And This is Where We Lived When We Lived in the City

Photograph by Jose Padua
He used to panhandle on Dupont Circle in the early 80s. That was where I’d get off from the subway at the end of the day when I worked at the Library of Congress, and he was one of the people I’d always stop to talk to before I made my way back home to Mt. Pleasant. This was during a brief period in the 80s when I would take a lot of photographs, and of course one day I happened to have my camera with me when I stopped to chat with him. That’s when I took this photograph. A couple of weeks later, when I had it developed, I gave him a copy. “Oh, that’s beautiful, man,” he said and he smiled more than I’d ever seen him smile before. Though, now that I think of it, maybe I had never seen him smile at all before then. He really seemed to like his portrait. He called himself “Om.”

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Beautiful Things

Photograph by Jose Padua
In Virginia this fat
southern kid
sits by me on
the bus and starts
talking to a man
wearing a baseball cap
who’s sitting across
the aisle from him.
“My daddy once
had this beautiful
antique gun,”
he said.
“It was the most
beautiful thing
I’d ever seen.
But one day he
got mad and busted me
over the head with it,
breaking it into pieces.
I forgave him
for busting me
on the head
but not for
breaking that gun.
It was the most
beautiful thing
in the world.”
The man with
the baseball cap nodded.
He seemed to
understand.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Train in Vain

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I lived in New York the landlord of my
building on Avenue B always called me
“Jose Baby,” while the woman in the apartment
above me who always got the pipes clogged
by flushing cat litter down the toilet was
“Fucking Stacy” and the woman below me
was nudge nudge, “Linda, wouldn’t ya like
a shot at her, Jose Baby?” but Linda’s boyfriend
was Shamir who always looked as serious as
a hit man and the only time I ever saw her
apartment was when water was dripping down
from my bathroom into hers one night when
the pipes burst because Fucking Stacy was
taking one long fucking shower in the bathroom
above mine, and her water went down her drain
into the pipe, then into a hole in the pipe
through which the water rushed and burst
a hole in my bathroom wall after which
the water flowed like the East River
down into Linda’s bathroom, and Linda
walked up to my apartment, knocked on the
door and asked “What is this shit?” then
walked me down to her bathroom where
I said, “Linda, this is Fucking Stacy’s
water, just passing through my bathroom
into yours,” and though no moisture was
ever exchanged again between Linda and me
we got along really well from that day on.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Sunshine of Our Lives and the Beauty of These Summer Days Spent in the City

Photograph by Jose Padua
At the Port Authority bus station
in New York City
my daughter watches
as the tall strange man
with the tin foil wrapped
around the short braids of hair
on his head takes a cross-eyed portrait
of himself with his phone
while he stands in the doorway
of a coffee shop down from
the Greyhound ticket counter.
When she asks me if I see him
because she needs to be reassured
from time to time that every
bit of life we witness is real,
I tell her, “Yes, I saw him too,”
and I’m glad to sense that
what she feels is more sadness
than fear because here’s
a man so lost in his own
world there’s no way to count
the miles it would take to get back
to a place where his feet could
once again touch solid earth.
And though what I feel
at times like this is far from joy
I find myself lifted because
fear is like a slow gathering
of suspicions that are never
answered and we get on our bus
and ride like history down wide,
dirty rivers toward toward all
the beautiful things that
need to be brought back
into our lives.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

That Certain Kind of Light

Phtograph by Jose Padua
In high school it was the son
of a congressman from Texas
who seemed to have the most
fun ridiculing my Tourette’s
tics. I’d shrug my shoulders,
blink my eyes, and suddenly
tilt my head as if I were
emptying out the fluid;
it must have looked ridiculous.
He talked fast, did magic
tricks, and was so confident
he never had to watch his back,
never had to do anything other
than sit back, stand up, or laugh,
and he was so much cooler
than I could ever hope to be.
There were days then when
I felt so small I almost felt
I wasn’t even there, which
made it easier when people
were laughing at me and I
felt as if I were watching it
rather than living it and from
a safe, almost silent distance.
And this is why I can never go
back to feeling so small, why
for as long as I live I will never
not be there, will never keep
my distance, and will never run
for Congress. Because my freshman
year in high school was like that
Creedence Clearwater Revival song,
but instead of the words being “I
ain’t no Senator’s son” my words
were, “I ain’t no congressman’s
son,” which didn’t sound as angry,
and wasn’t as easy to sing with
a snarl, but my Dad had two
jobs and my Mom had just
as much to do, and I was born
in the city and made of the sort
of light that could never keep still.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Idea of Order Near the Exit to the Interstate

Photograph by Jose Padua

This morning when I got to my
local big chain coffee house I
ordered a breakfast sandwich
and the woman behind the counter
asked me my name and I said “Jose”
and she grimaced and said “huh?”
and I said it again louder, clearer,
prouder and sat down at a table to wait.
A few minutes later another person
behind the counter starts saying
“House. House. House!” and I realize
he’s trying to say my name, and
I pick up my sandwich, look at the
wrapper on which the word “Hose”
is written instead of “Jose” meaning
that the English-speaking person
behind the counter couldn’t even read
or say the English word “Hose” correctly,
and as I sat down to eat my sandwich
I thought about the long, slow day
ahead of me and all the beautiful
ways I fail to be more American.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Revelation at a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant on a Sunday Night

