Time Being: An Improvisation by Joe Torra (Quale Press, 2012. http://www.quale.com $16)
Review by Doug Holder
The banal lives astride the profound. Life lives astride death. The comic dwells amidst the tragic. Joe Torra in his long poem/journal/improvisation titled Time Being takes it all in, in this stream of consciousness work that takes place inSomerville and the surrounding environs between Dec 2006 to Dec. 2007.
Anyone from Somerville, Mass. will recognize Torra’s references: Highland Ave, the defunct Grand Café in Union Square (Where I observed Torra hold court at a poetry group held there on weekends,) the dour day laborers waiting for a gig at Foss Park, the looming tower of the Schraff’s Building, “The Goth chick unlocking the porn store,” the long gone eatery Virgies that Torra describes as a:
“ … neighborhood joint catering to postal workers, and local tradesman bad bar food, pool table darts and Keno—after its facelift it’s Madison’s on the Ave., no more Bud signs…”
Like the late poet William Carlos Williams who Torra makes reference to in this passage: “Williams was right when he wrote that it’s the hours we keep to see things make all the difference,” he sees it all and with clarity.
And Torra observes, makes pasta, sees more, comes back to the meal, and generously mixes his musings about death, Chinese poetry, and dental bills in this eclectic recipe.
Throughout the book an image of a deceased neighbor who used to live on his block emerges. They saw each other in passing for years but never even exchanged a “hello.” This spectral elderly woman appears rudely in the midst of Torra’s horn of plenty of a life: the noisy clatter of his kids, the creaking and the disrepair of his old house, the notes from his students, the phone calls of his friends, and his conversations with his wife. She is a constant reminder to stop, smell, touch, feel, to experience the here and now.
And this is how it is, isn’t it? You can be looking out the window of your car thinking about your visit to the therapist, or the grocery list, or the root canal you have to get, and then the memories flood in. In this passage Torra dwells on the swan song of his father as the author drives by a hospital in his car: “I will always call it Spaulding Rehabilitation my father’s dead eyes look up before the doctor closes them and pulls the sheet over…” And then just as quickly he focuses on: “…down the tunnel and three men in a white pickup truck fuck you out the window they think I cut them off…”
Torra, with minutely crafted attention to detail, creates a master work, that any man or woman can point to and think: “Hey, I thought that, I felt that, I mourned, I loved… like him.”
Doug Holder is the founder of the Ibbetson Street Press. His work has appeared in Rattle, Fox Chase Review, Steam Ticket, Endicott Review, Poesy and many more. He teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and Endicott College in Beverly,Mass.