Category Archives: 3. Literature

The Angel Of 11th Street

Photo by Jose Padua
At the end of another drunken week
of beer and whiskey and wine
I walked home
and on the street I met a woman
who bummed a cigarette from me
and offered a piece of candy in return.
She told me she was heading
to 11th Street by St. Mark’s Church
to make money by giving guys blow jobs.
She was young and beautiful and spoke
in tones of the brightest white light,
and I wished her luck, said goodbye
and walked away.

And I’ve seen people hit by cars
and people OD’ing on the street
as crowds gathered to watch,
and I’ve seen people staring
into space at nothing
because there was nothing left to see
that didn’t make them sad or mad or weary,
and I’ve seen men and women
step from the doorways of buildings
where their friends or lovers live,
each parting a necessary loss
when the only thing left to be
is alone.

And as the days go by
what you remember most
is the distance between things,
the endings of great moments and pleasures,
and as you walk
in the sharp eye of the midday sun
or beneath the cum-colored shining
of a crescent moon
the weather is always
the same.

And tonight
The Angel Of 11th Street
is standing on a corner
selling blow jobs and buying candy
to keep the devil at arms’ length
and heaven close to the steady beating
of her untainted heart.

-Jose Padua

Words and Letters

Photograph by Jose Padu
When I was in first grade
I hated the box of little
cardboard squares
with the letters printed
on them, because
whenever they took it
out and put it on the
desk in front of me
I knew it meant they
wanted me to take
the letters and make
words with them
and I hated making
words with letters,
why, I wondered,
would they not just
let me speak? That
box is long gone
and the letters in it
decayed, disintegrated,
dissolved into dust,
and now, fifty years
later, I am a grown
man who cannot be
told to make words,
which means that
in writing a poem
I’m fulfilling neither
duty nor obligation
but rather am committing
my daily act of revenge.

-Jose Padua

Photograph (Route 11 in Roanoke, VA) by Jose Padua

A Brief History of Empire As Presented by Focusing on a Few Moments at the Old Holiday Cocktail Lounge and a Pop Song from 1992

Photo by Jose Padua
I love how the 1990s were like that.
Beginning with a war and ending with an innocence,
or maybe it was the other way around.
Days that went by like speed,
with sorrow filling out all the weeks
that went too slowly
to feel like anything else.
Subway trains and buses and taxis
rushing like blood through the boroughs
carrying ideas and overdoses,
rolling over anything that dared to stand still and holler,
at a time when I was a young man
without envy
and full of patience.
And I was an early evening drinker
sitting at the bar at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge
on St. Marks Place
when I went to the restroom,
and when I got back to the bar,
“Damn, Wish I Was Your Lover”
was playing on the jukebox.
It wasn’t even on there
before I went to the bathroom,
and it had only been released
by Columbia Records
ten minutes earlier but
there it was,
coming out of the speakers right after
Joey the Ex dropped a quarter in the slot.
I looked and looked then figured out
that it had replaced Neil Young’s
“Only Love Can Break Your Heart,”
which made me mad,
but then I started listening
and suddenly there was a history,
a girlfriend with whom I used to listen
to that song and who told me
I was the first person she thought of
when she first heard it,
and I felt sad because we’d broken up
and I missed her.
And it wasn’t just me,
because everyone in the bar
now had a history with this song.
The gray-haired woman tending bar
knew the lyrics by heart.
The old Polish guy
sitting next to me started tearing up
and grabbed a napkin to wipe his nose,
while the kid with the red bandana wrapped around
his shiny black hair
and who was playing pool
stood back from the table,
and closed his eyes for a half second
that seemed to last forever,
while a woman with pink hair
and horror film lipstick
felt a sudden switch flip
when she exhaled that
last drag from her cigarette
and thought nothing
but words that were so fucking earnest
and slid down from her stool
in a way that was
so goddamn slow.
And I was a young man
full of envy who
couldn’t wait to escape my skin,
wishing to know everything
the city could tell me
and feeling it in the bent straw
I stepped on with the flat
of my shoe,
and through the vast determined stretch
of empire that attempts to pull
everything in its path
up into its warm
and loving embrace.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Kids, Don’t Follow

Photograph by Jose Padua

Kids, don’t follow stars, don’t follow
wise men or women. Don’t follow the
folds on a woman’s forehead
or the muscles on a strong man’s arm.
Don’t follow those who are faster than flies,
don’t follow those who are slower
than extinct flightless birds. Don’t follow
the classmate who has all the answers
without having to even read the book,
don’t follow the girl who sits in the corner
staring at the table covered with dead flowers
left over from a stranger’s wedding. Don’t wish
for the great wealth of successful businessmen,
don’t sit and do nothing because you’re drunk
and listening to the ticking of a clock when
your house is on fire. Don’t follow the guides
you find in paperback books with the sort
of glossy covers you used to find
on old porn magazines, don’t follow
the people who tell you not to.
Don’t follow the roads that have
already been paved for you, don’t follow
the damp grass and dirt that surrounds them,
especially if you live in a fucking swamp.
Don’t follow those who are too eager
to set you straight, don’t follow those
who scratch their chins and feel their nipples
when you ask for help jump starting your car.
And of course don’t follow heroes
with automatic weapons, don’t follow anti-heroes
with baby grand pianos. Don’t follow angels
with white feather wings who fly through clouds
with wide beatific smiles on their faces,
don’t drink straight from the milk carton,
for Christ’s sake get a cup. Above all,
and above this, do not follow unsolicited advice.
Ignore those who say they know what’s going on.
Do not listen to them, or to me, or to this,
kids. Just remember that what you’re
reading, or hearing, right now, is a poem,
and that this poem is changing your life.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

If Poets Were Like Porn Stars

Photo by Jose Padua
If poets were like
porn stars what
would it take
to fluff us up,
to get us ready
to perform, place
word after word,
then plunge down
to the next line,
or sometimes just
keep going, over
and over, pushing
forth into the blank
white space of the page,
moaning and moaning,
screaming the beautiful
words of this discerning
art we compose with
heart, mind, and tongue?
With tragedy, loss,
injustice, the many colors
of the morning sky, or
the plain image, that
solitary figure against
the black background
of an evening silhouette
or shadow to move us,
can the industry of poetry
ever really be in peril?
Can a poet ever do
anything but walk
off into the sunset,
glowing over the
landscape, losing it all,
losing it everywhere,
our lives so exquisitely
lovely, so exquisitely
lost?

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

What I Keep Coming Back To

Photo by Jose Padua
One of my fondest memories
of my mother is this—
seeing her on the corner of Mt. Pleasant
and Hobart when I’d caught up
with her and my dad
after I’d gone back to the house
to get my warm coat,
then watching her lean forward,
tilted like a bell about to ring,
to shake hands with the man
who always panhandled there.
I have lived so many years
now in other places
and spent so many days thinking
of all the right things to say
but what I keep coming back to
is this—
the way she lifted
her arm without hesitation
on that cool, clear morning;
shaking the old man’s hand
just the same
as if she were greeting
a president or a queen.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

September Song

Photo by Jose Padua
When I was a kid in grade school
the teacher once made us repeat after her,
“The key to success is hard work.”
Years later, in college, another teacher told us,
“You have to work hard to get an A
and you have to work hard to get an F.”
One thing they never told you
was that sometimes you could make it
without any effort at all.
This you had to learn on your own.
And though it’s true
that most of the time
you have to slave away
to get anywhere,
the most beautiful moments
are those when you find yourself
in the right place at the right time,
or when, after doing something easy,
you find yourself suddenly
on top of the mountain.

