Take a Giant Step

Photograph by Jose Padua
All the out of business auto body shops
on this slow highway, all the abandoned
buildings with peeling paint, the vacant
lots overgrown with junk trees and weeds
bounded by chain link fences, all the things
we could never fix and threw away, all
the insane metaphors for living, the fake
equation of ideas, the pretty words that
soar today in a shallow heart as wisdom
before giving way to tomorrow’s clever
observation, commandment, or list
of the neglected and overrated, and all
the shut ups and neverminds we breed
with our lips because we have never been
upon the verge of either idiocy or genius.
This is not where you belong, alone in this
tiny town without mending, this is not
the long endless line that waits for an exit
out of city sleep, this is not the thick
wall you can’t hear through. So go,
like everything that has decayed
before us, everything that has shattered
so beautifully, go into that street like
a man crashing a parade with smelly
clothes and dirty skin, go into that building
that’s on fire because the sky is full
of smoke and you’re thinking about a river.

-Jose Padua

This is a revised version of a poem that was originally published on Split This Rock’s blog. I took the photograph of the Front Royal Kmart, which shut down at the beginning of the year, earlier this week.

I Feel for You

Photograph by Jose Padua
The sound kept me warm those winter
evenings walking down Broadway
after work, when I had work, with
work and wind stinging my face.
Chaka Khan singing Prince, singing
this song, in the lights. Chaka Khan,
I didn’t care even when the people
were cold, are cold, on a show business
kind of old show tune kind of high
that I never felt. My high was different.
I could breath through New York ice.
I could walk over puddles without
getting wet, swing my arms wildly
like a tourist from out of town and
never feel I wasn’t cool. I wasn’t.
The lead singers in up and coming
bands never spoke to me. The
actresses in my friend’s movie
never looked at me. But when I
finally spoke I could get them
to laugh. Maybe even cheer, at
one place, but I think these people
knew me. Maybe they were the ones
getting paid, not me. All my years
there I never ate a single salad. It
was fried chicken and fried rice. Hole
in the wall falafel. Because above
all I wanted it fried. I wanted
these streets fried, and the women’s
faces, so dark, so pale, so brown,
so beautiful they must have been
fed fried food all their lives. And
my heart, like a camera, taking
pictures developed by my blood,
sent to my brain, that I showed to
strangers on the corner of Avenue B
and Third, that space I called home.
Harvey Keitel, Rockets Redglare, Quentin
Crisp, Rick Aviles, Christopher Reeve—
so many of the famous New Yorkers
I saw on the street there are dead
now, except for Harvey, and the
women, who would have thunk? And
who understands how the world works,
and why it hasn’t broken down by now?
And how we walk like angels, sometimes.
On those days when we’d gladly give
all our money, or crawl how many miles,
five hundred? No, just five. To avoid being
inside, on the downtown F train back downtown
in glorious, I-am-a-star, I-am-a-worker, I am
an insignificant dot on the blue-green
globe of the Earth, in lower Manhattan,
Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Night Jimi Hendrix Died

Photograph by Jose Padua
The night Jimi Hendrix died I was
unacquainted with the process
of integrating chords and leads,
or with the evolution from mannerism
to baroque and then late baroque style.
I was born in a hospital that
was torn down before the dawning
of the age of Aquarius, before
there was even a song about it
and the word psychedelic got
dated and trite and we no longer
felt as far out as we used to.
When I was young I worshipped
the god of disruptive mood swings,
silently staring at my homework
before screaming because nobody
told me not to; now I listen to my
inner child-like voices whenever
I feel the need to feel free. There’s
always a first time for everything,
and the first time I went to New York
City I was a child and when I saw
the trash blowing over the sidewalks
and onto the streets, the business cards,
candy wrappers, bread crumbs, and
other discarded bits of food I was
impressed the way only a child
can be impressed by what looks
like chaos and disorder but is
really nothing more than
a brief change in the weather.
And now that I am no longer
a child, I look upon the vanishing
of years, the disappearance of all
the motions I remember making,
and those nights when what is immobile
seems to move about in the dark to
reflect the slightest glow of moonlight.
And the greatest blessing bestowed
upon us is aging’s wisdom—
shades of faces, shadows of trees
and mountains; endless miles and miles
of rolling ocean and curving road.
These and whatever moments can be
called climatic or even divine
become even more so when
we realize they can be so easily
lost or forgotten. Those moments
so wearying and lovely when it feels
like the air may be drawing out
from your lungs and never coming
back; that breathless purple instant
when you smile one more time
before all the images in your mind
collapse, leaving just flat space
and the slight, subtle aroma of mint.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Dawning of the Age of Enlightenment

Photograph by Jose Padua
Whenever I hear that
at pre-school my
three and a half-year
old son refused
to do what the other
kids were doing
and got mad when
the teachers tried
to get him to
do it I am
reminded that doing
what everyone else
is doing has
never been my
ambition or aspiration
and that if
in the future my
son ever disobeys
an order or walks
away from the gathering
crowd it just
means that he’s
learned to
apply logic to
the situation.

