Monthly Archives: August 2014

Revolutions Per Minute

Photo by Jose Padua
Back then the most efficient way to get
the music to reach my ears was for the

record to spin at 45 revolutions per minute
on the turntable. 45, so I could listen one

at a time to the Rolling Stones, the Four
Tops, Arthur Lee and Love, to “Tears of a

Clown,” “My Baby Wrote Me a Letter,” and
“Can I Change My Mind.” It was better one

by one, and stopping by Record City downtown
where you had an entire wall of 45s

to find the song you just heard on the car
radio on the way to the dentist or the doctor

or the store and if you were lucky you found
the record with the picture sleeve where the singer

or the band just looked so cool and because
it was one by one it was like a letter from

Hollywood or Detroit or Memphis or Chicago
and the popular store clerk with the kids was

this middle aged guy named Jimmy—“What
do you got today, Man?” he’d ask “Or check

this out, dude” and one time he asked me
something like “What are you lookin’ for?” or

“What are you into?” and he brushed the back
of his hand against my crotch and all I knew

was that it was weird, I mean what did that
have to do with the record I was holding

by a new band called Black Sabbath, and when
I saw him walk into a dirty bookstore on

New York Avenue when my Dad and I were
stopped at a red light I kind of figured out

what Jimmy’s deal was. I was buying albums
now and the frequency was 33 and a third

and the names were Neil Young and Dr. John
and Curtis Mayfield sang “Move on Up.”

Then, when I heard John Coltrane for the first
time on WHUR Howard University

radio things were never the same again and
I was never really a kid again after that

even though I didn’t know that much and
I looked for records labeled ESP, Blue Note,

Prestige, Impulse! and was there anything
to be said after Archie Shepp’s Black Gypsy

and Sun Ra’s Magic City? Until the late 70s
I didn’t listen to anything but jazz, there just

wasn’t anything else I wanted to hear and no
other sound I wanted to know. Back then,

when there was more music and less product
and laissez-faire was for art not for the people

who owned you, when freedom was more than
the right to be a dumb fuck former DJ who’ll

pat you on the back for not using your brain
and rage was for the powerless and the hungry

and the sick who one by one refused to die.

-Jose Padua

A poem from around five years ago. I took the photograph somewhere in New Jersey earlier this month as we slowly made our way back to the Shenandoah Valley.

A Hail Maria and a Hangover before Leaving Town

Photo by Jose Padua
When I told my neighbor Maria
I was leaving my apartment
next door to hers on Avenue B
she almost cried. I wasn’t
a great neighbor. I sometimes
made some noise, but then
I never complained that
her teenaged grandkids
would open and shut the doors
at all hours, and I never minded
when the woman down the hall
would spend Sunday mornings
belting out Olivia Newton John songs
in Spanish while I suffered through
my usual morning hangover.
Sometimes I helped Maria with her groceries
up the four flights of stairs,
or chatted with her in the hall
and sometimes all I did was say
“good morning” or “good evening”
with a smile and a nod
but probably what she appreciated
most about me was that
I wasn’t a junkie.
For Maria there was nothing scarier
than the “junkie people” in the halls,
or around the corner,
as she made her slow, steady way home;
and even when I climbed up the stairs
drunk and reeking of dive bar smoke
and liquor,
I was at least aware of her,
my good and decent neighbor,
and not off in some heroin-fueled
layer of the Earth’s ozone.
And as I gave her a goodbye hug
and walked away,
I actually began to feel myself in a state
of accidental holiness–
great, honored, spiritual,
not so much for the things I was,
or the things I’d done,
but for the things I didn’t do
and the things I was not;
and as I started packing up
everything in the apartment that was mine,
it occurred to me that maybe,
for now,
it was enough.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of the corner of Avenue B and 4th Street, which is what I would see when I opened the front door of my apartment building where I lived in New York, was taken earlier this month.

