The Namer – Michale Schueler

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Father hands me a baby sister with bright eyes and a little nose
With a wrinkled face still pink from birth and blood.
She is already beautiful, and I love her for it but she wails the moment she’s placed in my arms.
Mama says babies can be difficult, so even if the girl won’t let me hold her,
I am content to watch her make Father laugh in the firelight.

Mama lets me choose her name, and I ask all the sheep on our farm
For their opinions, because anyone who’s anyone knows that lambs see what we humans cannot.
Father’s best goat suggests Sarai as he nudges against my open palm,
Because it’s a pretty name, pretty like the women Mama tells me about in stories,
But there had been a Sarai here once.

(A Sarai who changed her name and ran from her family with a mad cousin or two,
And died from grief when the man she loved
Through her youth and prime and old age made her still-just-a-boy into an altar.
Her name was ours once. It cannot be again.)

I go on and on, from sheep to sheep, from name to name.
P’ninah, Rivkah for the auntie who left my Father worse than she found him,
Until a little ewe Mama likes to pet stands on spindly legs and whispers
The name Ishtar in my ear, tells me that my sister will be loved more than any girl on Earth,
That her beauty will change men and bend mountains,
That she will love everyone in the world,
But all the hate her small body can hold will be mine to claim.

Goats are not prophets, for all they see, so I do not believe this beast, not then.
But something in me has snapped,
And I suddenly feel the sting of my father’s hand against my cheek once more,
And my mother’s sighs when she looks me over are loud in my ear.
So I name my baby sister after the lying little lamb, a plain name with a hard sound in the center.
I name Rachel for every sin I refuse to believe she’ll commit,
And pretend to be surprised when she commits them anyway.

(When Jacob is deep inside me, his eyes and hands knowing me and my body well,
His fingers plucking at me like a lute,
He tells me through desperate gasps that he wishes I had her name.
I laugh through my tears and he screws his eyes shut and kisses me so hard my lips bleed.
What would he say? I wonder, almost giddy with our hateful love-making.
If he knew that I was the one who gave it to her?)

Michale Schueler is an undergraduate student at the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies, a dual B.A. program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She hopes to pursue a B.A. in Political Science at the former and a B.A. in Midrash & Scriptural Interpretation at the latter. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and her work in feminist and queer advocacy brings her great joy.

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