It’s like when you’re at the racetrack
and you forget about the jockey,
the odds and past performance
and bet big on a horse
because you like its name,
and you go home with a hundred dollars
you didn’t have that morning.
It’s like wandering the streets aimlessly,
looking for nothing,
just walking like a zombie,
when you run into a friend
and end up drinking and laughing,
ready once again to look
at the world that surrounds you.

It’s the beauty of the moment
that comes alive without artifice,
the beauty of the mountain
that is built without industry
without business,
without blueprints and guidelines
and a right way
and a wrong way.

It’s the beauty of being human,
of not always making sense,
the beauty of falling and getting up
not because there are things to do,
but simply because you have fallen
too deeply into the realm of the possible,
and it’s time to do
what you were told
you couldn’t do
and you do it effortlessly
and easily high
and wide
and running on these
still golden days.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Real Words and Other Solid Objects I Can Recall without Having to Look Back

Photo by Jose Padua
During the drive back from Roanoke yesterday, it was while the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie was playing that Julien spotted the most cows along the highway. Watching for cows and other animals is perhaps Julien’s favorite part of being on the road, and hearing the overture playing, punctuated by Julien’s declarations of “Cows!” and “More cows” was invigorating, giving me energy at a point in the drive when I would usually be getting tired and ready for a break.

But what was also nice was to have this piece of music associated with something other than a violent scene from A Clockwork Orange, which is what often came to mind whenever I heard the overture once Stanley Kubrick used it in his 1971 film of the Anthony Burgess novel. Not that Malcolm McDowell didn’t deliver an incredible performance as lead thug of the droogs, but it’s not what I want to focus on all the time. And while some people are obsessed with violence in its various forms, I prefer to think endlessly and obsessively about other things.

Happily, A Clockwork Orange is no longer the only thing I associate with The Thieving Magpie. It’s also the music that Toru Okada listens to as he boils a pot of spaghetti at the beginning of Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This is a more pleasing association, which isn’t to say that the Murakami book is a much happier affair than A Clockwork Orange. It isn’t (well, not exactly ) and it has some of the most horrifying scenes I’ve read anywhere, but it’s still a much warmer experience than Clockwork’s dystopian satire.

It’s also a book that’s always somewhere in the back of my mind since I finally read it a couple of years ago. And after leaving our hotel yesterday and driving down Route 11 towards downtown Roanoke, there were two things that occurred to me. The first was the revelation that, on this stretch of Route 11, at least every other building looks like something that would be quite at home in a William Eggleston photograph. The second was more fear than revelation–and what I was afraid of was the possibility that at any moment I could find myself caught in the sort chain of events that would be at home in a Murakami novel, and in particular, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

This, I think, says loudly and clearly how this book hit a certain note within me. This is also when I have to say something to Heather or Maggie or Julien and hear them say something back to me, to bring me back to the world at hand. And as we were driving down Route 11, that’s what I did. I don’t remember what they said–it doesn’t have to be anything long and involved–but I came back. From a momentary plunge into extreme sadness, from a brief mental tremor, or from the dizziness that comes from having to consider every possibility every moment that I’m awake. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to cut a fart in the car, and I’m back, in more manageable frame of mind.

And as we drove on down Route 11, we saw, in the distance, the Big Man statue at the old auto shop. I slowed down to take this picture of it. It’s not at all like William Eggleston’s photographs, which to me always seem to make the distant past seem so immediate, as if it’s never gone away, and never even come close to anything approaching change. This seems more like something out of a dream that was dreamt at least a couple of decades ago and can barely be remembered.

And after passing by the Big Man statue on the way to downtown Roanoke, I wouldn’t have been surprised, upon turning around for one last look, to see that all of a sudden it was gone. That in a matter of seconds the statue and everything surrounding it had been replaced by some 21st Century roadside creations–all made quickly and cheaply and without any kind of thought–and that we, on this Sunday afternoon, were the last people in the world to have seen it. Which meant that it was up to us to tell the story of its last moments in the hopes that this story, and everything it contained, would endure for a period of time which–in its slow, beautiful unfolding–approached eternity.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Pursuit of Happiness

Photo by Jose Padua
It was the 60s way
before the summer of love
when after being turned
away from the entrance
to Mayo Beach because
we’re people of color,
or, specifically, as
the guy at the gate
says, “Flips,”
we drive further down
the bay to a beach
that lets us in
right away.
My Mom and Dad
stretch the beach blanket
out slowly, carefully,
before finally looking out
toward the bay,
because it is a given
that on some days it is
harder than others
to spread joy.

