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

Notes on Growing Old

Photograph by Jose Padua
I admit to having been less than enlightened about a lot of things in my youth. And while there were some areas where I was ahead of the curve, there were many where I was behind. That’s what growing old and growing up is for—to fill in those gaps of knowledge, those dark spots of ignorance and to overcome the many irrational, ill-informed fears that come from not having been around all that long.

And one thing I learned in those years—or perhaps I should say ‘decades’ rather than just years—of filling in those gaps was this: If you ever by chance run into those people who for whatever reason screwed you over or treated you like dirt or used you as a stepping stone to get somewhere and abandoned you as soon as they got there, don’t just turn away, remembering and sometimes reliving the anger and betrayal you felt. Take a deep breath, and close your eyes if you have to, and think of how far you’ve gone since the last time you saw this person. Then let that anger slip away, disappear.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still tell these people to go fuck themselves. You should. It’s just that when you tell them to go fuck themselves you should say it with love in your heart before walking away, and out of their lives, forever. And, as you walk away, raise your arm and lift your middle finger. Just in case they’re watching.

I realize some of you will say that, in itself, the act of telling people to go fuck themselves means a person has a long way to go before he’s reached his potential as a complete, mature, and contented human being. Fuck you.

This is a photograph of some sheep sitting under a tree.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Preamble to the Unicorn Rainbow Poem

Photograph by Jose Padua
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will not be
looked upon kindly by the establishment,
will win no popularity contests, and will
be deemed unfit for intellectual consumption
by people in possession of massive widescreen
televisions, and suburban residents with
four car garages who believe that charity
begins at your second home in the Hamptons.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will not be reprinted
in any anthologies that matter, will not be chosen
for Best American Unicorn Poetry, though a horror film
will be produced in which the line “Who put this
motherfucking poem in this motherfucking
anthology?” is spoken a third of the way through,
giving voice to the unspoken fears of the population
that in worlds even more dangerous than the one
we live in now, this sort of thing could happen.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will not protect you
from home invasion, the exotic people you fear
so much will still come through your front door
without bothering to knock or offering you a copy
of the Watchtower or subscriptions to magazines
you’ll never read, and as usual you will end up
shooting yourselves rather than defending yourselves.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will do nothing
to bring more justice to the world, Ayn Rand
will still be read by people who are under
the mistaken impression that it’s real literature
and not pubescent fantasy that’s the equivalent
of looking into a mirror and saying “I love you”
with a straight face then smiling sincerely
like a B-Movie actor from 60s selling cigarettes.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will be denounced
on the news by all major broadcast and cable
networks and on the internet as the reason why
you are no longer free, have to wear a seatbelt,
and are urged to eat healthier food by the tyranny
of the nanny state, even though you drive like
a maniac and really could stand to lose a few pounds.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will be blamed on
every street corner and on every highway billboard
and on every popup ad as the reason why
corporations are struggling to make a profit,
why you’re always in debt, and why a guy
with a name like Antwoine or Carlos wearing a hoodie—
so tall, so magical and so frightening—is waiting
for you to get out of your car so he can ask for
directions to the nearest library or bookstore in this,
his endless quest at finding something reasonable to read,
as he slowly makes his way home through America.

-Jose Padua

Photograph, Burger King Sunset, by Jose Padua

Truth, Art, and Other Immeasurable Glimmerings

Photograph by Jose Padua
Julien is becoming more aware of the camera. When it’s just the phone camera, it’s no big deal—he’s goes about doing whatever he’s doing. But this afternoon, when I took out my good camera and took off the lens cap, he came right up to me. He then started making these funny faces, widening his eyes in a way that reminded me of an early sequence of Peanuts comic strips in which Linus declared he wanted to become a “fanatic” when he grew up—in particular, “a wild-eyed fanatic.” Somehow, with me being his dad, it’s not hard to imagine Julien’s excellence at doing the wild-eyed thing. I was, of course, impressed, but what I wanted was a more natural expression that would show a combination of enthusiasm, joy, and confidence. Finally, I got him to tone down the wild-eyed expressions to get this photograph. It’s not always easy to get him to cooperate. As his first evaluation from his new school noted, he’s often impatient and has a tendency “to reject rules.” This will serve him well later in life should he choose one of several career paths, none of which will pay well. Of course, we’re not raising either him or Maggie to think in terms of money. We’re raising them to think in terms of truth and art—and, more often than not, truth and art will break some rules along the way as part of the process of coming into being. It can take some time, but eventually they emerge, surrounded by a million broken rules and the sort of beauty that—no matter how hard the corporate goons and corporate ass kissers try—can never be expressed in numbers.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Meditation on the Inheritance of Dreams