Photograph by Jose Padua
We’re waiting for the cashier
so we can pay for dinner
after eating at our local
Cracker Barrel Old Country
Store and Restaurant
when my wife looks
to our four-year old son
who’s standing in front
of a rack of camouflage
colored jelly beans and
says, “Stay here, now.”
He pauses for
a long moment,
turns to his right to look at
and perhaps catch
a whiff of a chocolate
scented teddy bear,
then looks back all
slow and serious
over to my wife and to me
and his older sister
and says “Strange things
are going on,”
which reminds me
that revolution begins
not so much with
the ability to recognize
what’s wrong but
with the confidence
to speak it.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Particulars of Absence

Margarita S. Padua
There’s nothing as round as this flat horizon
that stretches before us like a runner before
his run, nor anything as deep as this valley
that dips then rises like a ship sailing upon
rough seas. Lights go on and off in the distance,
pulled by switches pressed by the fingertips
of the thousands of people here whose names
we don’t know and never will. On the highway
cars, trucks, and buses travel at speeds considerably
lower than that of the speed of light; I catch them
with a glance, these machines with faces inside,
some of them with their radios turned up loud,
some of them talking through broken teeth and
busted lips, some of them silent like lost arguments.
And in the middle of this the only constant is in
everything that’s not there–the person gone missing,
murdered, killed, or who simply passed away
under the brevity of night; the building demolished,
the opportunity squandered, the debt that’s never
repaid and the people lost forever to wars and
the brutality of commerce. But also included
in the realm of absence is the punch never
thrown, the act of vengeance never realized,
the debt forgotten or forgiven, and all the triggers
never touched and left to rust. And as I aspire
toward the absence of unnecessary things, we
approach each other with empty hands, our palms
filled with lifelines and blank, open space
because there is bravery in our story, and
wisdom in the language with which we tell it.

-Jose Padua

Photograph of Margarita S. Padua was taken circa 1950.

Interview with the Mountain

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I first came to interview the mountain
it said the hour was late, that it was too tired,
that it doubted it had anything of significance
to say, anything worthy of putting in print. The
second time, it said it didn’t trust me, that I was
a foreigner who would never understand its ways,
who had his own agenda that would make the rivers,
the oceans, even the deer and wild cats seem more
important than they really were, and less vindictive,
and more fun. The third time we sat and stared
at each other. I had brought along my lunch and
I bit into my sandwich and sipped my iced tea
as the mountain looked at me in silence, refusing
to eat. The fourth time I brought a friend who drank
whiskey and played songs on his violin, who asked
the mountain what he thought about the moon
and the mountain just said that it didn’t think
about the moon and that it thought about the moon
as often as it thought about us. The fifth time I
brought a book which I read silently to myself
while the mountain slept until well past noon
when it said that it didn’t believe the seasons
were real, that changes in temperature, the drifting
snow, and the turning of the leaves were created
by men and women living in cities who had never
even seen a mountain. The sixth time I took my wife
and my daughter, and my daughter ran around
chasing butterflies while my wife and I breathed
in deeply, looking up at the blue of the sky imagining
the shapes of animals, and not once did we try
to speak to the mountain and not once did we
look at it. The seventh time I climbed slowly
to the top and back down again with my eyes closed,
waiting for the mountain to speak, finally, to say
something about its past. How it’s not as tall
as it once was, how none of us are growing,
how nothing in this world grows for very long,
and how the rivers betrayed him, and the oceans
shifted their weight and went to sleep without
thinking of rescuing him and without showing him
how to swim or build a boat. And how the animals
never taught him how to find cover or how to protect
himself, and why it serves no purpose for man
or moon or bird or flower for a mountain to speak
when everything around him is falling. Then
in the early morning as the shadows took quick
steps toward the city, I left and came back
with a knife and fork and I ate the mountain,
breaking him apart into sand and rocks, gnawing
on the pieces with my monstrous teeth, eating
until I was full, until the mountain was all gone
because I live in the country now, and no longer
have the voices of the city or the cries of sirens
echoing down dark streets, or words of lesser
wisdom to hold me back, and I love the slower
pace of life here, and the way flowers in their
season take all the time they need in blossoming.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And There Are No Reliable Eye-Witnesses to the Afterlife Either

Photograph by Jose Padua
Within the first
two minutes of meeting me
Burt Giannelli took
a look at my face
and said, “Oh,
you’re a gook!”
We were just over
the city line
sometime in the
mid-1970s and
I was with my friend
from high school
who had to stop
by Burt’s house for
some reason I don’t
remember and I
was still standing
in Burt’s messy
dining room when
somehow he started
talking about how
many inches he
was able to get it
up for his ex-wife
as opposed to his
current one who
he said was
“also a gook,”
and it was at that
point when I
decided that in
my young life
Burt Giannelli was
without a doubt
the biggest asshole
I had ever met
and I was beginning
to suspect that
perhaps my friend
was an asshole too
with the only difference
being that he was
my friend,
though as time
moved on the
differences grew
and the similarities
dwindled to a number
between nothing
and one. And many
years later I must
say I wasn’t surprised
to read in the paper
that Burt Giannelli
was shot dead at
the bottom of his
driveway and that
even though it
happened in the bright
light of a weekend
afternoon on a busy
suburban street,
there were no witnesses,
just a dead body
and a car—
too far down the
road for anyone to
read its license plate—
making a right turn
without signaling.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua