At the Intersection of Columbia Road and Crab Soup

Cosme Padua, Tony Padua, Jose Padua
It’s one of the intersections of my growing up,
the corner of Columbia and Ontario in DC
where the Safeway and Giant grocery stores
stood side by side across from the sub shop
and Steve Zweig’s photography studio; these
were the roads I passed by every day in my youth,
going to school and back even though
it wasn’t always the quickest way
even back in third grade, before the traffic
got bad or I was old enough to ride
the DC Transit bus. One time when I was
maybe ten I was in the car with my Dad
waiting for the light to change and a tall skinny
man on the sidewalk next to us pulled out
his gun, all cool and focused like a lens
looking for someone to shoot in the bright
afternoon light. I didn’t tell my Dad
“Hey, look” or “look out” I just watched
even though I didn’t know what the gun guy
was looking for, just that he wasn’t looking
for us, and my Dad and I were almost home
after he’d picked me up from school,
and as usual I was hungry, and that was
probably the end of an era for me, that phase
of my youth when I believed that
as long as my Dad was there I was safe.
And I was hungry in all those senses
of the word, for food, for friends, for a future
where I could do whatever whenever, depending
on my whim and perchance my sense of style
or to be more precise my lack of it. That was
when I was young and couldn’t drive,
and decades later when I’d left home
for New York and I came back for a visit
my Dad picked me up from the train station,
and somehow we ended up there again, outside
the Safeway. And my Dad asked me if I could
run in, while he waited in the car, and get
a few cans of crab soup, because he loved crab
in all its forms, and whatever time of year
it was that day, canned soup was probably
the easiest way to get it, so I went inside, walked
down the aisle to find crab soup, thinking
how such a simple thing, even more than
leaving the house where I grew up and
leaving town made me feel old,
and made me wonder if somehow
I was doing the same thing for my Dad
that he did for me all those years, before
I hit ten, and when we got back to the house
I walked up the stairs and kissed my Mom
on the cheek, as my Dad stood close by,
then shut the door behind us because
we were home and ready to eat.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of Cosme Padua (center), Jose Padua (left), and Tony Padua (right) was taken around 1960-61.

It Was Spring in the Ice Age

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was spring in the Ice Age
and Mary was the mother
of Bob, who out of a primeval forest
rose to sculpt glass sculptures,
blow hot air into glass bubbles,
and brag about the daylight,
about all the fabulous ass he got,
which is what Bob loved most of all
when he gave birth to arson
and grand larceny.
Mary lived to sell his tail,
forgive his crimes,
and sing from mountain to mountain
the songs we all remember
from the young summer we loved the most.
And I was born of iron in the Bronze Age,
a slow train before there were tracks
to roll upon toward the coast,
a cold drink before there were throats
that were dry from desert thirst,
a wound before men and women
learned how to heal.
This is my foot upon the gas
pedal of an automobile,
surrounded on the road
by Jacks, Jennys and Johns.
Their headlights are on
but mine are not, or mine are on
and theirs are off on tangents, aimed
at the wind, the trees, the flying insects
in the aging, wrinkling breeze.
I am a man. I am a woman.
I am a shining silver ghost,
missing all the buttons on my
old gray dusty winter coat
but I am going places.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Socialism

Photograph by Jose Padua
In the town of
Front Royal where
I live I am a socialist.

I live there with
my socialist wife
and my socialist daughter
and my socialist son.

We think socialist
thoughts like “water,
wind, sun, moon, earth
belong to us all”
and “privatize this.”

Just like we did
when we lived
in the fatherland.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Child’s Introduction to the Million and One Secrets of Jazz

Photograph by Jose Padua
I think that long before I’d even come close to having a child, I believed that it was never too early to plant the seeds of a certain kind of determination in a child’s mind. Furthermore, if I had slightest bit of control over it, no child of mine was ever going to be addicted to the blowing up and blasting away of things and people as occurs in so many video games. I didn’t care whether or not any experts thought they had any lasting effects on a child’s development, these things were, as far as I was concerned, a colossal waste of time. And, also as far as I was concerned, it was first things first, and let’s just forget all the other nonsense.

