On the Revolutionary Properties of Sound and Speech

Photograph by Jose Padua
Silence is the edge of everything that makes sound;
the slicing tone of the violin is preceded
by a pushing back of the border
of everything that is not that tone.
The saxophone’s squeal punches holes
in the numb hush of space
while the banging of drums builds
a cloud of rhythm that stillness
can never enter.
When they come at us
with the blunt flash of their bullets
and other flying death machines
let us not suffer in silence
nor lay down our instruments and be meek.
Let every stark tower tremble
from the force of our sounds
and other forms of sharp speech.
Let us speak of impractical things.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In Homage to All These Beautiful Years and Delicate Hours

Photograph by Jose Padua
About a year ago was the first time in forty or so years that I didn’t watch even a single minute of the Super Bowl. Since it had been around fifteen years since I stopped paying close attention to football, it wasn’t all that difficult. Still, every year come Super Sunday, I always turned on the television in time to see what was going on with the halftime show and then to watch the second half of the game. And, if it was a good game, I’d get into it.

Last year, with the halftime entertainment being Katy Perry (whose music and performances I consider an example of the sort of fine-tuned professionalism that’s totally vapid and completely uncompelling) I wasn’t driven to turn on the Super Bowl even midway through the game. In addition to that, we only have one working television in the house—which is fine with me because I find televisions to be one of the ugliest appliances imaginable—and on that television my young son Julien was watching a DVD of the show Arthur. You know, Arthur. The cartoon where the main character is from a family of aardvarks (of course you have to look that up because the first time you see the show you have no idea what sort of animal Arthur is supposed to be). Rounding out the remaining cast of characters are rabbits, monkeys, cats, and so on.

I like Arthur. It’s a sweet show, and the theme song—which goes, “And I say HEY! (HEY!)/ What a wonderful kind of day. / If you can learn to work and play/ And get along with each other”—is catchier than anything I’ve ever heard coming from the mouth of Katy Perry. Apparently, Julien likes it too, and while it’s playing, he always sings along with that exclamatory “HEY!” And, I must say that, right now, Arthur and his cast of anthropomorphic animals still makes me happier than football does.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate football at all, because back in the day, I watched it enthusiastically. I have fond memories of watching football games. Back in the 60s and 70s, a smooth spiraling pass from Sonny Jurgensen (or even a wobbly one from Billy Kilmer) to Charley Taylor were amazing things to behold. And then Charley Taylor, standing in the end zone, would raise his arms up in a way that seemed to say that he got the score and there was nothing you or anyone else could do to change that. I always thought that Charley Taylor’s victory pose may have even signified other things, too—things beyond the football field, and pointed toward other sorts of victories yet to be achieved. But whatever it was that went on in Charley Taylor’s mind, it was always a beautiful sight, and the image of him with his arms raised is an image that stays with me and inspires me even.

As the years went on, though, football became something along the lines of sleep, with sleep becoming more and more a thing I did without so I could spend a decent amount of my time writing (and writing being the work I did that so far didn’t pay much but which moved me in profound ways). But perhaps even more than that, football was like some girl I had a crush on when I was a teenager. Someone I thought was cool and interesting and fun and all that, before I moved on to other things. Things that got to me all the way down to a core I didn’t know I had. Things like the ordinary occurrences and activities of everyday life.

I can’t say exactly when it happened. Certainly it had begun before we moved out to Front Royal, but it probably wasn’t until then that I really began to focus on the moment. And though, because of my OCD, the moment might end up being terrifying whenever bad thoughts entered my head, it could also (again, because of my OCD) have this intense and beautiful depth to it.

And so, on the day after the Super Bowl I didn’t watch last year, my then four-year old son Julien was sitting at the dining room table when he said, “I want my leftover pizza. I love pizza.” Now, I like a lot of different kinds of food, but when Julien said “I love pizza,” pizza suddenly became the most important food of all for me. Then, on the day after that, Julien was again sitting at the table when he said, “I want my paints. I love to paint.” And for the moment, for me, there was no artistic endeavor in the world more important that painting, and no greater painter I could think of than Kandinsky or maybe it was Frida Kahlo or Romare Bearden whose works were suddenly filling my mind. Later that night, right before dinner, my daughter Maggie was in the hall playing this incredible tune on the piano.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s some old Russian folk song,” she answered nonchalantly.

