Robbi at Cadence May 2015
In a Name
by Robbi Nester

No one ever calls me by my name.
I got it second-hand, from a grandfather
I never met, long dead before my birth.
No surprise it didn’t fit, this formal moniker,
“Roberta,” that no one ever used except at school.
Stiff as the petticoats I wore back then,
the awkward desks — a frilly name, long-legged.
My mother urged me to wear bows,
play tea party. Instead, I splashed the creek,
bucket in one hand, net in the other,
kept lizards, collected caterpillars
despite the name I had been given.

Some believe a name has power, enough
to cheat the evil eye, as when a person
recovering from an illness is renamed,
so when death arrives, it might be thwarted.
My grandmom was the only one who could have
told me anything about my namesake,
but she never said if I was anything like him
in looks or personality.
In fact, she hardly talked to me at all.
No matter what they called me,
I was still myself.

PHOTOGRAPH: Robbi Nester during a Cadence Collective reading at Gatsby Books  in Long Beach, California (2014).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Names for Ashkanazi Jews, Jews of Eastern European origin, often come from dead relatives. No person is supposed to receive the name of another living person because the name is viewed as having great power over life. My paternal step-grandfather, Robert Ketler, was the source of my name. My grandmother divorced him and he had died long before my birth, but he was the only father my dad knew, since his own father had died shortly before my father’s birth. That’s why he named me, his only child, after his stepfather rather than his biological father. It is true that no one has ever called me Roberta, except in an official capacity. I have never bothered to change my name legally, but to almost everyone who knows me, I have always been Robbi (though not always with this spelling).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robbi Nester is the author of a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012); a collection of poems, A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), and a forthcoming collection of poems, Other-Wise (Tebot Bach). She also edited an anthology of poems inspired by public media, The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014). Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in many journals and anthologies.