It was unlikely, then—with me being her father—that Maggie would go through her toddler years without hearing the music of Charlie “Bird” Parker. Maggie was around three when I first played Charlie Parker for her and she immediately liked his music. Of course, by then, I’d already played Sun Ra, later Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and even some Cecil Taylor for her. So, when she first listened to Charlie Parker, she was actually moving slightly back in musical history, and didn’t really need the child’s picture book we’d found—Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka—to help her appreciate Charlie Parker’s be bop sax solos. Which isn’t to say she didn’t also enjoy the picture book we read to her.

Her introduction to jazz went slightly like mine. When I first started listening to it around 1974 or so, I was listening to things like John Coltrane’s free jazz versions of “My Favorite Things” and “Naima,” as well as Sun Ra’s The Magic City and Atlantis. It wasn’t until a few years later when I started exploring Charlie Parker and the music of the be bop era. To my surprise, after my first exposure to Miles Davis being his 1970 LP, Bitches Brew, I found that his work went back to the 40s when he replaced Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker’s quintet.

Soon, I realized there was quite a bit of jazz history I needed to learn. And though I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject, I learned enough to get annoyed whenever someone would say something like, “I enjoy big band music” or, even worse, “I like jazz.” My reaction would always be, OK, who do you like or what do you like? Swing? Be bop? Hard bop? Who do you listen to, Glenn Miller or Duke Ellington? Bud Powell? Eric Dolphy? Albert Ayler? Do you listen only to jazz that puts you on some kind of nostalgia trip?

Because to so many people jazz was a single type of music they’d heard once at some party where everyone was smoking pot, or that they’d heard during a trip to New York when they stopped in a club and had a drink, or that they’d heard when they went to a friend’s wedding and the band at the reception was this group of old guys wearing cool tuxedoes. In other words, it was a superficial acquaintance that they would exaggerate into some kind of in-depth knowledge when the truth was they didn’t know the first thing about jazz.

Yeah, I know. I was a difficult person back then—and in a lot of ways I still am. But to me, real art of any kind isn’t a way to kill time—or to see or feel things that are pretty, or to get high, or to simply entertain oneself. When you’re experiencing real art you’re learning something you didn’t know before, you’re discovering a different way of looking at the world, and above all, you’re not escaping the world, you’re digging down deeper into it. And, when you know real art, and give it the time it takes to know it, you’re less likely to get fooled by all the idiocy that’s out there, exploding like an atomic bomb of horseshit.

In this photograph, taken somewhere around 2006 when we were still living in the northern Virginia suburbs, Maggie is holding The Very Best of Bird, a double LP I bought in 1977 at Olsson’s Books and Records on Dupont Circle in DC. (Or was the store still Bob Bialek’s Discount Books and Records back then? I’m not sure). Little did I think when I bought it back then that, more than 25 years later, I would have a child who’d be holding it, and listening to it, and digging it. And who in so doing would be sharpening the tools with which she learns— separating what’s beautiful from what’s merely pretty—and be determined to contribute to peace not war.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Bad

JosePadua_1975_bluetint
When I bought the shiny black leather shoes
with the flat front toe and zip-up tongue
for my high school play at the 4 Dudes
shoe store downtown, the salesman proclaimed
slowly and seriously, “Those are some bad shoes.”

I looked down at the flashiest shoes
I’d ever had on my feet, and three other
salesmen came over, looked at my feet,
and said, “Yeah, those are bad” and I thought,
Oh, man, that’s cool and Man, these are bad.