“That was really good!”

“Okay,” Maggie said. Then after a second added, “Weirdo.” With ‘weirdo’ being her favorite all-purpose word at the time serving as an expression of thanks, a term of endearment, and a morning, afternoon, and evening greeting. And in that moment, I loved being a weirdo.

Then it was dinner time. Heather heated up leftovers from the previous night. We ate, I washed the dishes, and Heather reminded Maggie a few times that she’d better start on her homework. Soon, it was time for Heather to take Julien up to bed, but it took a while for him to fall asleep that night, and it took her a long time as well, and it was late before Maggie finally went upstairs. Then, when I finally went up to bed, I saw that Maggie was awake again, sitting up in bed. Like everything else, losing sleep is something we usually do together.

The following morning, with Heather already having been at the office in Arlington for a few hours, I was on the way back home from dropping Maggie and Julien off at school when the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” came on the car stereo followed by Earth Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Let Go”–two songs that that put me in two different sorts of mood, each mood beautiful in its own way. As the songs played, I looked down John Marshall Highway to watch the mountains in the distance, towering green and white over town under a lush purple sky. At any rate, I thought it was a purple sky I was seeing–I’m never all that sure when it comes to the colors I’m seeing. Then, remembering again the Super Bowl that I missed in its entirety, it occurred to me that no matter what these actual colors were, the comfort I got from those images and from the music that accompanied them, was–at least at that point in my life–far greater than whatever comfort or diversion or whatever it was that I got out of watching any game.

And the thing is that I’d rather take my time examining and contemplating these moments– wondering what song is going to play next, or what color the mountains are going to take on–than anticipating whether the next play will be a run, or a short pass, or a bomb. It’s not that I couldn’t have enjoyed the game, because I could have, if I’d taken the time to watch it. But I’m at an age where time seems like such a delicate thing. The apparent abundance of it that was there forty years ago, when I was just a teenager, has dissipated like a rain puddle in the summer’s heat.

And more and more, games are something for me to play with my kids. They’re not so much for my own enjoyment, but for them, so that while they’re young they may know abundance. Not the abundance that comes from money or objects or from the winning of competitions of any sort. But that which comes from being here, now, in these sometimes tired but always beautiful hours of wakefulness.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Home As a Function of the Intermediate Stages of Twilight

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I was around the age Julien is now, my brother Tony and I were on the Bozo the Clown television show in DC. Playing Bozo then, way before he became known nationally, was Willard Scott. Although I don’t recall all the details, I do remember that we were supposed to be sitting in some sort of circle—and that I wasn’t very interested in sitting. I kept getting up and jumping around, looking over here then over there, which prompted Willard Scott to remark, “Oh, we’ve got a wild one here!” Nowadays, I don’t jump very often—not physically, anyway. My mind, however, keeps making these leaps. Some of them are pleasant, some of them aren’t. And now Julien seems to be taking after my younger self, constantly moving, looking over here then over there. Being still, for him, is a dreariness he’d rather not experience. And experience, as far as he’s concerned, is best gained by staying in motion. In this photograph, taken two years ago in Ohio, I was trying to take a picture of him with his great grandmother on Heather’s side, but he wouldn’t keep still. As usual, he just wanted to move. And me, I like being on the road, going with my family from one place to another. Because although we have our house, home for me is also a place in my mind where nothing keeps still. And where everything glows the way the sky glows in those receding moments before dusk.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Meditation on a Creator of Sorts Written While Eating Sweet Confections in the Rain

