Original poem reprinted online here: "The Man with My Name" by Reginald Harris
Originally read: September 2, 2013
More information about the Poet: Reginald Harris
The majority of the lines start with a verb which differentiates the speaker from the alter ego. While the alter ego (the man with my name) acts, here the speaker is thinking. The poem works as a list as well, so the further the list goes on the more defined and, perhaps, separated the speaker is to the alter ego.
But in the first stanza, there's some basic mundane description, "Lives in another town. / Was born without / a pebble in his shoe." Note the distance placed in the beginning and that the specific detail of the pebble adds to the sense of imagination used to conjure the alter ego. "Went straight home from / school. Did not get into / fights. Never Ran." Occasionally, a line starts with an adverb which further emphasizes the verbs. The verbs, like I wrote, further defines and moves the alter ego.
"Obeys speed limits, traffic lights, / DO NOT ENTER signs." Okay, every time I see the word "sign," in a poem, I automatically think of symbols, and one is clearly marked of "DO NOT ENTER." But it's not played up here in the poem; rather, the story of the alter ego continues with, "Has never / been pulled over by the police / Married, fathered three." And the technique of breaking away foreshadows how the poem will be furthered structure. There's snippets of some definition of the speaker that has to be inferred, but is never fully explored. Instead the reader knows that the alter ego, "Moved to / the suburbs. Has every smooth / jazz albulm ever made." Innocuous details.
Which continue with the next stanza, "Keeps his hair cut short. Promptly / answers mail Returns / every phone call the same day." Not only is the description consistent at this point, but also the the alter ego. Then, "Has never seen the Southern Cross, / or cried beneath the midnight sun. / Remembers names. His mother's face." Past me wrote, "defined through negative" and that's not the case. Rather the ideas are inferred that the speaker is defined through the negatives. This could be just basic description about the alter ego not concerning the speaker which staves off the sentiment of the lines.
Also, again, note the breakaway, "Plays baseball, basketball, golf-- / for business reasons." which is more descriptions which get a tinge darker and sexual as the lines continue:
Loves talk radio. Laughs
at faggot jokes. Undresses
women in the office with his eyes.
Is an early rise. Still can't dance.
How the speaker weaves a sexual description with normal ones. This shows that the speaker's focus on description is breaking down from normalcy and into the idiosyncratic. But first the buffer, "Stays in touch with college, / high school friends." And then the idiosyncratic:
[...] Doesn't mind
he is the only black they know
Works out. Eats his vegetables,
cleans his plate. Never chased
a penguin, startled a muskrat,
or kissed a man
Always listened, never
questioned. Never touched
a corpse to say good-bye
Is loved by all.
All the way to end to show how quickly the speaker switches between banal description to the idiosyncratic that baits the reader into reading the other details as description of the speaker.
"The only black they know," "never chased a penguin, startled a muskrat or kissed a man," "Never touched a corpse of a loved one" are descriptions based in the negative or isolated. All this does, technically, is explore what the alter ego hasn't explored.
And while the description could be about the speaker, it isn't. There's nothing proclaiming that they are. What's more fascinating is that the speaker implies something which is never followed through, as though the speaker keeps a distance with the alter ego, but keeps a further distance from the self.