for mild stankface: The toll system is designed such that 50 cents must be deposited in a change basket before the automatic arm will raise to allow a driver to advance. In lanes with a cashier, this means that the cashier must always physically drop 50 cents into the change basket when making change. So, even though I was paying for 9 cars, the cashier would still have to drop in 50 cents for each car.

As she coupled quarters together, I could see a line - 1, 2, 3 cars and growing - behind me. I imagined myself as the 3rd car in the line:

Why in the world is there a line on a Sunday morning?

Why did I choose this line?

What the-

But no sooner than that, the cashier leaned from her window. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five dollars," she said. "Oh, and fifty cents for your toll. That's right, right?"

"Right," I said, smiling to myself. "Have a Happy Mother's Day."

And I just couldn't stop smiling.

As I pulled off, I anticipated the next exchange - Man? Woman? Young? Old? Democrat? Republican? Black? White? Then, in my rearview mirror, I saw an impatient hand rushing out of a driver's side window, frantically waving a dollar bill. Then, I saw the cashier waving off the driver's hand, refusing the money.

I wonder what particular words the cashier said; wonder how she perfected the phrase a little more with each driver; how it struggled divinely on her tongue until, with the 9th driver, it emerged, sweet, lean, and metaphoric, like a fruit:
"Your toll has already been paid."

And I imagined myself on the other side of the toll plaza, pulling up to the cashier and hearing, Your toll has already been paid. I imagined my predictable skepticism. Who? I'd demand, and Why? I'd want to know. Is this a test? A trap? And What did I do to deserve this? I'd wonder to no end.

And as I, in the rearview, watched that driver pull off, watched the next one arrive, watched the toll plaza diminishing behind me, I wondered, How many tolls have been paid in my life which I am reluctant to accept? I thought of Christianity - a toll that was paid. I considered slavery - a toll that was paid. I thought of my Mother and Father and thought - what a toll they have paid. These are the things of which real love is made. It is giving and expecting nothing in return. It is unconditional - ordered and chaotic, for us all, flawed and imperfect, regardless of merit or circumstance.

Here, hurtling down the blackness, on the way to meet my Mother and Father, I approached the speed of light, and I couldn't stop smiling.

And gently, the sky let go.

And, for once, I didn't question when it began to rain.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

101 in 1001

IF YOU'VE BEEN REGULARLY FOLLOWING my blog, you know I'm an obsessive goal setter. If you're a regular surfer of blogs in general, then you have likely seen the following concept already. If not, here are the rules of 101 in 1001, courtesy of

The Mission:Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.

The Criteria:Tasks must be specific (ie. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ie. represent some amount of work on my part).

Why 1001 Days? Many people have created lists in the past - frequently simple goals such as new year's resolutions. The key to beating procrastination is to set a deadline that is realistic. 1001 Days (about 2.75 years) is a better period of time than a year, because it allows you several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organising and timing some tasks such as overseas trips or outdoor activities.
As I accomplish a goal, I'll use the strikethrough to cross it off of the list. I'll also blog about the accomplishment and I'll try my darnedest to include a pic as proof. (Except for those goals which are missing lots of letters. I'll take the proof for those to my grave!) And I'll add the '101 in 1001' list to the 'Best of This Blog,' so you can easily access it to check my progress.

Some goals are intentionally a cinch and others are intentionally on the verge of impossible, but I love chasing after the impossible. This is gonna be a blast. February 7, 2009, here I come. Strap on tight for the ride!

