As a Doctor My First Duty Is to Do No Harm – by Steve Nickman

Adolf Hitler stood before me
in his blue Cub Scout uniform
with yellow neckerchief, a sturdy seven-
year old, good-looking, with a mild stammer.
He showed me the embroidered Tiger patch on his pocket:
Next year in second grade I’ll be a Bear.

His mother had brought him at the court’s order.
School would not enroll him,
reported child abuse by naming.
She maintained she was the Fuehrer’s daughter,
wanted her son to bear his name.
Was this a monstrous burden, I was asked,
did she see the harm this name could do,
was this a healthy family for a child?

Ms. H., in her mid-forties, an orange poppy
pinned to her gray cloche hat, told me her tale:
placed by her father and Eva Braun, while still
a baby, with a loyal family for safety
who raised her in Brazil till she was three.
From that point, a history hard to follow.
She had no foreign accent, made no mention
of who the boy’s father was. Speaking louder,
her face coloring, she grated I know who I am! I’m proud
of my father, proud of my son.
Her eyes confronted mine.

The boy was easily engaged with toys
and puzzles, laughed in the relaxed way kids do
when the Jenga block tower fell. His drawings
freely done: a dinosaur, a spaceship,
a picture labeled “Mom and Me”.
Do you know why you’re here? I said.
I guess it’s my name.
My friends call me Larry.
I might change it someday.


Steve Nickman is a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Brookline, Massachusetts. He has worked with many adoptive families and learned a great deal from them about loss and connection. He enjoys bird-watching, cooking, and learning foreign languages, though he hasn’t achieved fluency in any of them. His poems have been published in a number of journals including Rhino, The MacGuffin, Lily Poetry Review, and Nimrod. His book of poems, To Sleep with Bears, was published in April by Word Press.