Photograph by Jose Padua
The moment feels half decadent and half desperate,
these sugared minutes spent barely sheltered from
the wetness of the storm, within earshot of the noise
of thunder and as close as one needs to be to be struck
by sudden flashes of electricity and bold light.
It’s times like this when I pause to think of a creator
of sorts, not the vengeful dictator some believe
is the maker of all things nor even the mother figure
with gentle, guiding hands and eyes like pale light
surrounding a lush, dark focus of opal or moonstone,
but a spirit with knowledge of the essence of both
sweet blood and sour bone who looks at us
more as acquaintance than conquest. And these
days as I fall slowly from aloft to weary and
from sand step closer to clay, I consider this instant
of sweetness on my tongue, and how every flavor
is enhanced in knowing how soon it will be gone.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Poem About UFOs Ending with a Flashback to Days Long Gone

Drawing by Maggie Padua
Whenever time passes more quickly than I think
it should, I wonder if I’ve been abducted by a UFO.
I check if all my body parts seem to be in place;
I feel for the tell-tale signs that I’ve been probed.
There have been fabulous parties, long visits with
seldom seen friends after which I’ve felt my side
to make sure my kidneys are still there, that the
palms of my hands don’t now bear the brand of
some insect-like space creature’s human meat farm.
Sometimes after what should be a long drive back
home at the end of a long vacation I check for any
devices that may have been implanted beneath my
skin, ask my wife to check behind my ears and
all the other places I can’t reach to see if she notices
anything unusual but the only thing unusual she
notices is my poorer than usual attitude and my
fear of unpacking my suitcase. There are so many
signs of having been abducted, so many ways
for space aliens to cover their tracks and traces.
The stopping of clocks, cloaks of invisibility for scars,
the giving of human faces and names to the beings
who stay behind to study us all make it difficult to
know what’s going on, what’s happening in the world
now. I want time to pass slowly, love to be a force
for change when it’s time to change, and things to stay things
the way leaves cling to the beautiful parting of branches.
But we are stardust, we are golden amidst blue stars,
black lights, and clouds of healing, fragrant mist,
and the world is alive with progress and symmetry
and all the lovely ways we wander through the universe.

-Jose Padua

Drawing by Maggie Padua

Sometimes the Blizzard in My Head Makes It Hard to Find My Way Through the Snow

Photograph by Jose Padua
Twenty years ago during a fierce
mid-March blizzard in New York City
I walked two doors down
from my apartment building
to the China Wok carryout at the corner
of Avenue B and 3rd
and paid two and a half dollars
for a combination lunch/ dinner
of fried chicken and fried rice.
When I walked two doors
back up Avenue B
to my apartment building
I opened the door to the downstairs hallway
and saw my landlord who looked
through his horn-rimmed glasses
at the small brown bag
that carried the semi-sweet aroma
of pork fried rice and fried chicken
out into the dimly-lit air
at the bottom of the steps
and he looked up at me,
smiled and after
a slight pause said, “Chinks?”
And it had been a year
since I’d been laid off,
and the bad habit I’d developed
was for paying the rent late
and after being outside
for just half a minute
in the cold and the snow,
I felt cold like the snow
so I didn’t correct him,
didn’t say “The correct term is Chinese,”
and just nodded sort of timidly
mumbling, “Yes” or “Yeah” or “OK”
even though I was pretty
fucking far from “OK” with it.
And I don’t know
maybe it was that half minute
in the cold and the snow
because even though
I walked up the stairs
all fast and hungry,
inside I could have sworn
that I was moving like an infant,
on my hands and knees,
peeking up at the ceiling,
dirt smudged on my face
and at the corner of my slightly parted lips,
still learning to crawl.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Getting Away with the Days and Other Ways of Measuring Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
I was barely twenty-one
driving my car from the north
end of campus past the dorms
by the railroad tracks then
down the grassy lane
next to the stately
building where all my English
professors had their offices
and onto the wide street
on the east side of
the quad that lined the west
side of the library
which was where my full time
student’s part time
job was and on down
past the dorms on
the south side
of campus,
followed the entire
way by a cop car
who just before I was
about to exit university
grounds and drive onto
one of DC’s busy
avenues turned on
his bright lights and
stopped me,
asked me for my license,
looked at it,
said OK
then without a
word walked back to
his police cruiser
and drove off,
making me wonder
for maybe the first time
in my life
what would have happened
if I really were
up to something,
and giving me
reasons to consider
the many things
I might have to do one day
to get away
with being alive.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Still Life with the Wrecked Monuments of My Youth

