Aquarius, and My Name Is Ralph

Photograph by Jose Padua
I’m sitting at a table in a nightclub during
the disco 70s with my friend Paul and his
older friend who’s also named Paul who’s about
five feet tall and is out with a woman in a tight
pink sweater who’s about a foot taller than he is.
Paul No. 2 is probably the smoothest person
I’d ever been in the presence of, or at least he’s

in possession of that cheap kind of smoothness that can
impress an twenty-year-old like me who has no idea
how to be smooth or cool or even just competent
in a place where drinks are served. I’d just finished reading
Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and only then
had I figured out that in most situations saying,
“I just finished reading Crime and Punishment. What do

you think of Raskolnikov?” is not a good pick up
line. Of course, one might say that I’m just not hanging out
with the right sort of crowd for me, and though my mind is
still overwhelmed thinking about the novel and how
Raskolnikov advances from his terrible crime
to develop an awareness of the world outside
of his perhaps self-indulgent sense of alienation,

I’m still incredibly impressed by how Short Paul gets
to have this tall, beautiful woman hanging onto
every smooth and suave utterance of his—things like
“another gin and tonic, please,” and “this song reminds
me of last summer at Myrtle Beach.” I mean, it’s far
short of brilliant and it’s far short of charming and
interesting yet he’s the one controlling the table

like he’s dealing blackjack in Vegas, and he’s the one
with the incredible date, and if he didn’t have
a date when he came in, he was the kind of guy who,
without the tiniest iota of existential doubt,
knew he would have one by the time he left, and I wondered
if I could ever say something like, “Aquarius, and
my name is Ralph,” which for me came out as “Sagittarius,

and my name is Jose,” which when I said it in my head
did nothing but reaffirm my certainty that I
would be spending my life alone, in a prison
of my own making even though I’d never done anything
as horrible as what Raskolnikov did, and who
by the end of the novel somehow ended up
with the virtuous Sonya, but that was where you woke up

while reading the book. That was when you were reminded
that it was fiction. And the song that was playing that night
at the club was by the Floaters, and “Float On” was their
one big hit. And though so many people laugh at the label,
at the idea of a one-hit wonder, as if that’s some
horrible badge of shame, or, if not that, an indication
that someone falls squarely on the pathetic side

of things, I’d always maintained that one hit was more than
most people ever had. What on Earth was wrong with having
just one hit? Not everyone can be like Dostoyevsky
who not only wrote Crime and Punishment but The Idiot
and The Brothers Karamazov among about a dozen other books,
and The Floaters came out of the projects in Detroit to get this
big hit, “Float On,” and I thought that, yeah, it’s hard to get

cooler than that, to keep going takes a lot of work, and
sometimes you had to go so hard you could feel the pain
in every curved surface of your bones, and sometimes you
needed a little bit of luck, and sometimes, when I got older I’d go
through periods when I thought that luck was the only thing,
that like the saying goes it’s better to be lucky than to be good,
and when I was young I never had a moment like that when

I thought that luck might be everything, that it could trump
talent, brains, or even love. But when I was young I was young
for so long, until the world made me learn, made me believe
that one day I had to know it, that I had to feel it, that like
a man who’s let the world beat him down for so long, I had to be
like everyone else, I had to search everywhere, from green earth
to blue sky, to find the things in this world worth killing for.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. First published in Vox Populi.

Movie Night at the Pony Island Motel in Ocracoke and Other Moments of Far-Flung Revelation

Photograph by Jose Padua
On our last night on Ocracoke Island we were all pretty tired, but my daughter wanted to watch a movie. My wife recalled that there was some Juliette Binoche film that was good and might be appropriate for a twelve year to watch, but she couldn’t quite remember the name of it. My daughter then picked up my wife’s iPhone and asked Siri, the personal assistant program, “What movies have Juliette Binoche been in.” Siri answered that she couldn’t find any movies by “Julia No Shit Bitch.” Which meant that that night we didn’t watch any movies by Juliette Binoche or Julia No Shit Bitch.

This is a photograph of a sea bird I took earlier that day on the beach. If I could fly like this, then every day—take my word for it—I would be telling you all some real serious shit.

