de la palabra

city of names II
Originally uploaded by Ole*.

“a name orients one to his universe the Lakotas believed/so a change in a name meant a chance for improvement/for the child who was not doing well”

it took me a lot of years to get comfortable with the name oscar. other kids found every way possible to use the name against me and i prayed for some kind of magic name fix. it wasnt till my mid twenties that i learned to appreciate the uniqueness of the name and settled in pretty well with it. then i picked up the moniker OB along the way. outside of poetry, only one person has ever called me that so i like to think of it as my “poet name” (as opposed to ‘de la palabra.’ an amusing story i will happily share with good company)

enough with memory lane. heres a damn good poem. latah…

…naming and other Christian things by Roger Bonair-Agard

At 31 I finally learn that Lena is short for Magdalene
one of those enigmas of biblical lore whore found religion
I have often questioned her motives
this love of Jesus Christ
this holy supplication to the Son of Man
… and I think about Lena my grandmother
great big woman, skin of ashy obsidian
hair whitened with the burden of conviction
and wonder about this business of weeping and foot washing
but I can only remember her iron hand and rigid schedules
her admonition on catching me daydreaming
up on the outhouse roof
-Get down off that thing boy!!
-You have your book to study!!
-What kind of man do you expect to become?!
I recall her jacking up
of my equally stern grandfather
informing him of the folly
of any repeated attempts to hit her
…never does Mary Magdalene come to mind
not in the helpless ‘weeping for the crucified way’
not in the convenient Catholic depictions
of feminine frailty of morals and spirit
I know of a Magdalene with fight
more Joan of Arc than Maid Marian
more Sojourner Truth than damsel in distress
and I want to tell the withering two-dimensional ghost
couched and crumpled at the foot of the cross
-Get up and fight woman!!
-Wake up and live if you love him!!
-Jack up the Pontius Pilate and refuse surrender!!
a name orients one to his universe the Lakotas believed
so a change in a name meant a chance for improvement
for the child who was not doing well
so having learned the root of my grandmother’s name
I cannot summon the sympathy for Mary Magdalene
cannot help her weep tears of distress
only wish I could retroactivate a name change for her
show her my grandmother carrying 30lb sacks of coffee
dragging her swollen leg behind her
rising from her deathbed to fight her daughter’s battles
One day if I am worthy enough
I will become a man worth crucifying
and all her beatings her lessons her Puritanism
and super-human strength
will have taught me
that surrender is not an option
On that day I expect to see
standing at the foot of whatever urban cross they fashion
all five-foot-ten of Lena
pointing one huge gnarled finger at me
the shining authority of her eyes
coming from the black forest of her flesh
the white electricity of her hair
lips trembling in rage
-Get down off that thing boy and fight!!!
-What kind of man do you intend to become?!

© Roger Bonair-Agard

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  1. fred,
    one of the things that i am gonna be bummed on missin is rog’s book release party. rog has been a major influence on me as a poet, performer and person for the last few years.

    meaning- dat fool best drop a book release partay in oaktown and bring mah signed copy wit him! ;-)

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