But I didn’t ask, “Will my wearing them make
me a bad dude?” Because even though they all
seemed nice enough, I didn’t think they had it
in them to lie and say, “Oh yeah, and you’ll be
a bad dude in those” because I knew I wasn’t

anywhere close to being bad like that, not yet.
I was just a kid, maybe somewhat cool but
not particularly cool, and I was at least a decade
or maybe two from any kind of badness. And
I knew enough then not to try to be bad, because

being bad had to just happen somehow—you
became it, you grew into it. Badness was sort
of like Kafka—waking up one morning
after fucked up dreams, but instead of now
being a cockroach, you’re bad, like that, like

you’re so frighteningly cool you even scare
yourself sometimes. And all those people who
tried to be bad just became assholes or dickheads.
I took the shoes home and tried them on again,
then a week later I wore them for my high school

play where I played one of the waiters in Hello Dolly,
and where I sang songs like “Call on Dolly” and
“It Only Takes a Moment” with the other waiters—
all of us wearing black shoes that showed to anyone
who was paying attention that we had potential.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of me was taken in the senior lounge of my high school in 1975.

It Was 1982 or ’83 and Nelson Mandela Wasn’t Free

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was 1982 or 83
and three of the new workers
from the ambassador’s residence
who were here in the States
for the first time had been over
to the house, invited
by my Mom and Dad
for a home cooked Filipino meal.
At the end of the night I took them
in my ’74 Dodge Charger/badass American car
down Hobart, then back up Irving,
and at Mt. Pleasant Street we’re waiting
for the light to change when Emilio,
the youngest of them, asks,
“You have nightclub in this city?”
And he’s looking at me
as if I’m the one who knows
the secret password or abracadabra equivalent
that will set the beautiful madness of America
spinning right in front of his eyes.
I play it cool and say,
“Oh, yeah, there are places
to hear music, have drinks,
see big-time rock bands,”
but he ignores this and keeps his eyes on me,
waiting to hear the answer he wants,
and then he leans forward slightly
and asks, “Nude?”
and in the back seat the two other guys
are sitting all quiet, waiting for the answer,
and it’s apparent that while I’m the ride home
to the ambassador’s residence,
Emilio is the designated asker of questions
they want to know the answers
to but are too shy to ask.
So I say, “Oh yeah,
there are places for that,”
and I act as if I’ve never been
to a nude or topless joint
even though I’d been to these places
more times than I care to say,
and I consider for a moment
that maybe I should just take them to one right then—
to Good Guys and Camelot and then cross town
to the ones up on Georgia Avenue
where things really get wild—
all as a way of saying,
“Hey, welcome to America!”
Now, there are moments in your life
after which you can clearly see yourself
as having become a better person.
This is not one of them.
Which isn’t to say that I took them out
for a decadent night in the Western world
and corrupted them more than they needed to be corrupted,
because I didn’t.
I drove them right back
to the ambassador’s residence where they were staying,
but it wasn’t because I didn’t want
to see them joining the ranks
of the sort of ugly Americans
you often see at these places,
nor was it because I didn’t want to show Emilio
a wild time here before his wife and kids
followed him here to the U.S
because I didn’t know that night
that he had a family
back in the Philippines. No,
the reason I decided not to take them
out to the strip clubs
was because I thought that taking them with me
would cramp my style, that it would make me
less cool, as if being the cool guy in a strip joint
wasn’t already the sorriest thing
I could imagine.
So no, this wasn’t a turning point for me,
and I took them back to the ambassador’s residence
on Massachusetts Avenue along Embassy Row
where they were cooks, cleaners, servers—
workers like my Mom and Dad
who had crossed the Pacific by boat,
leaving the land where they were born
to come here, and who fresh
off that boat had more style and were cooler
than I ever was in my twenties.
And somehow I’m remembering all this tonight,
thirty years later, when after getting back home
with my wife and kids, on this
day in December when Nelson Mandela
has died, the song “Someday We’ll All Be Free”
comes on the car stereo
and I have to stop and
listen even though my wife and kids
are already walking toward our
house, because for me
the most beautiful moments
aren’t when I consider how far I’ve come,
but when I realize how far I have to go,
and I pause,
my hand on my wrist as if feeling my pulse,
before I straighten my back
and begin to move.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua, taken on December 5, 2013