Gas Station

CourtesySunset
When the middle-aged guy
at the next gas pump sees me
cleaning my windshield
and says, “Oh, I should
ask you to clean my own windshield”
I could give him the benefit
of the doubt and take it
as a harmless joke,
but fifty plus years of living
and the way he looks at me like
he’s wearing shades
when he’s not
tells me that he thinks this
is what people who look like me
should all do for a living
and I say,
“You can clean it yourself,”
when I’d rather say
and do something
else but my kids are
in the car and it’s
one of those moments in life
when your heart skips a beat,
the first being when you fall in love,
the second when you’re just
falling.

-Jose Padua

Photo by Jose Padua

Stoned Soul Picnic

John Marshall Highway, photo by Jose Padua
The stoned soul picnic was where
I first held your hand thirty years
before you were born as we watched
a red wine and golden apple colored
sunset that made us shiver slightly
like swimmers rising from warm water
into cool air. I was a sailor of ships,
a flyer of kites, a child of old city
streets on vacation during the summer
of broken windows. I wrote stories
that began with the word how and
ended with the word because,
because I didn’t know how to say it
any other way. And the years were
like dry ice, melting then turning
into mist, into pink fog over the winding
waters we followed as we brought
our covers, our fires and our black
iron pots with cracked edges all covered
with grease and fat. And the mist rose
higher and higher, then rained back
down on us with the fury of fists,
and food grew scarce, and we grew
tired and slow and our thoughts turned
to black and white like old TVs
and old fading photographs, and
I went to the woman with the loudly
beating heart, breathing heavily like her
and asked, Can you show me the way
to Bending Creek the next time it rains frogs
in the afternoon? We’ll be very hungry
by then and their deep fried legs will make
good eating on the red blanket
on the green grass with the music playing
like open-eyed love through a storm.
Why if we had their power to jump,
we could see hazy or even clear
over the mountains, and in the midst
of these strange, unforeseen events when
land starts to shake and skies tremble
and fall we’ll know what to do and how.
We’ll save ourselves, our tribe, our land
which follows us whichever way we go.
Why we might even save the world,
but don’t count on it, motherfucker.

-Jose Padua

A poem from three or four years ago, this is one of many that started coming to me on the drive back to Front Royal from Winchester on Route 522/340. There’s something about having the Blue Ridge Mountains to your left, and the Appalachians on your right—and getting a clear sense that this is indeed a valley we live in—that seems to start that river of words flowing into my head. Or something like that.

The photo of the John Marshall Highway, going into Front Royal and descending into the Shenandoah Valley, was taken earlier this year.

A Bottle of Water for My Daughter

bottleofwater

When I stepped out of the convenience store,
walked up to the driver side door
of the blue mini-van
and saw a pack of cigarettes on the console
between the two front seats,
I had to ask myself,
Do I still smoke?
It was a red and white Marlboro box,
top open, revealing
an almost full pack, and
I sensed the warmth in my lungs,
a mild rush in my veins,
and my knees suddenly felt weak
before I realized I was
standing at the wrong mini-van.
I backed up, slowly,
careful not to make any sudden moves,
looked to my right, then
to my left,
and walked down two parking spaces
to where my wife and kids
were waiting for me, pleased
that I’d quit smoking years ago,
and happy to be alive.

-Jose Padua

Photo by Jose Padua

That Point Where Age and Confusion Approach the Meaning of the Universe

MeaningOfTheUniverse

I wonder, sometimes, what difference it would have made if, in my younger years I had gotten the foundation of my education in the art of film solely by renting movies from a video store, then bringing them home to watch, rather than watching them in a theater. I was a shy kid, and if I had ever been asked to evaluate my overall personality, the last word I would have used to describe myself would be “brave.” Yet my curiosity drove me to go out of the house at every opportunity to see what was out there; and the first thing I remember that really had me hopping on the bus at the corner of Mt. Pleasant and Irving—or else walking down Columbia Road and heading south until I got to the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 21st Street—were the movies. And that corner of DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood was where the Circle Theater stood.