Photograph by Jose Padua
First, the hospital where I was born was
torn down. Next, the building where I
went to grade school was no longer
a school and the apartment that was
the first home I remember became a
condominium and its neighborhood
a place where we could no longer afford
to live. The movie theater where I first saw
The Sound of Music in 1965 became
a CVS drugstore, then a half-torn down
building waiting to be torn down completely,
and after it was torn down completely
became condominiums too. There is something
to be said for progress and the so-called march
of time as demonstrated by changes in the
architectural landscape but this is not it.
The place where I went to church as a child
is still standing tall and stately in downtown DC
but I no longer go to church. The campus of the school
where I went to college is still green and tree-lined
but I no longer go to college. This is not to say
I’m not spiritual in my own way, nor is this to say
I’m not still learning every day because I am,
and the wrecked monuments of my youth stand
magnificently in a place not far from where
air escapes atmosphere and distance becomes space,
their dimensions vivid enough to be perceived
with closed eyes, their colors brilliant enough
to be read between these slowly written lines.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Stupidity Is Wasted on the Young

Photograph by Jose Padua
Stupidity is wasted on the young,
wisdom on the old and experienced.
If ever there was an age that called
for intelligence and discretion it’s
those years before one turns thirty,
those days when you’re a hot,
sometimes scary mess, your mascara
running, your trousers pissed and all
caution spilled into the warm spring
breeze. It’s better to be stupid when
you’re old, when your lack of mobility
prevents you from insulting the wrong
guy at a bar because you too tired
to go out to the bar in the first place;
when your bad hearing makes you
think the person saying, “Wanna come
over to my place?” is saying “I used
to be a member of the human race”
and you go home to your apartment
in the clean, quiet suburbs, sit limply
in front of the television to watch
the last hour of prime time programming
then fall asleep during the late news.
It’s that easy; no complex thought
is required and in the morning you
wake up to live another stupid day.
Meanwhile, today’s youth is out
in the cities dissecting string theory,
completing their first and best novels
between moderately paced sips of
their favorite libations. None of them
smoke, none of them stare vacantly
into infinite spaces vacant as their
brains, and at the end of the evening
they’ve developed fresh theories,
new equations, and beautiful words,
oh, their beautiful words. And as they
walk out into the darkness, they let
one step follow another, moving patiently
through an exquisite existence before
ever needing to catch their breath, before
stopping to stretch their slightly tired limbs.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Song for Sunshine

Photograph by Maggie Padua
This evening when I got home from the store
I laid a bag down on the kitchen table and
said to my wife and daughter, “Check this out.”
My wife opened the bag, pulled out what was
inside and said, “Oh, they’re apples,”
and I smiled. “But they’re not just any apples,”
I explained, and I paused so as to make my
great surprise even greater. (This is a technique
I learned on the city streets: pause if you want
to surprise the shit out of anyone). Then I said it,
“They’re not just apples, they’re Jazz Apples,”
and I pointed to the tiny purple sticker attached
to the red and yellow surface of one of the apples.
“See, it says ‘Jazz’—because they’re not regular
apples, they’re Jazz Apples,” I said, and I nodded
the way I do when I’m driving home a point and
swept up my hand toward the ceiling the way I do
when I’m blown away by the marvels of the world
we live in. My wife looked at me, then my daughter
looked at me and my daughter asked, “Yes, but
are they organic?” and I paused again (a technique
I learned to use in school whenever I had an answer
that I knew wasn’t the right answer), then said, “No,”
and repeated again, because I am a poet who on occasion
repeats a word, a phrase, a line for the beautiful music
it creates, “they’re not regular apples, they’re Jazz Apples.”
Then my wife said, “We can’t eat those, apples are
the worst for retaining pesticides.” And without missing
a beat, without taking the time to breath, much less pause
(a method I learned on my own, because as a poet I am
the inventor of marvelous things people don’t know
need to be invented) I said, “The best jazz is always
a little dangerous,” and my point was driven home
to my wife and daughter, and one day my son who is
still too young to understand will indeed understand
this, and what a great pleasure it is to live with me.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Maggie Padua