1. Watch the sun rise over an ocean and make a wish (for myself).
2. Sit on the front row - at anything. Completed 6/25/06
3. Create a mixed media art piece using paint and collage. 11/23/07
4. Buy an unabridged English dictionary Completed 1/12/07
Stand in one of West Africa's Doors of No Return (Ghana/ Senegal)
6. Graduate with an MFA in Creative Writing Completed 1/12/07
7. Pay the toll for myself and 9 vehicles behind me. Completed 5/14/06
8. Bench press 225 lbs. five times in one set. Completed 7/10/06
9. Get a laptop. (Mac preferably) Completed 6/05/07
Take a hot air balloon flight.
11. Skinny dip in the Carribbean.
12. Cook a dish using eggplant
13. Become a member of Mensa Completed 9/29/06
Play 5 full-court games of basketball
15. Enter the National Ten-Minute Play Contest.
16. Start a monthly program for local poets to visit and read at a convalescence home.
17. Be an extra in a movie.
18. Pay off all of my credit card debt.
19. Apply to Cave Canem.
20. Read the entire Bible.
21. Buy a house. Completed 3/19/07
22. Run in the Peachtree Road Race.
23. Enter 20 first book poetry contests.
24. Publish a first book of poetry.
25. Recite a line from Othello at the Globe Theatre in London
26. Create a theatrical 45 - 60-minute one-man show to promote the 1st book of poetry.
27. Document the show on DVD.
28. Volunteer for Hosea's Feed the Hungry. Completed 11/22/06
29. Ho__ a _e_ _a___
30. Take a grant writing class/workshop.
31. Tell __i__ Completed 5/24/06
32. Visit a slave plantation
33. Wear pink.
34. Learn to drive a stick-shift.
35. Eat a cheesesteak in Philadelphia.
36. Beat T_ra Betts in Scrabble. Completed 7/2/06
37. Get a piece (poetry, essay, comment) aired on NPR.
38. Give a waiter/waitress a tip larger than the amount of the food I ordered. Completed 5/15/06
39. Hold my breath underwater for 60 seconds.
40. Get a new ivy cap. Completed 11/07/08
41. Go on three job interviews Completed 11/03/06
42. Organize a metro Atlanta teen poetry slam.
43. Become PMP certified. Completed 07/31/08
44. Start (and keep) an idea journal
45. Cook dinner every night (or eat leftovers) for 7 days straight.
46. Drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. Completed 11/09/08
47. Learn the preamble to the Constitution by heart.
48. Befriend someone considered an 'illegal alien.'
49. Visit _e___ine in Virginia Completed 7/08/07
Test drive an Infiniti M35
51. Handwrite 20 letters to people you know (and mail them, of course.)
52. Get a henna tattoo.
53. Read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.
54. Revisit South Africa
55. Beat _e__h in a game of racquetball.
56. Learn to properly set a table.
57. Interview 3 family members about their childhoods.
58. Visit the Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association
59. Teach a college level course. Completed 4/17/07
Pay a different stranger a compliment once a week for a month.
61. Start a local 8-week poetry workshop teaching writing and performance
62. Write the poem for ___k_'s __dd__. Completed 11/07/06
63. Read Cane by Jean Toomer
64. Get my teeth whitened.
65. Drink sake in Tokyo or a margarita in Mexico.
66. Spend one day without talking. Completed 8/28/08
67. See a live roller derby match. Completed 10/22/06
Apply for an
NEA grant.
69. Eat breakfast every morning for 21 days straight.Completed 6/6/06
70. Fly first class.
71. Take an acting class.
72. Eat a vegan meal at the _oo_'s new house.
73. Appear on
Valerie Jackson's radio show, Between the Lines
74. Fry fish.
75. Enter the
Creative Loafing Annual Fiction Contest
76. Sing one of the following at a karaoke bar (video courtesy of

77. Visit White Water.
78. Squat 225 lbs. 10 times in one set.
79. Participate in the annual Atlanta AIDS Walk
Completed 10/19/08
80. Write my first full-length play.
81. Get it produced.
82. Perform my 'Home' poem for the Governor of Georgia.
83. Shave using a disposable razor Completed 1/9/07
84. Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper.
85. Write a letter to the editor of an
NPR show.
86. Achieve and maintain a weight of 170 lbs
Completed 8/16/06
87. Take someone up on a dare.
88. Win a poetry prize of $10,000 or greater.
89. Write (and send) 3 letters of appreciation for excellent customer service.
90. Write (and send) 3 letters of complaint for poor customer service.
91. For three months, each time I visit anyone, bring a gift.
92. Take a cooking class.
93. Swim 2 laps without stopping.
94. Eat sushi in San Francisco.
Completed 11/09/08
95. Attend an AWP Annual Conference.
96. Finish reading a James Baldwin novel.
97. Listen to a complete book on audio
Completed 6/6/06
98. Write a poem for my Mother and read it to her at an open mic.
99. Visit 7 different churches of 7 different denominations.
100. Appear on the Oprah Winfrey show - as a guest!
101. Watch the sun set over an ocean and make a prayer (for someone else).

