Philology

Issue ThirteenIssue Thirteen PoetryPoetry

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By Magdalena Ball

Her grandparents were forced

to take last names.

 

How to choose: occupation, toponym,

personal qualities, lineage?

 

Her mother changed her first name.

They all did.

 

She went for the diminutive,

girlish, non-threatening.

 

Memory rewrote the record,

transition into history.

 

Sources are unreliable,

untruths, inaccuracies.

They did not want to be discovered.

 

Names can be used against you:

signifiers, identifiers.

 

Every encounter begins

with the same question:

What is your name?

 

She made one up. Small enough to fit

in a box on a form. Small enough to cup

in her hands, to hide inside.

Rivka to Rebecca.

Rebecca to Beckie.

 

Her family did not take a name

until they were compelled,

threats of disenfranchisement,

promises of freedom.

 

First they were forced into the Pale,

tagged, delineated.

Then they were expelled.

 

The threats were carried out;

the promises weren’t.

 

She left everything behind

except her new name.

Her surname meant “beloved”.

 

Her given name meant

“bound”, “tied”, as in, to the earth.

 

She was unbound, set adrift,

could not find her way back.

There were no maps that led to home.

 

Even the name of her country changed,

shifted, ceased to exist,

was destroyed,

denied,

but she survived