Monthly Archives: October 2014


Photography by Jose Padua
Be near me like
a fire on a knocked
down day, your shelter
from the cold is a sip
of hot tea from a cup
on the table, and though
the loose plank on the
floor shifts, it holds me
above ground for as long
as I may stand, as I move
toward the broken clock,
feeling like a tall tree,
bending, under fallen
snow under starlight
these glass clear nights
after storms when my
arms ache from climbing
hills, or else tie me down
with anvils and rope and
rage as I howl through
mirrors and curtains and
crowds for these many
hundreds of years.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua


Photo by Jose Padua
There is no purity in our house,
we are dirty like cats in the litter.
We get where we’re going just
the same. Our windows aren’t
clean, full of smudge and sweat.
There’s dirt on the floor, dust on
the salmon colored wall, a fish-
bone left over from dinner stand-
ing like a wood splinter in a crack
on the table. After a long day’s
drive through and over roads and
bridges, the brightly lit tunnels
travelled by slow buses and aging
automobiles, our feet walk us in
together with new dirt for the
floor, old earth to wash away
down the pipes. Every day,
every week, every year, we
get here together like discard-
ed paper cups blown toward
the corner of the cracked parking
lot by the wind. This is the way
we work, we play, so imperfect-
ly—the way cities should be built
out of the rough of the earth, the
way the earth was born from the
collapse of brighter, purer things.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For All the Ghosts Who Rise Up Against the Superficial Horror We Fabricate in the Name of Darkness

Photograph by Jose Padua
Although I have, on occasion, cursed at the light, I have never cursed
at the darkness. It was there where I first saw a ghost, which was light,
but the darkness was what made it possible, gave it shape, and made its
stillness profound like a great work of art. Light was the end product

but darkness was the point. Moving through a room when everyone else
has gone, where the faint scent of bourbon from a glass is the only clue,
I expect the sudden intrusion of ghosts but they never arrive. Sitting up
in bed and looking toward the far wall in the dark or driving a quiet road—

a mailbox, a robe hanging from a door, or a sign pointing travelers toward
the oldest building in town will appear to move but it’s only the darkness
giving it imagined life. In the light, everything is abandoned and everything
is separate: clarity keeps everything hidden. I watch in the darkness as the

universe expands, as the ghosts step up from their well-lit graves and the
lights in the merciless city turn dark and like infants we learn how to breathe.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Process of Revolution As Manifested through the Voice of Smokey Robinson

Photograph by Jose Padua
In the car this evening, while I was taking Maggie to the store for some clothes she needed, she said from the seat behind me, “This guy is beautiful.”

I paused for a while. And it was a long time before I finally asked Maggie, “What guy?”

But I wasn’t all that interested in which particular person she was referring to, because what was going through my mind again was how her working on a play called “It’s Not Easy Being A Teen” really seemed to be turning her into one. She’s the youngest of the six girls doing the theater workshop for which this play is the product—and, since she’s only ten years old/soon to be eleven, she’s the only one who isn’t even a real teenager yet.

This morning, while I was on the way to take Julien to his morning session at summer camp, a song from 1987 came on the car stereo. Maggie, who was accompanying us, asked, “What’s that song?”

“It’s called ‘When Smokey Sings,’” I told her. “It’s by a band called ABC. It’s a tribute to the singer Smokey Robinson.”

“Ah,” she said.

“Why, do you like it?”


Later today, when I picked her up from her theater camp, Maggie said that “When Smokey Sings” was going through her head all day. I then told her how I had the song on a mix tape that I’d play on the train a lot when I was living in New York and going to or from DC. Then I remembered how when I was her age, one of the songs that I certainly must have had going through my head was Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown,” which is probably my favorite of all of Smokey Robinson’s songs—and just one of my favorite songs period.

I marveled, for a moment, at the Smokey Robinson connection. Though one thing that was different was that when I was ten I really don’t think I would have said to either my mother or father that I thought someone was beautiful. Being more on the shy and reserved side, I wouldn’t have been mentioning this sort of thing to them–or to anyone else for that matter—until I was a teenager.

