Eat | Read with Sabrina Orah Mark
In my mind I refer to Sabrina Orah Mark as Sabrina Oracle Mark because, well. Her work to me is like the hybrid of ancient past and mythical future, uttered by primordial mouth and echoed out of the most sublime conch you’ve never seen. I’m just saying, if I were heading the search committee tasked with finding the soul who could best rewrite the Bible, I would disband that committee and beg Sabrina to do it. In her poetry and fiction there are jokes, and there is dying, and in the space created there, if you are listening, you will also find instructions for how best to survive the terrors of love. This week, she tells us about some of her favorite things.
I eat the old lady candy. Of this licorice mix, my favorites are the ones with the rainbow seeds. The red, black, and white buttons come next. Then the black jellybeans. This candy is serious, if not a bit morose. It is the kind of candy you might find in the desk of your rabbi. My only anxiety is the Good & Plenty who are too thin. What are they doing here? They’d be better off as ear bones, or even better as the skinniest brothers ever, or even better as three skinny brothers named Malleus, Incus and Stapes. I pick them out.
What is candy? Some might say, “wrappers.” But this old lady candy has no individual wrapper. And the sweetness is not the sweetness that is the sweetness you think when you think sweetness. It is other, ancient. I don’t trust people who dress for the occasion. If we had a candy store here in Athens, I would put on my summer wool, go out, and purchase in bulk. But there is no candy store so I stay in. Sometimes it’s as if there are no stores here at all.
Also, the Gerolsteiner. I eat the old lady candy with the Gerolsteiner. First I put many candies of old ladies in my mouth and then I take a swig of Gerolsteiner. It makes a foamy blackness that reminds me of praying. I really think you should try it. I am 99% certain Gerolsteiner is also the name of Malleus, Incus, and Stapes’ grandfather. I imagine when he tucks his impossibly skinny grandsons into bed he tells them stories about licorice. Something to fatten them up. Maybe something about how gobs of it were found in King Tut’s tomb, along with gold and jewelry. It will be Stapes, most likely (being the most existential of the brothers) who will say aloud, quickly, “I don’t want ever to be be buried with licorice.” Neither do I, Stapes. Neither do I. A coffin should contain only the body wrapped in a plain white robe.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. Also The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (over and over again) because it has become for my almost 2 year old a nightly banquet. I pretend to pinch off pieces of cake and cone and pickle and cheese and salami and lollipop and pie and cupcake and watermelon and he licks the invisible feast off my fingertips. We touch the sun and go “ouch!” because the sun is so hot. Both books are about holes and hunger and loneliness and belonging to the bodies that belong to us even when we have barely seen or have never seen these bodies before. Or we have seen these bodies all our lives. The summer Nelson is four months pregnant is the same summer her partner, Harry Dodge, begins testosterone treatments. “He started to look for some food” (Carle). “You’ve punctured my solitude” (Nelson).
“A writer is someone who plays with the body of his mother. I am a writer; I must play with the body of my mother. Schuyler does it; Barthes does it; Conrad does it; Ginsberg does it. Why is it so hard for me to do it? For a while I’ve come to know my own body as a mother, and while I can imagine the bodies of a multitude of strangers as my mother (basic Buddhist meditation), I still have a hard time imagining my mother’s body as my mother” (Nelson).
Some butterflies, like ghost moths, lay thousands of eggs while they fly.
“At times I imagine her in death, and I know that her body, in all its details, will flood me. I do not know how I will survive it” (Nelson).
In the The Very Hungry Caterpillar, right before the caterpillar goes cocoon its eyes grow very big and change color. “I kept thinking then about something poet Fanny Howe once said about bearing biracial children, something about how you become what grows inside you” (Nelson). She goes on later to write, “She is of her children, and they are of her. But they know and she knows they do not share the same lot.”
Once when we got to the last page “he was a beautiful butterfly!” I could’ve sworn my almost two year old son pronounced “butterfly” as “you full haha die.” Who? Me? “No,” explained my almost 4 year old,” he just means the butterfly but we can’t understand him. He’s just a baby.”
Sabrina Orah Mark is the author of the poetry collections The Babies (Saturnalia Books, 2004) and Tsim Tsum (Saturnalia Books, 2009). Mark’s awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award. Her poetry and stories most recently appear in Tin House (Open Bar), American Short Fiction, jubilat, B O D Y, The Collagist, The Believer, and in the anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales. She lives in Athens Georgia with her husband, Reginald McKnight, and their two sons.