Marquee Moon

Photograph by Jose Padua
This is a poem for all the nobodies
who got fucked over
by someone with a name
and became ghosts,
who once held blueberries and radishes
and tiny animals in their hands
and now find that these things slip
through the mist that has replaced
the meaty flesh that once made their hands
things they could grip cold doorknobs with,
who once walked with heavy feet
on sidewalks through town
and moved their belongings
from room to room and city to city
in a suitcase they held
their arms around on the bus,
and who found shelter from the rain
by adjusting their hats.
When you’re a nobody
and you’re a ghost,
no one knows what to call you.
There’s no name for your style of haunting,
just the ghost man on the stairs,
or the ghost woman who screams at sunset
on County Road 725
, or that thing.
Sleep is disturbed but no one
understands the message,
your ghostly touch startles
but is mistaken
for the buzzing of a fly
or drafty windows
that the living swear they’ll replace
when they can afford it.
You cannot breathe,
you cannot think.
You try to touch again,
but the mist of your fingers disobeys,
your curses cannot be heard,
your existence removed,
over and over, again.
Life, we know, is hard,
and the afterlife may be even harder.
When I was young I lived in a house
with a ghost with no name.
This poem about the ghost was
written in winter under another roof
while listening to the solid sound of rain.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Head Over Heels

jp_june1982_edit
At the doctor’s office in Charlottesville, Virginia
to investigate the possible reasons
for my ten-month-old son’s large head,
the doctor measures my own
and informs me that my head size
is off the curve, off the charts,
and when I offer “freakish”
as a way of describing it
he doesn’t say yes but he doesn’t say no
and he looks at me calmly eye to eye,
mano a mano, and without a word
he answers my question,
which reaffirms my initial impression
that he is smart, informed,
and on top of his area of medical expertise—
a good doctor whose feet
are planted firmly on Virginia ground.
He explains that he has a special interest in big heads
because they run in his family—
his father, the elder neurosurgeon,
has a massive head, a trait which he himself,
unfortunately, did not inherit,
which he says is why as a doctor he must use
every bit of his smaller-sized brain,
and it’s why I feel better now,
after days and weeks and years of feeling tense,
knowing that my son’s head size is character,
maybe even personality, not disabling pathology,
and that in this one measurable way
I am ahead of nearly everyone else in the world.
And my wife, my daughter, my big-headed son
and I leave the hospital to eat lunch
at the downtown mall where my wife, my daughter
and I order sandwiches which we will insert
bite by bite into the biggest opening in our heads,
and then we’ll drive nearly two hours back north,
and walk into our big house
where I’ll step into the living room
and lie back on the sofa
so I can relieve myself, momentarily,
of the incredible burden of standing,
walking, running tall,
in an America that is shrinking
in so many ways,
and lay down my huge head.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of the author was taken in 1982 from a balcony near the top of the Library of Congress.

It Was the Summer After the Summer of Love

Cosme and Margarita Padua
I must have been ten or eleven,
I’m not sure which,
and it must have been
the summer after the summer of love,
when I looked through a dresser drawer
in the basement stuffed
with some of my Mom’s clothes.
I knew they were old
because they didn’t have that crisp,
pressed feel of something
that had just been brought home from the store,
but rather had that smooth and cool feeling
like early-in-the-morning,
not-quite-awake skin;
and at the bottom,
reaching with my hand,
fingers spread apart,
I touched something with my thumb
and when I pull it out
I see it’s a dusty paperback sex manual
illustrated with wooden peg figures,
and it’s the first time in my life
that I’ve ever had an image
or maybe it just an idea
(which was still bad enough)
of my parents doing it,
having sex, grabbing each other
the way that grown-ups do,
and I thought, “Oh my God,”
even though by that time I was already beginning
to lose at least some measure
of my religious beliefs,
and I flipped through the pages thinking,
“Did they do this position or that one?”
before I had to slap the open pages
back together,
shove the book back under the old clothes
and push the drawer shut
with two strong hands.
I was a kid and I was suddenly thinking
about what only the weirdest kids liked to think about
when it came to mothers and fathers,
and I went upstairs,
checked out what was on TV,
looked through the records piled on top
of our Magnavox console stereo,
then went up to my room and considered
trying to read the most difficult book I had
on my bookshelf,
all in an attempt to change the subject
going through my young head.
Now when I think of wooden peg figures
I remember one television show—The CBS Evening News,
one record—”Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,”
and one book—Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment,
and how alive and warm we were
in those days I spent imagining
the lush, elegant rooms
where I might one day
bring the woman I love
and the intense but beautiful
labor it would take
in the grand and noble
cultivating and creating
of future generations.