-Jose Padua

Around the Corner from the Neighborhood Convenience Store and Four Thousand Miles from the Streets of Barcelona

Photograph by Jose Padua
I could be mistaken but
something tells me
that the good ole boy,
sitting up high in
his pickup truck
and smiling smugly
as he watches
a cop hold a young
black man’s face
to the asphalt,
loves his country
almost as much as he
loves his gun collection
and believes strongly
in the building
of walls.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Lean on Me

Photograph by Jose Padua
Back then sausage, eggs, hash browns, and toast cost
under three dollars for breakfast any time of day
at Lesko’s on Avenue A. Cigarettes cost me about two
dollars a pack. A six pack of bad beer I could get
for about the same and I could drink cheaply at any
of the bars where I knew the bartender and I knew
a lot of bartenders. I could walk out of my apartment
on a Sunday morning still half-drunk after not sleeping
all night and see Sade taking a stroll on First Avenue.
Maybe she was on tour, maybe she had a place in town—
I didn’t know, but she was already a huge star.
When I smiled at her she smiled back at me with a smile
that could destroy every nightmare I’d ever had in my life.
She smiled back even though she had no idea
what I might do with that smile. Sinead O’Connor smiled
back at me, too, one hot sweaty New York afternoon in June—
not quite as readily as Sade, but she smiled at me anyway—
a quick and easy smile that she had no reason to keep.
One night as I walked back toward Avenue B
a woman driving by stopped her car, called out
and said, “Excuse me,” lifted her shirt, smiled, and drove off.
The view of her breasts was a gift, on an evening, during a week
when I had nothing going on and could think of nothing that could
move things up or down, backwards or forwards, for me.
Me, I used to always give the guy panhandling outside
the old EAB bank a quarter or two or three. I had
no idea if he could work, I had no idea if he wasn’t
really disabled, I had no idea if he wasn’t fucked up
or crazy. I gave him the money because whether he was
using it for food or to get high he needed it more than me.
I didn’t need it at all, at least not on that day and
on a lot of other days that all looked the same. I’ve got plenty
of weight about me when I stand, even more when I walk
and I walk when I have the time and we all need to get high.
One day or one way, we all need something that holds
us up or lifts us up because without that we fall.
Without that we’re dead, and all the talk and sweat
we live on tells us just look straight ahead,
or that there’s a better day down the road
or through that door, or in another town, but
whatever you do, just resist the urge to look down.
The man at the bank and all the others I gave money
to could do what they wanted to do. As far as
I was concerned they were geniuses and this was my gift.
The EAB bank is gone now, eaten up by Citigroup,
another in a series of open mouths that gnaw on us
and feed on us and never quite kill us until the time is right.
If you can’t deal with being swindled once in a while
by some guy with a two bit scam that gets him drunk
every night, what kind of asshole are you? Have you
forgotten what’s it’s like? Did you ever fucking know?
So much of the time it’s the scum that rises to the top—
the creeps, the goons, the louts, the boors, and other murderers
of souls. If I ever get there close enough to touch you will I
punch you in the gut, take an elbow to your nose, and
grab the money in your pockets? Or will I have learned
how to smile at you until my nightmares are destroyed,
until you shit in your pants like a baby—just so you’ll know,
just so you’ll remember what it’s like not to get high? Will
I, in the cold light of your day, remember how to be kind?

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. Originally published in Sensitive Skin.

On Driving up Stonewall Jackson Highway with the Intention of Declaring Sovereignty Over the Surrounding Territories

Photograph by Jose Padua
On a slightly rainy
Tuesday evening
in the valley
I drive with the windows
rolled down
and the stereo
turned up loud
to Ella Fitzgerald
singing “Blue Skies”
as I look up
toward the mountains
through the thickness
of the rustic dark
to think briefly
about the splendor
of the landscape
and unhurried motion
of days
before turning around
and slowly driving
back home.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Guns and Cleavage