-Jose Padua

Photo by Jose Padua

The Shape I’m In

Photo by Jose Padua
As is my habit before going up for the night, I peeked out the front door. On bad nights I may see the neighbors across the street (the ones we don’t get along with) out on their front porch having an argument. On calmer nights it’s just the guy, talking on his cell phone to someone and having a conversation where every other word is “fuck” or “fuckin.’” Lately, it’s been quiet, though, and after I peeked through the front door window, I immediately turned away. Then I did a double take and looked back because I thought I saw something, and when I did there it was—a beat up looking Playmate cooler. What the hell is that doing there? I thought. Being tired, I was about to just leave it for the morning, but my curiosity wouldn’t let me. I opened the door to check it out.

After fiddling with the handle a bit, I got it open, and at the top was a big bag of potato chips. When I pulled that out, I saw a plastic mug from a convenience store, some crackers, and then, below that, a banana. At the bottom were a couple of blue ice packs. I thought that maybe Linda, our next door neighbor, had given it to us. Now and then she’ll drop off miscellaneous treats or sometimes hand-me-downs for Julien. But then I saw a pack of Marlboro Menthols. Linda knows we don’t smoke and would just keep a spare pack of cigarettes for herself, since she does smoke.

Knowing that the neighbors right across the street from us would never leave us anything—and that it was unlikely that any of our other neighbors would leave this for us, I figured out that someone just had the wrong house, and these chips, crackers, banana, drinking mug, and Marlboro Menthols were meant for someone other than us.

I pushed the cooler to the side of the porch and was about to go back in again when I noticed a plastic paint bucket next to the Dutch gnome that guards the front door of our house. The gnome, a gift from our friends Bart and Nina in the Netherlands, has been guarding the front door of the various apartments and houses where Heather and I have lived ever since we were married. The gnome used to have a fishing pole, but that broke off a number of years ago. Tonight, though, with the bucket placed right in front of him, the gnome had something new to behold, because inside the bucket, under a now melted bag of ice, were several loose cans of Bud Light.

I know, Bud Light could hardly be the gnome’s beer of choice. But, after going for years without his fishing pole, even the bucket of Bud Light must have looked good to him. It was late, and I was tired, but I could have sworn that there was a look of delight on the gnome’s face—a look that hadn’t been there for years. So I went in, got my camera, and took this picture of it.

Then I went back inside. I’d had some coffee late this evening to wake me up enough so I could get some work done, so although I was tired I wasn’t anywhere near being ready to sleep. So I sat down at my desk and thought about the chips, the crackers, the cigarettes, and those cans of Bud Light.

And now I’m wondering if when I wake up in the morning, I’ll open the front door to see an empty bag of chips, cracker crumbs, cigarette butts, and several empty cans of Bud Light. Evidence of the gnome having had a little party. And then it occurs to me that maybe these things weren’t left at the wrong house at all. That, indeed, they were left here, on purpose, for the gnome.

And after I walk up the stairs and go to bed, that’s what I’ll be listening for. The sound of the gnome pulling open a bag of potato chips, munching on some crackers, cracking open a can of beer, and then lighting up a cigarette or two. I’ll also be waiting to see if I catch a whiff of the cigarette smoke. Maybe I’ll catch it right before I finally drift off to sleep—that scent of cigarettes, cheap beer, and cheap food. Just like in the old days, when I was young and hungry. Hungry not for the better things in life, but just for life, in whatever shape it came in.

-Jose Padua

Photo by Jose Padua