-Jose Padua

Photograph of Cosme and Margarita Padua (circa 1950)

Slave to the Rhythm

Photograph by Jose Padua
I. [Balloon]
I’m too long-winded to attempt a haiku that explains my feelings.
My song is called 99 ass balloons and is sung by Udo Kier.
Haikus should have clear imagery, otherwise they stray too far from form.
I’m always surprised when I find out what it is I’m really thinking.
Udo Kier dedicates his singing of this song to Count Dracula.
When you see trees in morning light I’m the shadow that hides the details.
There is no poetic rule that I’m unwilling to rebel against.
The 99 ass balloons made us want to shoot guns at each other.
When I close my eyes I like to listen to birds and flying insects.
I don’t know how to accomplish what I want to say in a haiku.
My mind’s images are much too dry to relate what happens inside.
My pop protest poem is called dead ad executives and it is mine.
Rhythm builds with time and number until the pattern is established.
Nature’s half of language is in the grunt, creation is a whisper.
Number gives way to rhythm until the ass is set into motion.
This sentence contains seventeen syllables about love and power.
No angel treads upon my ass, no machine can push me to the edge.

II. [Business]
When Grace Jones met Udo Kier they didn’t know
whether to kill each other or to love each other. They
didn’t know whether to drink one another’s blood or
to drink everyone else’s blood, together like a family
(here’s to your health). There was no poetic rule they
were unwilling to rebel against or break. Grace meet
Udo, Udo meet Grace. Past meet future, future meet
a past full of explosions, past meet a future full of
inconclusive results. The business is grapes, on the
vine, to be picked and sold. The business is glass to
cover and contain and keep our watch. The business
is axe and wood and chain. The business is machines
and power lines connecting machines. The business
is communication, management, and is made up of
levels and threads and strings. The business operates
in all regions and all regions are nether regions. The
business is music, the business is film, the business
is literature, the art is the business of disappearing.

III. [Bomb]
Rhythm is a condition of having a soul. Whosoever has a soul has a rhythm that stretches alongside one’s long and short steps toward everything that is deep and everything that is blue, that fills the holes that drift between continents as it makes a clanging sound like an old piano echoing in a twenty storey stairwell. The beats are the slap that awakens the sleeping hero near the end of popular films. The beats are the clock whose motor hums in the background on Saturday nights drowning out the white noise of a billion televisions. Rhythm is what the enemy tries to stop or steal—the rhythm of the heart in the act of escaping, the rhythm of the brain creating new language, making daily escapes from the gravity of mountains and planets. Rhythm is revenge upon the oppressors. Rhythm is slave to no one, slave to nothing. It survived when the bomb exploded, blowing us up into a million poems that are slave to no one, slave to nothing but the rhythm that surrounds this room each time we stop to catch our breath, before we open the door, before we grind stones into wet streets, before we rise and push and plummet and rise, before we move ahead into the living, changing air with these steps of epic grace.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. “Slave to the Rhythm” was first published as part of The New Guard review’s Bang! series.

