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.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Oops, I've been had...

Apparently, I'm not the last to know that Louis Armstrong first recorded "Oops I Did It Again"... because, oops, it never happened! It's a hoax. I've been had!

A clue should have been that the host site I linked to for the audio file was the site. The bigger clue was the atrocious scatting at the end of the audio file (which I never heard because I never made it to the end of the song.)

The biggest clue of them all was audiolog's comment on my post... that it's a hoax! Thanks audiolog!

Oops, this was a very bad case of 'Consider the source.'

I guess this is what happens when you're desperate for something to blog about. ;-)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Voice of Zora, a Voice of Us

THIS SEMESTER, I'M WORKING ON a critical paper analyzing poetic text vs. poetic performance. The audio and video footage have repeatedly led me outside of 'poetry' and deeper inside myself.

Namely, I discovered that, of the many things I love about the South, what I love perhaps most is its sound: the slow crunch of a visitor's tires approaching down a dirt driveway; the electric whining of cicadas in the whiteness of August; the dark percussion of stomping heels moving an old Baptist church.

But among all of these sounds, what I love most are the voices of our people - from the Cajuns to the Geechees, from the Appalachians to the Low Country. These vibrations are the soul of what the South is.

In honor of these sounds, I'd like to share an aural treasure I stumbled across in my research - the voice of one who embodies what moves me about this place, who reminds me why I could never leave this place - or, at least, why it will never leave me. It is filled with the rocking of my Great Aunt Goldie weaving stories on her screened-in porch in Midland - the voice of north Florida's contribution to the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Am I the last to know


was first recorded in 1932?

By Louis Armstrong! (Listen to Louis' version here.)

Louis must be turning in his grave.