First names are who you are.

Even dolphins sloshing along the sea

call each other by distinct names.

The Talmud proclaims parents know

how to choose the perfect name to reflect

the soul of their child as unique as a newly

found star glittering in the vault of the night sky.

Father tried to shield me from the anti-Semites of the era

by choosing the proud English name of “Milton,” which

backfired since other Jewish parents had the same idea.

My name provoked a rage in pro-Nazi predators.

I longed to have amnesia, no longer know my name,

free to choose another from a Waspy grab-bag

of Peters, Pauls, Jims and Johns.

I soon assumed a pseudonym to keep troglodytes at bay,

my doppelganger popped right out like a jack-in-the-box

declaring: “My name is Paul Christian.”

My strategy worked quite well with ordinary dolts

but every now and then a wily Bundist would exclaim:

“Funny, you don’t look Christian?”

I’d change my path to school each day singing:

“Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile,

smile, smile, while you’ve a Lucifer to light your fag,

smile boys that’s the style…” hoping to elude roaming bands

who’d grab me by the collar, lift me off the ground, demand

to know my name in their search for little Christ-killers

they liked to stomp into the ground.

I was a worried kid, wondered if they could

find me out just by looking at my face or nose.

After school I’d flee on my bike to LaGuardia

watching planes take off, dreaming of flying away.

I’d disappear on Cross-bay Boulevard with my bamboo

fishing pole catching snappers off the bridge.

My old neighborhood is now transformed by Asians and Latinos

who think the name of “Milton” is really quite old English neat.

“No es verdad?”

Milton P. Ehrlich 199 Christie St. Leonia, N.J. 07605