I Have Also Been Noticing How Important Words & Meanings Are in Our Lives: David Sewell on Sabrina Orah Mark’s Tsim Tsum


Tsim Tsum, Sabrina Orah Mark, Saturnalia Books, 2009

Just as Beatrice was about to ask Walter B. to make for her a commotion to have for a snack, she noticed on the kitchen table a rectangular-shaped object. “What is the rectangular-shaped object on the kitchen table,” asked Beatrice. “It is a book of poems by Sabrina Orah Mark,” responded Walter B. “What is a book of poems,” asked Beatrice. “A book of poems is what is on the kitchen table,” replied Walter B. “And what is a Sabrina Orah Mark,” asked Beatrice. “A Sabrina Orah Mark is what wrote the book of poems on the kitchen table,” said Walter B. “I see,” said Beatrice. But Beatrice did not see. Not exactly.

While Beatrice was busy not seeing exactly, Walter B. was busy thinking in the pantry of growing a mustache that would make Beatrice realize neither did she know what exactly was a tsim tsum. “And what,” asked Beatrice, barging into the pantry, “exactly is a tsim tsum?” “A tsim tsum,” replied Walter B., “is exactly two things. One, it is a book of poems on a kitchen table. Two, it is a Kabalistic belief that divine contraction was required to allow space for creation to occur.” “And what,” asked Beatrice, “is a Kabalistic belief that….” But before Beatrice could finish her question, Walter B. interrupted her, saying, “It is at this point, Beatrice, that I would like to interrupt you.” And, as it turned out, it was exactly at this point that Walter B. interrupted Beatrice.

After filling in the sink a tall glass of water and placing it on the kitchen table next to the book of poems, Walter B. held in the air his arms high and wide as if he were about to say something extraordinary. Beatrice was exuberant in anticipation, so much so that she worried her exuberance would distract Walter B. from the extraordinary thing he was about to say. “It is,” began Walter B., distractedly, “as if it were necessary for the one thing to leave the other thing in order for that thing to truly come into existence. It is,” continued Walter B., “as in the case of The Oldest Animal, who writes to us poorly yet charmingly punctuated and spelled-out letters from that other forest you sent him to, after signing the document and tying around his neck a handsome scarf. It is also as in the case of the Walter B.,” said Walter B., who suddenly, thought Beatrice, had the look of someone who was about to tie around his neck a handsome scarf and leave in order to truly come into existence. “In fact,” said Walter B., wearing around his neck a handsome scarf, “I have already left.” “Goodbye,” said Beatrice. “Goodbye,” said Walter B. “Goodbye,” said Beatrice. “Goodbye,” said Walter B., but he had already left.

After Walter B. had already left, Beatrice looked around the room and began to count the things that had not already left. There was the Beatrice. One. There was the tall glass of water on the kitchen table. Two. There was the Walter B., who, for all of his powers, was not in the end very good at leaving. Three. “For, as I was just saying,” said Walter B., in a manner that made Beatrice think he actually was saying it, “a book of poems on a kitchen table by a Sabrina Orah Mark is an almost ideal type of commotion. For instance,” said Walter B., “you can read it over and over and discuss it in peculiar detail for two and a half months.” “I would like,” said Beatrice, after two and a half months had passed, “for you to make for me a commotion to have for a snack. I would like,” continued Beatrice, “while you are making for me a commotion to have for a snack, to listen to you discuss the commotion in peculiar detail. And then, after you have finished discussing the commotion in peculiar detail, I would like for you to tell me about something else.”

Thinking of nothing else, Walter B. put in the oven the book of poems, stopping afterward to wave hungrily at the nurses through the window. “What is truly fascinating,” picked up Walter B., as if his thoughts were a small child that had been for some time reaching upward toward him its hands, “is how the Sabrina Orah Mark put in the book of poems such a commotion.” “Yes,” said Beatrice, “it is also my belief that that is the truly fascinating part.” “The fascinating part,” continued Walter B., “is that the poems in the book of poems are prose poems.” “That is also the fortuitous part,” replied Beatrice, “for I would seldom like to spend so much time talking about poems written by an amateur.” “I would not like that, either,” replied Walter B., professionally.

“I have found,” continued Walter B., in a manner that reminded Beatrice of the way Walter B. used to continue things, “once a gold coin in a freshly baked loaf of bread, and also I have found that we are not any longer in Poland, and also that not being any longer in Poland is different from being in Poland. At times it seems that all we have is ourselves and each other, and our words, and our particular mythologies circumscribing us like a halo of bees. It is as if we are the authors and editors of our own creation, our own existence. At times it seems that we are not any longer in Poland, and then, as if by chance, we are not any longer in Poland. It is as if we have left something behind, but then it is also as if we have found something else here, something, yes, something that was not there before, that could not have possibly been there before. It is, in simpler terms, Beatrice, different from before, when we were not yet not any longer in Poland. There is, by the way, Beatrice, a peculiar disjointed logic, one might say a peculiar tautology to our lives now, and a peculiar syntax to our conversations, that lately I have been noticing, as if we were at once children and adults and human and not human, all at once, Beatrice. I have also been noticing how important words and meanings are in our lives, how often we tend to misunderstand each other, how these misunderstandings form the paths and trails by which we navigate our lives. But, in any case, Beatrice, I have to keep me warm you, who is Beatrice, and Beatrice, you have to keep you warm your imagination, who has a white fur coat, and when she returns from her sojourn with The Oldest Animal in the other forest, and after everything else that will happen has happened, then, Beatrice, then will I return to you. But first I must find out where it is I’ve gone to.”

As Walter B. was rounding out his last syllable, Beatrice, who had fallen asleep some time ago, began to wake up. “What is it that you were saying,” asked Beatrice, wakingly. “I was saying,” said Walter B., “that I have found once a gold coin in a freshly baked loaf of bread, and also I have found that we are not any longer in Poland, and also that not being any longer in Poland is different from being in Poland. I was also saying that, at times, it seems that all we have is ourselves and each other, and our words, and our particular mythologies circumscribing us like a halo of bees. It is as if we are the authors and editors of our own creation, our own existence. Next I was saying that it seems at times that we are not any longer in Poland, and then, as if by chance, we are not any longer in Poland. It is as if we have left something behind, but then it is also as if we have found something else here, something, yes, something that was not there before, that could not have possibly been there before. It is, in simpler terms, Beatrice, different from before, when we were not yet not any longer in Poland. There is, by the way, Beatrice, a peculiar disjointed logic, one might say a peculiar tautology to our lives now, and a peculiar syntax to our conversations, that lately I have been noticing, as if we were at once children and adults and human and not human, all at once, Beatrice. I have also been noticing, Beatrice, how important words and meanings are in our lives, how often we tend to misunderstand each other, how these misunderstandings form the paths and trails by which we navigate our lives. And, finally, I was saying that, in any case, I have to keep me warm you, Beatrice, who is Beatrice, and Beatrice, you have to keep you warm your imagination, who has a white fur coat, and when she returns from her sojourn with The Oldest Animal in the other forest, and after everything else that will happen has happened, then, Beatrice, then will I return to you. But first I must find out where it is I’ve gone to.”

As Walter B. was rounding out his last syllable, Beatrice, who had fallen asleep some time ago, began to wake up. “What is it that you were saying,” asked Beatrice, wakingly. “I was saying…” began Walter B. “I was saying…” began Walter B. again. “I was saying,” began Walter B. one more time, “that the commotion is ready.”

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