-Jose Padua

Late 1950s Science Fiction and the Making and Breaking of Empires

Photograph by Jose Padua
Looking at the pile of snow in the parking lot at the Martin’s supermarket one night, I was reminded of the 1958 film, The Blob. Starring Steve McQueen (in his big screen debut) and Aneta Corsaut (who would later become famous for playing Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show), The Blob features a fist-sized living lump that arrives from outer space then grows and grows and grows. Special effects not being what they are today, the living blob didn’t look all that different from this pile of snow.

It was around seven in the evening, and inside the supermarket was the emptiest I’d ever seen it since we’ve been here. Because of this, it was the most relaxing trip to the store I’ve ever had in this town. It would have been perfect for one of those occasions when I had a long list of groceries to buy, but last night all I needed was bread and milk.

When I went back out, I looked at the blob of snow again. I stood there in the parking lot, next to my car, and I looked at it for what felt like a long time. Soon, a feeling of peace came over me—or at least that’s what I thought it was at first. But then I recognized what it was, and what I realized was that it was exactly the sort of feeling I get when a movie is over.

But not a movie like The Blob, because I felt just the way I would had I just watched a movie I love, like Wim Wenders’s Kings of the Road or Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels. And standing there by the pile of snow, I found myself lost in one of those moments where I get a sense of all the places I’ve been and the slow passage of time, and not just the time I’ve lived through.

I know that for some people history is a series of wars and battles that to them are the hallmark of man’s determination and glory. For some people, all they can think about is war, as if war itself is the purpose of everything and the reason for our existence. And where some see the clashing of armies and the devising of strategies and the beginnings and endings of empires, I see the movement of millions of points of consciousness, too many of which have strayed so far from that moment of birth that the only things they see beauty in are acts of destruction.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Pulling White Hairs

When I was a child I’d pull the white hairs
from my mother’s head. It was a chore
like any other—like making my bed
in the morning, folding my clothes at night.
I was neat, as a child, and took pleasure
in maintaining the proper order of things.
The Tinker Toys back in the box when I
was done, the Lego blocks, too, the Spirograph
wheels still warm from spinning over white space
to trace blue and red lines, the lines that
multiplied the way the shelves of books and records
would when I got older. When I was young,
I’d look so closely at my mother’s hair
that I’d swear I could smell the white ones—
they were cold and slightly bitter, if bitter
could describe a smell, a scent. They had no
expression, could never twist and turn
to form strong words the way the black ones could.
I’d spot them, zero in with the tweezers,
thinking myself a doctor of sorts,
removing bad hair like germs, tumors,
bad blood, bad sugar, bad habits, bad luck.
I’d ease my grip on the tweezers, drop
the white hairs on a paper towel I’d
laid beside me on the big living room chair.
They were ready to throw away, in the trash,
where they could never make my mother old,
make her weak and frail, or make her stop
to catch her breath when she could still walk fast,
down the steps to the street, with me, to this
square city that was always home to me.
But sometimes home, for her, was somewhere else.
Home was where she wanted to be all those
fed-up-with-here, life-is-harder-here than
back home some nine thousand miles away days.
But when I was pulling white hairs there was
only this city, this home. I’d count the hairs
I’d pulled, each hair a mile, each number a
dividing of distance and the immeasurable
light speed of time, a record of the work
we’d done to get where we wanted to be.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of Margarita S. Padua was taken in the early 50s, possibly somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley.


Photograph by Jose Padua
“I have a wee-wee,”
my daughter would
say when she was
two and then she’d
look at me and say
“you have a wagina.”
She knew it wasn’t
true, but she had
just discovered
either the joy of
reshaping the world
or of emasculation.
I’m not sure which.