What’s Best About True Greatness Is How Fragile It Is

Photograph by Jose Padua
Strings tuned just right, they can break apart.
What keeps the notes together, the words opposing,
confronting, complementing, informing one another
is this. It’s not just scale or grammar, score or page.
There is no logic to bind the pieces together. Harmony
is a thing of the spirit; it is cool breeze and hurricane,
poetry is sound alternating with silence—sometimes
you know what’s happening; sometimes you’re the old
soldier who doesn’t know the war he was fighting
is over and another one has taken its place even bloodier
than the last. White doves fly through dark air; black birds
gather over the old marble monument. The wise man has
no home, no pockets without holes, holes that offer no exit,
no ghost in the machine, no light at the end of the subway
tunnel, no time to take requests, just more train to ride,
more track to walk. What’s great doesn’t know it’s great,
feels like it’s about to fall for the last time down the slope,
or simply trip over shadows so sharp they can cut darkness
into lesser shades, earth into slices for academic studies,
and other substitutes for sleep. This is what’s beautiful,
essential, mystical, magic; there is no magic, no mystery,
no man. When light is bent by gravity those who cannot laugh
are doomed. The rest of us stop breathing; we catch our breath,
look up and down, leeward and windward. We crack ourselves up.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Love Is Like Arkansas

Photograph by Jose Padua
Love is like Arkansas,
a little bit backward sometimes.
The best days are slow, simple,
like white rice and black beans
on a paper plate for lunch.
The worst are when you can’t
understand what the other
is saying: a seed from a southern
cypress fallen too far from the stream,
a woman in a beige dress too sure of herself
yelling at a woman in a white dress,
less sure, but standing tall and walking on.
It’s the certainty that ails us,
the thing we know we know when we don’t,
the river that runs away from us
to the north where it’s cold and dark and muddy.
Love is the loving of the doubt,
of what’s wrong as much as what’s right,
that wrinkle, that gray, that blemish
that mellows, even blossoms
in the soft, early evening light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Relativity

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother cried when my father
took his first trip back home to the Philippines.
I don’t remember how old I was,
just that I was too young to understand
the distance life creates at times
between parent and child, husband and wife.
The first time my wife had to go away
from me on a train, she cried,
and I spent the night in Milwaukee
where I’d gone for work
afraid of ghosts and wary of falling
into the silence of an old hotel room.
When we first moved to this small town
and my wife had to go into the city in the morning for work
our four year old daughter would talk to her on the phone
and cry “come home, come home”
even though she always made her way
back home in the evening.
I know we don’t have it bad.
I know so many people have it much worse.
I know all about dependence and independence
and that there’s work to be done
and miles to be crossed on our own,
and how we should be able to do this
then be together again so naturally
but let’s not get too carried away
by the weight of our actions
and the speed of these objects.
Let us not spend so much time apart,
or allow our souls to hover too long
over great distances.
Let us always stay in the same room
through the stories we tell each other
even when we tell them at different times
and in different places.
And let us always be alive like this,
on all these planes that fly,
and for every second,
as we rise through every break in the continuum.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Real History Is Never Made

Photograph by Jose Padua
Real history is never made by those
with the incredible machines, but by
those with the beautiful words. The first
moon walk would be nothing if there
were no one to say “one small step
for man, one giant leap for mankind,”
even though we sometimes have trouble
remembering the exact words. The well-
oiled machine of our nation wouldn’t have
felt so new if Lincoln had said it was
begun eighty-seven year ago by some
white guys, instead of declaring, “Four
score and seven years ago, our fathers,
brought forth on this continent, etc, etc.”
A war epic would be a just another
long film with explosions and Martin Sheen,
and the Philippines standing in for Vietnam,
without the words “I love the smell of napalm
in the morning.” Machines you can make
with numbers and tests and prototypes.
There’s no use in trying to write a prototype
for the sonnet you want to write, you
simply have to try to write it. Poetry
has no smell, you have to feel that victory,
that loss, the language. It can wrap around
you like a bandage, it can pierce your
heart like a knife. And close the skin you breach.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua