Lidia Torres? A Weakness for Boleros
Bio: Lidia Torres, a Puerto Rican poet, was born in New York City. A graduate of Hunter College and New York University, she received a poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She lives in New York City, where she is currently working on a translation project.
Puerto Rican poet Lidia Torres’ latest offering, A Weakness for Boleros, is an enchanting fusion of music, food, family, death, and its aftermath, emotion-mourning. As the title of the book implies, music is the biggest catalyst in each piece. This catalyst in turn induces the author to reminisce about family, aging, and death. Her message throughout the collection, however, is singular. It is stated, implicitly − the lives we live ought to be lived in equal passion to that which she believes resides in the music of boleros.
Such passion is apparent in her description of food, oftentimes present during hard times. A certain food scent triggers a cherished family memory. It is in this triggering process that Torres transforms food into emotion, and vice versa. Whether it is the flavor of fruit that conjures serenity, or her Puerto Rican native desserts laying claim to childhood jubilation, each food focus is intermixed with an emotion.
One could be excused in believing the work is a collection of bleak introspection about death, as the first few pieces are about just that − dying, mourning, or missing a dear relative. Take this piece, “Three Keys,” which is quite representative of such reason for misinterpretation:
I inherit three skeleton keys,
A thick metal ring
Tied in a bow at the end.
These keys cannot lock
The bare rooms with quiet
Ghosts of three brothers.
I call them at night,
The rusted metal ringing
In my pocket. My brother answers, tapping
The conga skin with the tips of his fingers,
Lightly, not to wake my sister
In the room next door dreaming
Of my father. In her dreams,
He is counting beds, readying rooms.
Another brother taps the clave’s beat.
The last brother answers by barely scraping
A guiro. Then we are all
In the same dream, alive and dead.
There is the palm tree you wanted.
The mangos are so low,
They graze your fingers
When you try to reach them.
Limes among roses, orchids.
Even the roots bear fruit
In our garden. The scent
Of guavas. The tapping
And scraping of the trio.
Torres’ prose delivery is heavy on imagery, strengthening the effect of her recollections and experiences. It is through this imagery that she uses the passion of music to describe a mourning that is a mesmerizing experience rather than a sad hardship, although it is implied that even going through such experiences is indeed evidence of deep longing for departed loved ones.
While sometimes the imagery throughout A Weakness for Boleros does become repetitive and the subject matter does become somewhat monotonous in its approach, almost falling prey to its own strengths, one can’t help but realize Boleros is a deeper emotional exploration than it appears. It is, in fact, an attempt to reach a balanced view of death, and Torres does indeed find her unique vision of what death means to her and how she copes with it, as exemplified in her poem, “Respite”:
My mother is tapping her thigh.
She is looking beyond the dangling
Wires, the death rattle nearby.
The other patients shout
At the vague inclemency
That inhabits hospital rooms
And the staff forgets.
How they forget
The touch of a clean sheet
And the flesh that receives it,
The comfort of a hot meal
Filling all the body’s vacancies.
Propped in bed, my mother concentrates
On the sound of the small
We are nodding to a bolero,
Swoon together for all
The time I clung
To an old plastic radio,
Became friendly with the dials
That made my captive youth bearable,
For all the time we were strangers.
Now joined in this attraction
To the familiar plea in the song.
(A Weakness for Boleros: Poems by Lidia Torres. Mayapple Press, Bay City, Michigan. 2005. $12.50. ISBN-0-932412-34-3)