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What Happens is Neither

Narciso Torres, Angela. (2021). What Happens is Neither. Four Way Books.

Angela Narciso Torres, author of To the Bone and Blood Orange, is set to release her book of poems What Happens is Neither in February 2021. What Happens is Neither, masterfully lyrical and narrative, tells the story of family of a daughter living through her mother’s battle with Alzheimer's and her father’s cancer, pieced together by her reflections on encounters with loss and revision. What Happens is Neither explores grief, memory, migration, and home. It is a collection that calls the reader to deeply read, re-read, and turn every page slowly. Torres invites readers to awaken their senses, slow down, and ponder.

In the book dedication, Torres writes “for Carmen Tanseco Narciso 13 September 1936 – 27 May 2019 and Francisco Villaruz Narciso 2 October 1935 – 7 June 2019.” In her virtual poetry reading with The Frost Place, Torres reflects on her writing in relationship to the loss of her parents, and says “Grief comes in waves.” What follows the dedication in What Happens is Neither are those waves as typhoon, as hurricane, as sea, as monsoon, and as acoustic waves: as piano, as cello, as radio, as symphony. Each wave throughout her work captures the ebb and flow of tides of remembering, of forgetting, of leaving and coming home. Torres writes about her mother and her sweet guava scent, her father and his violin, and her own experiences as a mother. She also writes about home, both physical homes and countries, including home as people and bonds of love.

What Happens is Neither is a story of liminal spaces, that which is in-between, transitional. It is a story of migration, moving between the United States and the Philippines, imprinted by traces of kundimans (traditional Filipino love songs), salvia, guava, native tongue, familial wisdom and superstition, family brought together and separated by sea. And, it is a story of being present between life and dying a story of suffering, fragility, beauty and a tension between a figurative and/or physical amnesia and the inability to forget. The connections between poems are haunting, moving, a mastery of craft, from the mourning whales to the sounds of symphony, from cicada husks to unsheathing gecko, from blaming and blessing the rain to the weeping world. Torres imbeds palpable tenderness into each poem, and reminds us that being human is a process of molting, of revising.

What Happens is Neither is the kind of book in which each image, each sound and smell, each moment of beauty and intense feeling that feels so unknown and yet so familiar, captivates and immerses you. For many readers, it is a collection of poems that echoes both a personal and shared experience. I recommend it to anyone who has known bereavement, to anyone who is willing to slow down and reread, and to those open to contemplate the mysteries of being human, of residing in liminal spaces.

Review by: Sutherland Jaramillo. Artist Resource Development AmeriCorps Member,

History and Literary Arts, National Hispanic Cultural Center

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