Issue 22/23
cover photo of Louise Brooks
publication date 12/17/1983

Changing Names

Rodger Kamenetz

I hereby change my name
from Rodger Kamenetz
to fill in the blank
What’s in a name?
Nothing more than
you put into it
The roses in my name
have all wilted
but the touch of Celia’s breath
would revive them at once

Who is Celia?
Who is Laura?
Who is Beatrice?
Who is Sylvia
that all the swains do commend her?
We make up names
to save innocent girls
from our drunken praise
so they may marry
rich men, not poets
and have many servants
one of whom, the maid
will find, locked
in a secret diary
the secret poems
addressed to the secret lady
with the secret name
and the secret number
of kisses, thirty thousand
all in a row
from Catullus to Petrarch to now

I’ll change my name
to something, anything
but Rodger Kamenetz
My name’s odd conjunction
splays me across time-
Rodger, the Celtic warrior,
he who carries a mighty spear
in the midst of battle-
okay, at least it’s not Dick
or Peter but the resonance
is close: I see a drunken
hairy brute with a spear
as long as a laundry pole
and thick as a baseball bat
haft set in mud
his heels have dug
a jug of mead half-tipped
at his side and arrows
mudballs, rocks and stones
thick in the air
One meaty hand fingers
forelock and beer-soaked
beard: Rodger!

Then there’s Kamenetz
Ellis Island wisecrack
Kamenetz: a name that roars
like thunder across the bay . . .
No, Kamenetz, a name so hard
to pronounce and easy to misspell
tangled in miles of cable
twisted through coves of ears
punched into guts of demented
computers and spat out:

Really, it’s not even Kamenetz
but Kam-yen-yetz, the Russian e
greased by a sliding y
or so three big bears of Russian
bibliographers told me
at the Columbia Library
Slavic section linking
arms on their way
to the union meeting
singing the Internationale
they hailed me, "Come
tovarisch Kam-yen-yetz!"

Cities of grim slaughter
I mean Kamenetzes, little towns
in Poland, Latvia, the Ukraine
cramped shtetls
Kamenetz from Russian kamen
meaning stone and etz
makes it little, little stones
(and Rodger, a mighty spear)
mismatch of sexual equipment
but more likely a quarry town

Cities of grim slaughter
Jews without last names
just David son of Samuel
It’s the old story
change your name
to mark a memory
to mark the moment:
when her son was born
Sarah laughed,
Yitzhak, she laughed, Isaac
Abram became Abraham
Jacob, Israel
"he who struggles with God"
struggling still

I hereby change my name
from Rodger Kamenetz
to idle-speculator-daydreaming-

I want a name as common as dirt
a name like a mantra
as Walt Whitman hypnotized himself
chanting Walt Whitman Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, who heard the sea
whispering death death death
and right, I hear no sea
whispering Rodger . . .
hear no trains clacking by
Kamenetz Kamenetz Kamenetz . . .
every little breeze seems to whisper
the sound of one hand clapping
and the nightjar that keeps me
awake all summer with her lust
doesn’t crack her throat on Kamenetz
but whips poor will to death

I don’t want to change my name
I want my name changed
I want it inhabited by force
I want it to mean something
I want a name to match
how dissatisfied I feel
whenever names don’t make it
Oh Sammy Rosenstock
I want a name as tragic
and magical as yours
when you changed it
to Tristan Tzara
Rumanian for lost lands . . .
I want a change as surgical
and sure as yours
Manuel Rabinowitz
when you erased the middle west
and the middle class
with a single stroke
and became Man Ray
And you Pablo Neruda
what was your name
before you borrowed
that dead Czech poet’s?
So thoroughly you succeeded
we have lost it . . .
As for you, Ezra Pound
some people are just born lucky . . .

I hereby throw my name
into your ears
I want you to digest it
into something subtle
as alcohol dissolves sky
retrieving blue
I want you to take
the seeds in my name
and cultivate them
I want you to groom
that drunken lout, Rodger
and that scared immigrant, Kamenetz
and blend them into a single name
courageous and empty as a shout!