Photo by Jose Padua
These past two weeks
whenever I walk by the magazine rack
at the supermarket
down the street
I’ve noticed that
there’s always a magazine
that’s been flipped over
so the ad on the back
is displayed
and not the cover
on which when
I first turned it around
was a photograph
of model Kate Upton
revealing a generous amount of cleavage
on the cover of the October issue
of Vanity Fair
and I gathered that the person
or persons
who keep turning the magazine
over face down
are one of the many folks
in this small
conservative town
who are probably scandalized
by so much exposed flesh.
Me, I’m not bothered
by it at all,
because to me
flesh is something divine
and mystical and
whatever reminds me
of this is never offensive
and never indecent,
and even if you think it immodest
I find other things
much more disturbing
in the grand scheme
of living in cities or villages,
towns or country roads
or hidden clearings
in unmapped and unknown forests
on a planet
with over seven billion
other human beings,
so last night,
after turning the magazine over,
cleavage side up,
I walked down to the next
rack of magazines to
where the stack
of Guns & Ammo
“The World’s Most Widely Read Firearms Magazine”
was displayed,
and I turned the magazine over
only to find that on the back cover,
unlike Vanity Fair
where there was an ad for perfume,
was an ad featuring
more pictures of guns and rifles
and automatic weapons,
so I found a nearby copy
of Field and Stream,
which just had a picture
of a moose on the cover,
and I put that on top
of the pile of Guns & Ammo
only to see that next to it
was a stack of Guns magazine
(just guns, no ammo),
and next to that a stack
of Handguns magazine,
and figuring that the moose
on the cover of Field & Stream
probably got shot
right after the photo was taken,
I decided to just
give up on this sad protest,
and I got in line
to pay for my baby wipes
and brown rice
and yogurt
in a world where
too many people believe
in the divinity of guns
and the indignity of cleavage
and breasts and flesh
and goddamn true love
and all the other things
that keep us alive
without killing
something else first.

-Jose Padua

Photo by Jose Padua

An Existential Traffic Update for the I-81 Corridor, June 22, 2016

RoadSign_20160520_200403_EditTwo
The Burger King down the block
is open during renovations
and the man who
got shot several times
at his house a few streets away
on Saturday night
survived
and is in stable
condition at a hospital
in the next town north
of here,
all of which is
a sign that business
is as usual
and the only
delays you will
experience will be
unexpected ones
which will be dealt with
on a case by case
basis.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Restraint

Photograph by Jose Padua
It takes great effort
on my part,
walking the colorful,
tree-lined streets
on these fresh
and beautiful
new spring days,
not to turn to
the next person
coming my way,
or crossing my path
without saying,
“What if we’re
all screwed?”

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Where I’m From and Where I’ll Wander to Until the End of Time and Space

Photograph by Jose Padua
When the time is right—which means after
the leaves have begun to sprout into dark budding leaves
and the ocean currents flow more warmly northward
like perfect storms from southern islands
and all my heart-beating, word-hammering work is done—
bury me in these United States in a manner
I see fit amongst my slightly brown, light brown,
and dark brown brothers and sisters on solid ground
as wide as a city and where there’s so many of us
that the powers that be start to quiver and shake
as if the deep mud upon which they stand is collapsing
with the quaking of their great white earth.
Roll away the rubbish of stars and bars
on battle flags, their sentimental dreams of
stepping on our backs and spitting in our faces,
and all our years of working for them rather than for us,
and all the yessirs and thankyousirs that ever passed
our thirsty lips, and every moment
our heads were bowed in prayer or fealty
and allegiance beneath the smooth skin of their hands.
Then rise the way lost land rises high to blue sky,
which bends down with the bursting of clouds
to wet kiss crumbled brick and fallen metal.
Rise with weeds and wild grasses as if waking
from centuries of deep sleep, rise like voices
when questions have been asked and the answer
is a bird with dark feathers perched upon a statue
commemorating the perpetrators of heinous deeds.
And walk these streets, knowing that what’s beyond
every sharp corner, behind every wooden door,
and under every leaky roof is another insane notion
cultivated by the inventors of regret; walk swiftly
as if dancing between bamboo poles while
stringed instruments control the melody;
walk until you reach the smooth curve and low hills
of the highway heading out of town because
this is where I’m from; this is how we wander.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Brief History from the Point of View of Our Captors

Photograph by Jose Padua
When they were savages
they had minds
full of rivers and mountains
that could plant bold ideas
like seeds and speech.
We, in the meantime,
hunted for heads down by the river,
wearing our enemy’s bones
like good luck charms in our pockets.
We were once savages, too,
but when we were savages
we were the chosen savages.
Savages with a mission
who created clean, beautiful histories
and elegant architecture.
Savages with wealth and philosophy
and a slow but practical process.
Which is why we say it’s time.
Eat with us or be eaten.
And rejoice for the bright, shining
days ahead.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua