Rosebud Ben-Oni’s If This Is The Age We End Discovery is a work of speculative Latinx and Jewish poetry. Combining Kabbalah, Gematria, science, and experimental punctuation, the collection explores how nullification and chaotic energy can lead to transformation.
The Hebrew term Efes plays an especially prominent role in the third section of the collection. The speaker defines Efes in three ways: “(1) Modern Hebrew for ‘zero’//:://(2) In mystical Jewish texts: ‘to nullify, to conceal’” and:
(3) Poet’s proposal: responsible for Dark Energy, vampire bunnies & insomnia; insatiable lover; enemy of mathematics & elegant equations; Creation’s Twin; presents Nullification properties as possible Transformation (rather than destruction) of the quantum & the “real” worlds; reveals Itself at the singularity of a black hole; does not abide by any law; changes the riddle.
The poems following this description continue to intertwine mystical, scientific, and personal explorations of Efes. “Poet Wrestling with Derelict Spacecraft” has the epigraph “(—After Gematria).” It begins “Before one what do you count,”, which Ben-Oni notes is a reference to a question asked in the Sefer Yetzirah. From here, the poem moves back and back into nothingness, exploring deeper powers and degrees of Efes: “unspeakable//what I want//::concealment of Efes::”. (The superscript Efes indeed “changes the riddle” — the form asks us to consider what it means to raise concealment to the numerical power of mystical zeroness. This inclusion of linguistic math — bookended in double-colons in a collection fractured with punctuation — is what makes the book’s formal choices so riveting; like the crowns on certain letters in the Torah, the experimental brackets, superscripts, and colons with Ben-Oni’s words lead us to study not only their meaning but also the deeper implications of their forms.
In “Poet Wrestling with Her Empire of Dirt,” the narrator writes ‚“Aba says light/of my eyes,//where are you getting your science.” The collection can be read as an answer to this question as Ben-Oni shows her math in all of its fierce, amalgamating energy that manages to build even as it nullifies. If This Is The Age We End Discovery expands the boundaries of Jewish poetics formally and thematically, and its combination of mysticism, science, and verse leave all fields transformed.
Allison Pitinii Davis, PhD, is the author of Line Study of a Motel Clerk (Baobab Press, 2017), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award’s Berru Award for Poetry, and Poppy Seeds (Kent State University Press, 2013), winner of the Wick Poetry Chapbook Prize. She holds fellowships from Stanford University’s Wallace Stegner program, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Severinghaus Beck Fund for Study at Vilnius Yiddish Institute. Her poetry appeared in Best American Poetry 2016, POETS.org, The New Republic, and elsewhere.