Then, after all this went through my head was when I finally asked Maggie, “What guy?”

“What?” she answered.

“I said, ‘What guy?’ You said, ‘this guy is beautiful?’”

This time Maggie paused. “Wait, you thought I said ‘this guy?’ No, I said ‘The SKY.’ The sky is beautiful.”

“Oh, the SKY,” I said. And I was sort of relieved, because I didn’t know if I was quite ready for who she finds attractive to become a regular topic of conversation.

I parked the car, and as we got out of the car I tried to remember what age Maggie was when I finally didn’t feel I had to hold her hand whenever we got out of the car. I know I must have been doing it way past the age when other parents feel they need to do it. Maggie didn’t seem to mind, though, and I eventually moved on to the next stage. It’s not easy for me, but over the years, from when I was a child to now, I find that somehow I keep evolving, which reminds me—despite whatever the idiots out there may say—that evolution, in its many forms and processes, is life.

After dinner today Maggie played a song for Julien on Heather’s phone. I don’t remember what the song was—all I recall is that it was something current—but I imagine that years from now, Maggie may remember what this song was, and Julien too will remember. And they’ll remember this place, and these days, and all the things we did as acts of evolution and revolution. All the things we did because we had to.

-Jose Padua


Poetry is
giving the
finger to
the biggest
guy in the
room just
to see
what happens.

-Jose Padua


While stopped at a light this afternoon
the big black pickup truck beside me was playing
something like Toby Keith
while I was sitting in my minivan
playing “Right Off” from
Miles Davis’s A Tribute to Jack Johnson,
and I was reminded of the line
in the old Simon and Garfunkel song “A Dangling Conversation”
that goes, “And you read your Emily Dickinson,
and I my Robert Frost,”
with my Miles Davis substituting for Emily Dickinson
and his Toby Keith substituting for Robert Frost–
though maybe it’s the other way around–
and instead of being lovers in conflict or at odds
as in the song written by Paul Simon,
I’m just a father taking his kids home from school
and the good ole boy in the pickup truck
is going wherever good ole boys go
when they blast their Toby Keith.
And though I always hated that line
in the Simon and Garfunkel song–
or maybe it was the song’s characters
that I hated because they seemed like
such pretentious fuckwads—
it was because of that song
that I saw myself and the good ole boy
as in a kind of relationship.
So, when he turned up the volume of his car stereo
after he stopped beside me
I, like a guy in a dysfunctional relationship,
leaned over to turn up the volume on mine
to retaliate,
but then I stopped
and kept looking straight ahead,
ready to go my own way
because we had an entire country to live in
filled with small spaces,
here and there,
that I could call home.

-Jose Padua

The Age of Resistance

Photograph by Jose Padua
When all the things I used to whisper
decline into words left unheard like
liquid spilling from a cup away
from the tongue and onto the table
is when I will cease to question
authority. When the things I used
to shout no longer give people
heart attacks or pause, when
the insane minor glimmer in my
eyes recedes like a wave crashing
in on itself is when I’ll begin
to question my reasons for
waking up in the morning and
putting on my beat-up, old shoes.
I speak now in moderate tones.
I neither whisper behind another’s
back nor do I scream to turn the ear
of those too distant to reach with
fist or finger. Resistance is a bone
in the back, a muscle in the arm,
a connection between circle and
square that cannot be removed,
cannot be refuted or refined into
evenly spaced lines. To age gracefully
into contentment is not a vanishing
because resistance is in the blood;
it does not subside, it does not
diminish. It flows, retreats,
expands, ready to whisper, ready
to scream, make peace, bleed.

