My real name is Israel Beilin. My father
Was a Roman slave who gained his freedom.
I was first named Ralph Waldo Ellison but

I changed it to the name of one of your cities
Because I was born a Jew in Byelorussia.

I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not.

My other name is Flaccus. I wrote an essay
On the theme You Choose Your Ancestors.
It won’t be any feeble, conventional wings

I’ll rise on—not I, born of poor parents. Look:
My ankles are changed already, new white feathers

Are sprouting on my shoulders: these are my wings.

Across the color line I summon Aurelius
And Aristotle: threading through Philistine
And Amalekite they come, all graciously

And without condescension. I took the name
Irving or Caesar or Creole Jack. Some day they’ll

Study me in Hungary, Newark and L.A., so

Spare me your needless tribute. Spare me the red
Hideousness of Georgia. I wrote your White
Christmas for you. And my third name, Burghardt,

Is Dutch: for all you know I am related to
Spinoza, Walcott, Pissarro—and in fact my

Grandfather Burghardt’s first name was Othello.


Mixed Chorus, from At The Foundling Hospital