This Curved Road Toward Space

Photograph by Jose Padua
The last time I was charmed
simply by someone’s good looks
it was something like 1963.
I was in my mother’s sewing room,
playing on the floor next to
one woman or another
who was dressed in just
a slip or a bra and panties
as my mother took her measurements
or else helped her try on
a dress or gown she’d just made.
The beauty of my mother’s
home-made dresses
was lost on me,
as was the threading of sequins,
the hours of meticulous work
synchronizing the intricacies
of fine white lace,
and the raising and
lowering of hemlines
depending on style or occasion.
Too young to appreciate
the greatness of my mother’s
almost late baroque artistry,
it was never the dress for me,
but the look of the woman,
the slight curve that suddenly
turned over her shoulder
then down her back,
or the bare glimpse
of sometimes plump
sometimes flat belly
that filled me with a wonder
I didn’t quite understand.
This isn’t to say that
when I got older there
weren’t days, weeks,
maybe even years when
all I wanted to do was
look and keep looking
like a fawn wandering
through wide green fields
but if the woman in a bra
and panties didn’t have
a good story to tell
or something funny to say,
I’d eventually find my way
out of the whatever room
we were in and back
downstairs to a symphony
on the stereo or a slow
epic film on TV or at
the old theater downtown.
And in all these years
between lace and landscapes,
there was nothing more beautiful
than a woman telling me the long,
complicated story of her life
and art between the lifting
of glasses, her bare lips
dragging on a cigarette
or taking short sips of coffee
at that point in the day
when the fog begins to lift
and the dull autumn sky
begins to clear; and it’s
these stories that brought me
to where I am today,
breathing in this cool blue morning
that takes me like a curve
around the shoulder,
making its way up the mountains,
then slowly back,
to this long stretch of valley
with its river all swollen and ripe
with the telling of these tales,
and the sweet and futile
measuring of the earth
and everything in the universe
that’s profound.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For The Saints And Angels, Miles Davis, And You

Photograph by Jose Padua
Miles Davis was a skinny motherfucker, a bitter and often mean man.
I have always been a little on the stocky side and while often bitter,
I am rarely ever mean.

Miles Davis was a master trumpet player while the only thing I’ve mastered
is the art of keeping my better qualities concealed like money
people hide in their shoes.

Miles Davis was a performer who most of the time would have preferred to just
rip your eyes out rather than accept your applause.
I am a performer who most of the time would prefer to just rip your eyes out
rather than accept your applause.

Whenever Miles Davis wanted to make money he’d just pick up his horn,
play it, and come home with several thousand dollars.
Whenever I want to make money I write a story and two months later I get
a check in the mail for a hundred and fifty bucks or less (usually less)
and whenever I write a poem I owe more money when I’m finished
writing it than I did when I began.

During the course of his life Miles Davis went to Paris, Tokyo, London.
The longest trip I ever made was the time I had the stomach flu and took
a Greyhound bus from New Orleans to Las Vegas to San Francisco
to visit an old friend who wouldn’t let me sleep on her floor much
less in her bed .

Miles Davis—people always seem to obsess on him.
Like the Irish Catholic girl I knew in college who said,
“All I know about jazz is Miles Davis.”
Like the kid watching a man play trumpet
on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Avenue A
and saying to him,
“Hey, man, play some Miles Davis.”

As far as I know no one has ever obsessed on me,
and though I have heard stories of people other than me
reciting my poems in public
I believe these reports to be greatly exaggerated.

I remember when Miles Davis died.
I was at a girlfriend’s apartment in New York
and they’d been playing Miles Davis on WKCR all weekend.

We’d gone out for Chinese food and when we got back
to her place she suddenly turned catatonic,
giving me an evil look as Sketches of Spain
came out of the radio.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, “Was it something I said?”
She just sat there on her living room chair saying nothing,
and after a while I walked out the door,
went home and turned on the TV.

Miles Davis would have screamed
“What the fuck’s wrong with you, bitch?” or maybe even worse
before picking up the phone to call one of his other women.

“Mary,” he’d say, or “Martha” or “Johanna” or any of a hundred other names,
“This is Miles. Meet me at the corner of Second Avenue and Eleventh St.
in ten minutes, and make sure you’re wearing that red silk dress I gave you.
No, not the blue one the red one. Did you hear me, I said RED, woman!”
Click.