If you're inspired to do 101 in 1001, visit for tools on setting up your 101 in 1001 project, calculating the end date, adding a date countdown to your site, and examples of other bloggers' 101 in 1001 lists.

Also, if you can help make this 101 list shorter, hit a brotha up!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

REVIEW: The Truth about 'United 93'

FUNNY HOW A MOVIE COMMEMORATING THE AMERICAN spirit leaves me feeling the need to restrict my own freedom of speech. Meaning: If I blogged the way I really feel about Paul Greengrass' "United 93," I'd fully expect that, the moment I pressed <PUBLISH>, a CIA agent would materialize from my closet, cuff me, beam me up to Virginia, and slam me in a holding cell with Zacarias Moussaoui.

So, what will I say about "United 93"?

Let me check my closet first.

Let me start with the positives: Even though we all knew how the movie
would end, I was on the edge of my seat for virtually the entire ride. Then, there's...


Okay, now on to the negatives. In the press notes for the film, Greengrass lists 'commemorating those who died on flight United 93' as one of his motives for creating this film. A short note about commemoration: If Greengrass expects the old I'm-singing-about-Jesus-so-you-can't-boo-me-off-of-the-Apollo trick is going to fly, he will sadly learn the fate of many a Sandmaned "His Eye is on the Sparrow" singer. Meaning: Greengrass gets zero sympathy points (from me) for United 93's subject matter.

While the horse is down, at the risk of being branded un-American I'm going to beat it a little more. The act of commemoration, or recognition, while commendable, is not enough in itself. For instance, when recognizing the performances of Olympic athletes, gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded - not tin ones. It is not enough that Greengrass created a film in an act of commemoration, what is as important, or even more important, is the quality of that which commemorates. Commemoration means nothing if the medal, the trophy, the statue, the film is made of something which will tarnish or be forgotten. And this is where United 93 is a failure - there, I said it, failure - as a movie.

"United 93" is a tin medal. While Greengrass' shaky camera lens does successfully convey the sense of disorder aboard the flight, is that technique really new territory for docudrama? And while 'United 93' is perhaps accurate in its detail of the cockpit and the air traffic control center; while it is shiny in its portrayal of the heroics of the passengers; it is hollow as a tin can in what I felt as an audience member the moment I walked out of the theatre.

Here is the main problem with the film: Like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, it has no heart. Oodles of emoting, but no heart. Allow me to explain. I liken 'United 93' to the the 1933 version of "King Kong, in which it felt like Ann Darrow screamed for 90 minutes straight running from that gorrilla through the jungle: scream after scream after scream <BREATH> after scream after scream after scream <BREATH> after... Instead of feeling terror, I felt dread. Kill her, already! I screamed at the screen. Granted, that was movie-making of a different era, but I'm a movie watcher of this era. Which brings me back to 'United 93'.

While I realize that the final minutes of the flight must have been horrifying, there had to be a better way to portray this cinematically. How many times to watch one sobbing into his phone? How many times to watch another screaming at the top of her lungs? Any fan of a convincing horror film will tell you the power of suggestion in creating tension. And don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for entertainment, I'm just asking for effectiveness.

Where was the revelation? Which is to say I don't fault the actors. I fault the one holding the camera. Movie-making is not just bout getting the fact right; it is about getting the feeling right. A more effective way to humanize the United 93 tragedy would have been simple: Follow just one passenger's story to the end. Instead, I left the cinema feeling no passenger's story.

Yet I don't consider Greengrass' project a waste. Ten percent of the opening weekend's proceeds went to the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania, and hopefully, his film will inspire other filmmakers to seek a deeper truth. I say, save your time and donate your money directly to the Flight 93 National Memorial fund.