How I Changed My Name, Felice

In Italy a man's name, here a woman's,
transliterated so I went to school
for seven years, and no one told me different.
The teachers hardly cared, and in the class
Italian boys who knew me said Felice,
although outside they called me feh-LEE-tchay.

I might have lived, my noun so neutralized,
another seven years, except one day
I broke a window like nobody's girl,
and the old lady called a cop, whose sass 
was wonderful when all the neighbors smiled
and said that there was no boy named Felice.
And then it was it came on me, my shame,
and I stepped up, and told him, and he grinned.

My father paid a quarter for my sin,
called me inside to look up in a book
that Felix was American for me.
A Roman name, I read. And what he said
was that no Roman broke a widow's glass,
and fanned my little Neapolitan ass.

From Fig Tree in America by Felix Stefanile, published by Elizabeth Press. Copyright © 1970 by Felix Stefanile. As found in Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry, edited by Marian Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan, published by Penguin, 1994. Reprinted by permission of the poet. All rights reserved.