-Jose Padua

Art and the Significance of Ordinary Objects

Photo by Jose Padua
Yesterday, I spent a good part of the evening tracking down a song Maggie remembered and wanted to hear again. Neither of us, however, could remember the name of the song, and so I was stuck trying to find it simply using search terms describing the video of the song, which Maggie said featured a man, dancing and singing by himself, who was then joined by another man, who turned to be the same person wearing a different outfit. Throughout the video, Maggie said, there were several different versions of this same man, wearing different costumes, singing beside himself. Eventually I found it—a bhangra song by Daler Mehndi called “Tunak Tunak Tun,”—and on the way to finding it I came across another song Maggie used to listen to a lot, Asha Bhosle’s “Saiyan Le Gayi Jiya,” which I also played for her a couple of times. For the last couple of days, whenever we’re in the car, Maggie has wanted to hear the song, “I Will Starve Myself to Death” by the late Cambodian singer, Ros Serey Sothea. Then, this morning, on the way to school, Maggie requested an old favorite, “Bratwurst,” a song by the German musician Quio and which features a guest spoken bit from a writer I know from my New York days, Darius James.

I must say that I am a little bit spoiled by all this. Although Maggie does also listen to some of the standard pop songs other kids listen to, she doesn’t listen to them exclusively and certainly not as much as other kids do. I’ve never had to listen to a single Katy Perry song in the car, and although I have listened to Taylor Swift on occasion, I think Taylor Swift is actually a talented singer and songwriter. All of which means that I’m able to play the music I want to hear while I’m driving—and I’m always the one driving during any long trip—and everyone is happy with it. Although one time Heather did complain about a Stravinsky piece I played during a long drive back from Pennsylvania, more often than not what I’ll hear is Maggie asking, “Is that Jimmie Dale Gilmore?” or “Is that Sun Ra?” or “Is that Lizzy Mercier Descloux?” when we’re on the road somewhere. As for Julien, since he was a tiny infant he’s liked songs like The Go-Betweens’ “Streets of Your Town,” Sade’s “Your Love Is King,” and Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie and Clyde.” And this, I suppose, is what had me experimenting this afternoon when I brought Julien home from school.

I hardly watch television anymore. Part of this is because whenever we do have the television on it’s to watch one or another kids show or movie. We could have solved this problem by having more televisions, perhaps, but we chose not to because we don’t want to have too many TVs in the house because, frankly, when the TV is off it’s just an ugly machine taking up space in the house (and of course, depending on what’s showing, when the TV is on it can actually be even uglier). Right now, in fact, we have only one working cable connection since the cable box in Maggie’s room started malfunctioning. At first, Maggie wanted to get it fixed, because she liked to watch TV right before going to bed, but after a while she got used to it. It’s been maybe a half a year now since her cable box stopped working, and since then she started to just read before bed or, sometimes, look at the one electronic device she’s allowed to have, her iPod.

So, this afternoon, when Julien and I got back from school, I decided to try something. Usually, after we eat lunch he’ll either play with toys or ask to see something on television. Yesterday, when we got home he said, “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” which meant he wanted to see the film by Japanese director and animator Hayao Miyazaki. This, I must say, was an excellent choice. Then today, when we got home, he asked for Toy Story, which is okay, but not in Miyazaki’s league as far as films go. And of course, it’s fine if Julien wants to watch something that’s just entertaining but not some great work of art. Still, I wasn’t quite in the mood to watch Toy Story, so I decided to try something.

Last night, after everyone had gone to bed, I was still up for a while as I usually am, but I was too tired to write anything new. Instead, I went into the living room, turned on the television, and pressed the On Demand button. I browsed the selections, and was pleasantly surprised to see that one of the movies available was Finding Vivian Maier, the documentary about a woman who spent most of her adult life working as a nanny but who in her spare time was taking photographs—thousands and thousands of photographs that she pretty much never showed to anyone. Her work wasn’t discovered until after she’d died when a man named John Maloof, who was working on a book about Chicago, bought a box of negatives from an auction house hoping to find stock photos to use for his book. That box contained a sampling of Vivian Maier’s work and Maloof, totally by chance, became the first person to take a look at it.

Then, this afternoon, with Julien asking for Toy Story, I thought about the film I saw last night. I thought about how Vivian Maier died in poverty, how she died without anyone knowing what a great photographer she was. And I thought, yes, my son’s only three years old, but he needs to see this film. Or at least as much as he can deal with at this age—I wasn’t expecting much—so while he continued to ask for Toy Story, I pressed the button to start Finding Vivian Maier again. And the film started to play.

It began, as I remembered, with interviews with people who knew her—the parents of the children she took care of, and the children themselves, now grown up. Julien wasn’t very much interested in it. We were sitting on the living room sofa and he said again, “Toy Story, Toy Story.” But then the film switched from the interviews and began showing some of Vivian Maier’s photographs. As soon as her pictures filled the TV screen, Julien stood up and walked right up to the television to get a closer look. And he kept on looking. After a while, the film went back to more interviews, and Julien lost interest again, and I eventually did put Toy Story on; but whenever one of Vivian Maier’s photographs was on the screen, he looked. Because, somehow, even at his age, he recognized their significance.

We watched Toy Story for a little while, but soon it was time for his afternoon nap. As I took Julien upstairs, carrying his favorite blanket, I thought about Vivian Maier’s photographs, and I wondered if, somehow, Julien was thinking about them too.

This photograph was taken after dinner this evening. Maggie took an old play tunnel of hers, and stood it up, having found some other use for it. Then she put it on, and wore it like a dress, only it wasn’t a dress. And she walked around, even though it was hard to see in it, and she danced, even though it wasn’t the sort of thing you usually danced in. Whatever it was, it was now a work of art, and Maggie recognized that, and she saw its significance. Heather and I—and, I think, Julien—did too.

-Jose Padua

I Have Driven from the Forest and the Mountains

Photo by Jose Padua
I have driven from the forest
and the mountains through
snow, wind, and rain and
various times of day, in heat
and in cold, during love and
during hatred, with money
and without, in uncertainty
and during those rare moments
of overconfidence which somehow
I’ve never learned to regret,
to all these American cities.
Like a man released from prison,
I am grateful for the opportunity
though I have never been in an
actual prison and I spend so little
of my time being grateful.
All the planets whisper songs
or curses to me and for me
in these blank places until
I put down my books and
lift my eyes like a madman.
If I have imagined you to be
a form of insanity, America,
do not be offended because
I do not claim sanity for myself.
I have never tried to embrace
what for me isn’t worth embracing,
so don’t bother asking me my name
or telling me you like the way
I pull things apart and put them back
together with the glue of my brain.
America, I am more fucked up
than you will ever be and I am
really fucked up. America, big hair
on movie stars, blind rats, muddy
possums, and incandescent plastic
surgeons on vacation in the Hamptons.
You have taken away the meaning,
you have taken away the connections
as I move like spilled liquid from
city to city on these endless nights
of dancing.

-Jose Padua

The Cold War of My American Dream

It was in the sixth grade when
Sister Geraldine took us bad
listeners and day dreamers
out into the hall one afternoon
to repeat after her, one by one,
“The key to success is hard work.”
But what was bugging me like
a gnat flying back and forth
from my nose to my ear, and
what was keeping me ill occupied
and slumped in my seat weren’t
the words “hard work” but that
whole concept of “success.”
Fast cars and fancy homes
were nice, OK; and well-pressed
suits and shiny shoes looked cool
in the right light; but if success
was what it took to get there,
I thought, “Forget it, sister,
because as far as I can tell
the people who have all the shit
are the most boring people
on the planet.” But instead I said,
“No, sister, I’m not afraid of
hard work.” Because I was
too young to know how to speak
any other way; too young to say
that what scared me even more
than drugs, failure, and the bomb
was learning how to smile half a smile
to everyone every day; to hold my head
up straight with a soulless swagger;
the possibility of having it all like
in a dream and wanting more clouds, more
snow, more rain, because there are
never enough things falling from the sky.

-Jose Padua