One of the first movies I remember seeing there was Louis Malle’s documentary about India called L’Inde Fantome (1969). I was around twelve or thirteen and, after reading about it in the post, I knew it was something I just had to see. It was there, or at the Inner Circle next door, where I saw my first Ingmar Bergman films—stuff like Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal, and Persona (one of the first films I ever saw that really blew me away). It was also here where I saw another of my earliest favorites, Francois Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups (The Four Hundred Blows). But it wasn’t just foreign, “art” films I saw there. I also watched stuff like Goodbye Columbus, the movie—based on the Philip Roth novella—that made Ali MacGraw a star; Carl Reiner’s farce Where’s Poppa, which in one of the Circle’s classic oddball pairings was part of a double feature with Midnight Cowboy; and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Paul Mazursky’s comedy about wife swapping which I liked and remembered mostly because it ended with Jackie DeShannon singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” one of my favorite songs from the 60s.

And the thing was, watching a movie there at the Circle, I felt just as safe as I would have were I watching these films at home. Yes, there were often homeless people slumped and napping in their seats–with admission being one dollar during the day, it was a cheap place to get some rest and, in the summer, free air conditioning. For me, though, that was one of the good things about it. Now and then I’d run into some of the homeless people I knew there, and it was a kick to think I might be enjoying the same movies they were.

Although I enjoyed watching films with friends, there was still nothing like watching them by myself in a theater filled with strangers. There was nothing like that sense of mystery. And although I felt comfortable there, I never felt too comfortable, and even if a film was somewhat on the boring side—The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, which I actually saw at the Biograph, was, despite the magnificent music of Johann Sebastian Bach, a bit tedious—I never fell asleep. The first time I ever fell asleep at the movies was when I saw the second of the Lord of the Rings movies with Heather. Being with Heather, I was comfortable—too comfortable—and, not caring all that much about the Hobbits and Middle-Earth and all that, I fell asleep. But it was a good sleep, and when I woke up with the movie almost over I felt well rested.

Nowadays, though—after spending my younger years immersed in film—I have almost no idea of what going on in the world of cinema. After Maggie was born, and then Julien, the opportunity to see anything other than children’s films (even at home) nearly vanished. The last grown-up film Heather and I got to see in a theater, if I remember correctly, was Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth. As for watching a grown-up film at home, we don’t get to do that very often either, the last one I remember watching being Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges. (a production of McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, by the way, is the last grown-up play I remember seeing). Still, here and there, I get to do both; and that night a couple of years ago when I happened upon Truffaut’s The Four Hundred Blows on some cable film channel and found myself watching the entire film with Maggie—who, to my surprise was totally entranced by it—was, for me, one of those beautiful parental moments. My youth—which each day seems to recede further and further into some soon-to-be-forgotten past—somehow crossed paths with Maggie’s as together we watched this Truffaut film that moved me so many years ago. And, from her reaction to it, it looked like Maggie was just as moved as I was.

This isn’t to say there aren’t days when it all seems so hard. Days when I think about Dennis Hopper as Ripley in Wim Wender’s Der Amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) saying, “A little older, a little more confused.” That’s another film I saw by myself, at the Inner Circle. It’s a film which one day, when she’s old enough, I’d like to watch with Maggie. As for that confusion, well, sometimes I think that confusion is just wisdom in its rawest form. Confusion is like that gas out of which stars are born. So often it’s the people who are totally convinced they know what’s going on who are truly clueless.

This is a photograph taken at the Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Paradise Township, just outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Heather, Maggie, Julien, and I were on our way to the exit, after having spent the better part of an afternoon there, when I spotted this man taking a picture of his wife (or girlfriend) as she balanced on top of one of the rails of the Strasburg railroad. But more than taking a photograph, he seems to simply be admiring her and meditating upon the angle and good fortune of his connection to her. And, perhaps—as all decent men and women do from time to time—contemplating the meaning of the universe.

-Jose Padua

The Long Departed Language of the Road into Town

JohnMarshallHighway_Language

On some days the road
into town is
in black and white
and filled with
shadows that form
the shape of every
word left unspoken
by one stranger to
another but they’re written
in a language that
no one still
alive speaks or
understands which is
why we step on
the gas and
keep driving.

-Jose Padua

A poem for today. The photograph of John Marshall Highway going into Front Royal was taken earlier this week.