Photograph by Jose Padua

When my eleven year
old daughter sings along
to the pop star’s song
but changes the lyrics
from “don’t wanna fall
in love if I ever did that
I’d have a heart attack”
to “if I ever did that
I’d have a fart attack,”
I have evidence better
than any DNA test or
Multiphasic Personality
Inventory exam that
she inherited at least
some of the connective
logic and tissue that
makes me the baddest
motherfucker in this town.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Yellow

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes I look back with regret,
wishing that at some point in my life
I’d done more drugs. I drank like
a master, for a time, but I didn’t get
high enough, didn’t do acid enough,
didn’t do line after line, and I never
did heroin, never did crack. The harder
drugs may not have killed me the way
they killed a lot of the others, but maybe
they would have, it’s too late to tell now.
I may have survived. I may be alive, now.
I never did ecstasy yet why am I so whacked
anyway, like a nervous guy standing
at the corner wearing an old-fashioned hat,
like the famous comic I used to see on
Avenue B, standing outside Mona’s in nice,
almost unfastened slacks who seemed
way far gone for someone still holding on
to a regular gig on TV. I wish I’d done
more drugs and that I’d worked less,
or that I’d spent more than half the time
I was working doing drugs too, filing papers
or shelving books while staring into blue,
exquisite space, just being there, feeling
like a machine with feelings. Now when
I work with the people I work with I feel
stabbed. They’re looking for ways for me
to not be there, looking for ways for
me to not work. I wish I could do drugs
with them and skip knowing them through
work, but I can’t even smoke the cigarettes
that used to keep me from shaking. Now,
all I take are drugs which keep my head
from hammering and keep me from sneezing
up too much snot but which do nothing
for my inner perceptions. Where are
the miracle drugs of the future now
that I’m sleeping at a comfortable distance
from the past? I’m thrilled but where
is the pill that will be the fabric bandage
for my working wounds? What is the dosage
that will never let me fall? The comic died
from drugs. They gave him his disease.
My eyes drop acid like it’s 1973. My ears
hear everything that’s yellow and can’t stop
hearing. My hypertrophied heart does the drinking,
for me. It’s thinking, with slurred speech.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In the Aftermath of All Our Years of Living

Photograph by Jose Padua
In January, 1967, when
I wrote 67 instead of 66 for
the first time that year
at the top of a sheet of paper
in fourth grade,
the year 2000 seemed
like science fiction to me.
We were still in the middle
of the cold war; we had
a fallout shelter in the basement
of our church next door,
and we believed that at any moment,
depending on the whims
of men sitting behind fancy desks
in beautiful dark rooms,
bombs could start falling
as steady as cold rain.
If we ever make it through this century,
I thought, the next one will be
an age of wonders—men and women
flying through the air on jet packs,
riding rocketships to the moon,
and travelling even farther out
toward unknown space.
Now that we’re living in
that next century
I still walk on my feet,
move through the cold with
my hands in my pockets,
and lack plans
for setting foot on the moon
or flying through distant space.
And though bombs never fell on me,
they fall on other people every day,
following them like hungry animals,
and the rest of us put our feet up
when we rest, some of us
ready to run at any moment,
all of us, in different ways,
so lucky to be alive.

-Jose Padua

Photograph taken in Alligator, North Carolina by Jose Padua

American Sadness

Photograph by Jose Padua
Of all the sadness in the world
there is nothing that can compare
with American sadness. When
America is sad the whole world
weeps. Whenever one American
is sad, at least two non-Americans
somewhere else in the world consider
the possibility of ending it all. When
a hundred Americans are sad, wars
are fought in faraway lands for
the great purpose of making these
hundred Americans happy again.
When a million Americans are sad,
every flag in America droops, then
slides an inch and then another inch
down the flag pole and nothing can
stop this descent until bold, confident
smiles return to these Americans’ faces.
American sadness, let’s make it clear,
is exceptional. Unlike what you may
have heard, it doesn’t always talk
softly, but it always carries a big stick
because no one is sad the way an
American is sad. No one drags his feet
through the dullness of a day, or
walks with her eyes looking downward
quite as sadly as an American who
feels sad because America is losing
a battle, coming in second, or washing
ashore with empty pockets and bad breath.
American sadness, of course, is the greatest
sadness in the world—do not look it
in the eye unless your intention is
to make amends. Do not settle for a
knowing grin, or a sliding into place
of the proper order of thought or things.
Work hard, do your best, and fight
whenever a fist is called for, or a bomb
needs to be dropped upon a civilian population
whose greatest misfortune is not being American.
But above all, keep American sadness at bay
like a ship that wrecks off shore through
instability or from fault of navigation.
Let’s remember to keep America happy.
Let’s keep America entertained.

-Jose Padua

Photograph taken in Alligator, North Carolina by Jose Padua