Miles Davis is dead,
though I, at the moment, am alive
and remembering the night two years after he died,
when contemplating the wind’s direction, I stood
on the corner of Broadway and West 57th street
in a crucifixion pose.

Elsewhere the Eiffel Tower was standing tall and Big Ben still
ringing as the lights of Tokyo pushed out the darkness.
And with the November cold sliding through my winter coat
I put my arms back down and walked
like on a Sunday morning in the spring
when the blood rushes through your veins,
only it wasn’t spring and it wasn’t Sunday,
and I wasn’t anywhere near Heaven
with no money in my pocket, no tune to play
and no made-up angel in a silk dress
to take me home.

Miles Davis
is long gone and so is
Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad or whosoever
has inspired or moved you
but at least you are still alive,
living through your faults and transgressions,
while the perfect ones and talented ones
and even the ones whose only claim to greatness
was that they were bold as fuck
are all lying in the ground
or burnt to scattered ashes
in the beautiful, evil wind.

So let your idols expire. Let there be joy
on Broad St. and bedlam uptown.
Let young hearts and your own be crushed.

Commerce will work against you once again,
but the law of the land
is a wasp with mud on its wings
and honey in its left eye.
Its belly is full
but its heart is a sponge:
kill it before it kills you because
the gods will never punish you,
and the saints and angels will never squeal on you,
only men whose names have
already been forgotten.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Purpose of These Stories and the Effort We Put into Them

Photograph by Jose Padua
If I were the war on drugs
would I look upon you with great suspicion
when you step on the subway train
on your way to work in the morning;
would I eye you sideways
when you sit in the coffee shop drinking coffee,
in the fast food restaurant easting fast food,
dining out cheap like me,
unhealthily like me,
watching your pennies like morning rain,
wondering about the next paycheck, next job,
next night out amidst the city lights,
or just an early evening at home doing nothing
but listening closely as the children play
their sweet simple games?
If I were the war on terror
would I listen to AM talk radio
while I’m driving to the store with my family
then tell everyone to be quiet
when the on-air discussion moves on
to how America got into this mess to begin with
and what, as real Americans,
are we willing to do to get out of it?
Sometimes at the grocery store you look at me,
your eyes almost bulging
like warm blood beneath the surface of pale thin skin
when I’m standing across from you
at the open face freezer
deciding which cut of meat to buy
because I’m a carnivore like you,
or trying to find sweet corn,
a fresh loaf of bread,
and a treat for the kids
even though I know they’ll be
wild with kinetic and other forms of energy
and acting as if they’re never going to go to bed again
as long as there’s bright color
and high pitched sound in the revolving world
that surrounds them.
You, in the meantime,
wonder what medications I may be on,
ask yourself do I look a person who shoots smack,
drops acid like it’s the 60s,
or who perhaps comes here
from a faraway country your country is at war with
and who if I were to open my mouth
could only speak in some language
you can’t possibly comprehend?
If I recall my history correctly,
terror came first,
then war, then drugs,
and seeing there was no one to challenge drugs,
war declared itself an abuser of drugs as did terror
with harsh words and something
that looked like a menacing sneer.
Nowadays, drugs are everywhere
and so is war and famine and poverty and greed
and the fear of growing so old
as to be unfit to play one’s part
in all the wars and terror to come.
Because oh where
would war and terror be without us,
where would drugs be if we weren’t here to take them,
where would terror be if no one were afraid.
If we were simply sitting peacefully
at sturdy wooden tables
in the rough sunlight of early evening,
telling each other stories,
remembering the days
when we’d hold fire in our hands,
all for the purpose
of bringing color to the darkness
on these long, cold nights.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Orange

Photograph by Jose Padua
Lately I’ve been thinking about Orange. What would it
have been like living in a place called Orange? Could I
have ever said, “Hi, my name is Randolph Scott, and I’m
an actor from Orange, Virginia?” Who would believe
me? I went to Orange in the late 60s when my
godfather Ninong Delphin’s wife died after she had
a stroke. It was where Auntie Nellie grew up. She was

a big woman with tired eyes who drank and she was
Auntie Nellie not Ninang Nellie and it was hard
for me to imagine that she was ever young.
Their daughter Daisy got married to a Puerto Rican
man everyone called Pepe though his given name was
Jose, like me, and back then no one called me Jose
it was always Joe. Daisy and Pepe were my friends’

parents and whenever my friends said “We’re going
to the country” they were going down to Orange.
They’d say it blankly as if Orange were neither
a good place or a bad place to go but it was what
they called “the country.” At Auntie Nellie’s funeral
Ninong Delphin said, “Life, you can never know, but death,
you can always count on death.” It was true, I knew it,

but I also thought it was a useless thing to say.
Auntie Nellie was the first dead person I ever
saw and she was lying in her coffin in the church
in Orange, Virginia after spending her last years
in something like a dark mist that made her wander and
some nights she was a drunk lady nobody knew the
name of getting rolled on the street and now she lay still,

looking more tired than at rest, and behind her on the walls
I noticed, like the name of a small town, filling out
the space behind the altar, that bright light color. We’d
moved uptown by then, from an apartment to a house
and from renting to owning/owing it all to
a bank and I didn’t see my friends much anymore.
And the one time and the last time I saw Pepe

he was waiting at a bus stop and I said Hi and
he was standing there, sweating in the summer sun on
his way to the Mayflower hotel where he worked as
a waiter, and one day decades after he’d died
I went there for brunch on the day my father became
a citizen and when we sat down at our table
the plates were smooth and the silverware shiny and

the tablecloth that brushed against my knees the whole time
was the hard to miss combination of lemon yellow
and apple red. Orange. It doesn’t really mean anything
special to me, but there are occasions when I have
to use the word, like when I’m eating while talking
to someone over the phone and that person hears me
chewing and making slurping noises while he or she

talks about the weather or the news and asks me what
am I eating and I swallow and say, “Oh sorry,”
then pause and say, “I’m eating an orange.” One time
I met a woman named Orange, but I thought I was
hearing it wrong because I was drunk and that maybe
she was actually saying the word “banana”
over and over again to make me talk to

someone else. And when I was living on the lower
east side of New York I once went to East Orange,
New Jersey to read poems on a radio show for
my friend bart and I didn’t do a very good job,
but afterwards we took the bus back to one of those
dismal gates at the Port Authority in Manhattan
and walked and walked under the late afternoon sunlight

until we were downtown again, standing outside
the door of the now long gone Cedar Tavern where we
were regulars, and I drank bourbon on the rocks
until it was dark outside and there’s no city in
the world that looks as beautiful as New York City
in the dark, though there are so many cities I
haven’t been to and so many ways to pass the time

until things get dark. All of which is to say that life
and death I sort of understand but no matter how
long I live and no matter how much I remember
or forget, I am not and can never be a color
even though color is what I am, and I am
a shade of coconut husk mixed with sweet juice that stings
the mute tongue, a blend of Narra tree and high plains

tropical cowboy. I see the color orange all around me now
in the valley where I live, its tones in clouds lit up
by sunsets, its streaks in clear light that climbs up mountains
lifting up the morning’s mist; I hear it in a candidate’s
latest speech, feel it in the look from a stranger when I turn
off Commerce onto South and think about the dignity
of my given name, saying it out loud but to myself.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Blonde on Blonde

Photograph by Jose Padua
What if the purpose of evolution
isn’t to move us
in a straight line
but in a circle,
so that we get better
and better until we reach
the far end of the parking lot,
after which we start to decline,
know less and less,
and feel sick earlier in the day
as we need more and more rest,
all of which tells us
it’s time for us to go away
because the universe has gotten tired
of our sorry asses?
What if human existence
is like a cocktail party
that goes from five to eight in the evening?
You have a few drinks
and stand around telling each other
about your new job with the company
that makes plastic paper clips,
or your managerial position at the store
that just opened in the big mall
by the interstate that so far
isn’t attracting as many customers
as the old mall
closer to downtown;
you gush about your child
who’s on the honor roll,
or, if you’re one of those people,
your new pet snake
and how many mice he eats per week.
After you’re done speaking about your lives,
you sigh, maybe make plans
to meet again sometime soon,
then go off to your separate homes, towns,
and existences until death
puts an end to everything.
But sometimes I wonder
if there’s more to it than that,
if there’s an existence that
survives beyond this,
though I’m not at all sure
about these things,
which I guess makes me an agnostic
or, according to some people,
an uncommitted asshole,
though I tend to avoid those
who are prone to making severe
proclamations and judgements.
I’m the guy who enjoys standing
at the window of the tallest
skyscraper in town,
looking out at the city below
and feeling that somehow
this is what it means to be alive,
that living means
always being on the verge,
on the edge,
with every day being
the moment before a long trip,
the hour before a wedding,
the year before war breaks out
and so many innocent people die
while the guilty get richer
and make jokes
and laugh about it
not because they have to
but because they can.
In the worst of times
apprehension fills the hours
like a man in a black suit
who sits in the corner
and never speaks
until he suddenly looks
over at you to say
that your time here is finished;
while in the best of times
you take in what’s left
of an ordinary day
and realize that
nothing we do
can ever really be ordinary,
and that on those nights
when we stay up well past the hour
of sinking ships and insincere promises,
we are great,
telling each other our secrets,
breathing in the sea salt air
and breathing it out again,
dedicating our lives to each other.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Apparition of Charles Simic Among the Strippers Hanging from the Pole

Photograph by Jose Padua
In the photo on the back of an edition
of his selected poems published in England,
Charles Simic looks a lot
like someone I used to see at the
downtown strip joints in the early 80s,
a guy with big glasses and a big forehead,
who was an even bigger dork than me.
I’d go to this one strip joint from time to time,
when I just wanted to be a dork, alone,
but every time I went I’d see him,
which meant he was probably there everyday
with the sort of cluelessness
that put my own cluelessness to shame.
He would communicate with the dancers
by slowly raising and lowering
his trembling eyebrows, over and over,
watching them when they got close
as they stretched arms, legs, torsos
and anything else they had
that could be stretched.
He’d respond by doing the thing with his eyes.
Maybe he thought the dancers
would think it cool or even sexy
in the way that only great poets can be
cool and sexy, putting the rest of the world
to total fucking shame.
I doubt that the guy was actually Charles Simic,
but what if he was?
I’m looking through Simic’s poems to see
if he ever wrote about this,
about doing that annoying thing with his eyes,
and the strippers he tried to impress with it
and whom he went home with
and loved and left before
driving off in his sensible car
to write more great poems.
I know he wrote with loving enthusiasm about breasts,
but did he ever write about going to grungy strip joints?
That would be evidence that the guy
doing the eyebrow thing really was Simic.
But when I consider the possibility that
the real Charles Simic would do such a thing
and try to court and bend the world
with such unimaginative motions
I come to the conclusion that
no, I was never in the company
of this great poet
in a downtown strip joint.
Why the real Simic would have the dancers
sitting down with him, surrounding him.
He’d buy them drinks and entertain them with observations
about the baby pictures of famous dictators,
discuss his neighbors, the formidable Hittites,
and ride almost roughshod
over the list of classic ballroom dances
he’d mastered in the matter
of just a few short years.
Or, would he attempt to assert his mastery of the arts,
his mastery of the fantastic, the unimaginable,
by doing the dorkiest thing possible?
Yes, I think finally and with certainty,
it was him, I know it was him.
Confident, insouciant, unafraid, even
proud to stand up from his table
while both women and men rolled
their bloodshot, liquored eyes,
then shook their heads at him behind his sturdy back
as he approached the exit,
hit the sidewalk,
pulled out the keys to his 1974 Dodge Dart,
then headed back home to the books
and their innumerable blunt images and dark words.
To the loving discomfort of our sometimes unfathomable art.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua