Portrait of a Sheep On the Occasion of Its Extispicy (Rebekah Devine)

The bārû peels back my gut & probes my entrails. By oil lamp, he extracts my liver and bowels

and places them beside me on the table. At the king’s behest, the bārû searches my innards for omens.

He scours each part for grooves, spots, oddities, inquiring of my bladder about the fate of the king and the military campaign. After thirty days of war, will an army see defeat? Is it the right time to conquer a city?

The bārû turns to consult the other wisemen. They have read my signs, but what do they mean? They haggle over my viscera to divine an interpretation. At last, the scholars nod. Consensus is reached. They have glimpsed the future in the lobes of my liver.

They speak to the scribe sitting at the table to their left. The scribe writes the determination on a wet clay tablet with a reed stylus, preparing the authorized account of my body’s meaning for the royal annals.

Then the wisemen take us each to our separate burnings—the clay tablet to the kiln and my carcass to the sacrificial kitchens. I will be food for the fire, the priests, and the god while the tablet hardens into regnal history under the flames. My flesh will be consumed, but my authorized meaning will sit in the palace archives for three thousand years.

The chronicles will call me a herald of the king’s magnificent exploits in battle, a portent of his glorious victories. But let the unofficial record show: I was a costly sheep slaughtered for a costly king, and my death was the price of the future.


Rebekah M. Devine (she/her) is a white, queer (aspec) writer residing in Reno, Nevada. She holds an MLitt in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, and an MA in Biblical Exegesis. She is an MFA student in Creative Writing at Mississippi University for Women. 


image: Peter Gutierrez