On Friday I attended the first Jacksonville PB&J (Party, Benefits & Jam). PB&J brings people together every two months to raise money for a local charity. This time we raised money for The Sanctuary on 8th Street, a place to develop inner city youth.

Al Letson was a speaker there, and he talked about the poetry slams he has been doing for years. I’d never really listened to one before, but he quoted several other poets, and the power of those words blew me away.

The writing is punchy, taut, visceral—everything I aspire to as a writer.

One quote in particular spoke to me, so the next morning I scoured the internet for the poet and the poem. Roger Bonair-Agard, an accomplished poet originally from Trinidad, had spoken the words in 1999 at a national poetry slam in Chicago.

I uploaded the video for the audio I eventually found, and I wrote a transcript so you can hang on every delicious word.

At 31 I learned 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, and hair whitened with the burden of conviction—and I 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 day dreaming 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 crouched and crumpled at the foot of the cross:

Get up and fight, woman. Wake up and live, if you love him. Jack up the Pontious Pilate and refuse surrender.

At 3 I was beaten for disrespect of my grandfather. At 8, because I was satisfied with only a 75 in math. Because she knew, having fought battles based purely on conviction, that she was preparing a man for the holiest of crucifications. There would be no washing of feet here. No flimsy eruption of tears. Only the austerity of a warrior, and a Puritan insistence on perfection and effort.

The creases through her aged jowls softening only when she thought I needed to eat to get strong.

“Son, you look thin, come and get some food. Eat something.”

A name orients one to his universe, the Lakotas believed. So a change of name meant a chance for improvement in the lot of a 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 dragging 30 pound sacks of coffee, her swollen leg behind her, and rising from her death bed to fight her daughter’s battles.

One day, if I am worthy of her expectations, I will become a man worth crucifying. And all her beatings, her lessons, her Puritanism and superhuman 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 5’10″ 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?”

Sometimes we all need a reminder to get off our crosses and fight to become a person worth crucifying.