-Jose Padua

This Must Be the Place

Photograph by Jose Padua
Tonight I let out a Tourette’s grunt just as Heather was trying to record a greeting for the voicemail on her new phone. When she played it back, the first thing you heard was me in the background going, “HUNNNGGGGGAAGGGGGHHH!” This was followed by “This is Heather, I can’t answer your call right now…” I thought it sounded incredible. In fact, we all loved it. Heather, Maggie, and I, and—if he were listening at the moment—I’m sure Julien would have loved it too. We laughed at the absurd beauty of it.

Maggie and I each told Heather she should use it as is for her greeting. But, since she gets a lot of calls from the office on her cell phone, we decided she’d better re-record her greeting. There isn’t much room in the professional world for odd, grunting noises. People would be asking for an explanation, saying, “What was that?” Or probably what would happen more often is that they would say nothing, but think us odd, weird, or perhaps even scary. Which is fine, but we have to make money, and so often money looks down on what is odd, sneers at anything it deems weird, and steers completely away from anything it thinks is scary.

This is why, at home, we are artists, driving away the money we make during the day except for that little bit that’s fine with our being odd, and that tiny fraction that doesn’t fall from our hands because it’s scared. This is where we live the best part of our sort-of-hard, always weird lives. This is, indeed, the place.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Travelling Men

Photograph by Jose Padua
When we were seven or eight my neighbor would sometimes
run around behind his house with no pants, laughing his child’s

laugh. Sometimes we’d see him with a glass and we’d ask him
what he was drinking and he’d say sharply “whiskey” not with

pride or to surprise but just because that’s the way it was. He
never went to jail like his brothers and we were never scared

to have them living next to us, even when his brothers were
stealing or robbing people with guns. I was not a pervert like

him when I was young, I didn’t drink like him when I was young,
and my brothers never went to jail like his when I was young

but he was my neighbor which meant that he was one of us
and I was one of his, and the door to his house opened and closed

as ours opened and closed. He grew up and worked cleaning
the floors at bars I sometimes went to for fun, doing the hard work

I didn’t have to do and couldn’t have done. Clarity for me were
those moments of revelation, clarity for him were those moments

of stillness when there was nothing left that someone needed him
to get done, when the noise had stopped and the lights went on

and the air was like whiskey and wine and time was like a coin
that had dropped through a hole in outer space. We were different.

When I see him for the first time in ten years with my wife and
daughter he’s sitting on a bench staring into space. He’s still mopping

floors, he says, and he talks and he talks, about how he’s getting married
as soon as his girlfriend gets out of jail, and he lives in another part of town

now because he can’t afford to live where we grew up together and when
he tells my daughter that he’s like a brother to me I can’t say that it isn’t

true, because although we didn’t hang out together and you could only
measure our closeness with units of measure or measure how perfectly

we fit into our separate spaces, we somehow are destined to journey back
to these same places. I could say that it easily could have been me mopping

floors but it wouldn’t have been easy—the odds were against him even more
than they were against me and anyone with a brain can see that and anyone

with a heart would know that, but sometimes there’s no heart, no organ
pumping blood and wisdom, just machines of great efficiency pumping

noise through our veins until there’s nothing left to do but talk and listen
and do nothing, and I walk with my wife and my daughter to our car while

he waits on his bench on this beautiful spring morning for his wedding day.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. First published in Gargoyle #58. I will have new work in Gargoyle # 62, which will be available in February 2015.

The Prince of Intoxications

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when I’m driving around my small town
in my mini-van I like to listen to Desmond Dekker’s
“The Israelites,” and as if I were a character in an
old Gus van Sant film, I pretend that my goal for
the day is to score some drugs. I have never spent
much time trying to score drugs. Usually if a friend
had some and was sharing them, I’d partake, but
now if they have some to share, I decline, which isn’t
to say that a lot of my friends are still sharing drugs
because they’re not. But this also isn’t to say that
they’re not still doing drugs because I think they all are—
which is how they tolerate my many indiscretions and
obfuscations of fact—it’s just that they no longer
share them. So I continue driving through town
in my mini-van, leaning back, my arm hanging
out the window like I’m cool, pretending this
family vehicle is really a beat-up old sedan with
stolen license plates, and knowing that as soon
as he’s old enough my four-year old son sitting
in the back will snitch on me and that I’ll respond
by saying, “Yes, yes, my boy’s giving it to you
straight. I did all that.” Because after all he is my son,
and although I am a grifter at heart, for me blood
runs deeper than any drug, longer than any high,
and I’m raising him to always speak the truth.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua