Love and Theft

Photograph by Jose Padua
The last time I took the train out of New York was
after my brother Tony had called me one morning
to say that Mom had had a heart attack and had just
gone into the hospital. I packed a few things and
went right to Penn Station to catch the next train back
to DC, and after buying my ticket I’m
in the center of the main concourse standing with one

or two hundred other people like a flock of flamingos,
tilting our heads upwards from time to time, waiting
for the announcement to appear on the board above
us which will reveal the number of the track
the Silver Star to Miami will depart from. I’m
all hangover nerves and neuroses mixed with coffee,
and to try to take my mind away from worrying

about my mother I daydream about what it would
be like if one day I were to take this fast train all
the way to Miami, as if I were living
in that scene from Midnight Cowboy where Jon Voight and
Dustin Hoffman take the bus down to Miami,
leaving their dingy squat behind, but instead of
the bus it’s the train, and then I remember that, oh

yeah, it’s on the bus to Miami when, not long
after peeing himself in his seat, Dustin Hoffman’s
Ratso Rizzo character dies, and I’m thinking, yeah
great, I’m trying not to go crazy worrying
the way I usually do and I have to think
of Ratso Rizzo’s open-eyed, sitting-in-his-seat
death scene, and then I look up or out of my self-

defeating attempt at auto-distraction when I
see Chris Farley, the fat guy from Saturday Night Live,
pacing back and forth nervously like a junkie who’s
a day late for his next fix, away from and then back
towards an older woman who I figured must be
his poor mother, and I catch his eye while I’m thinking,
“What the fuck are you doing here?” and “Why the hell are

you acting so goddamn nervous, your mother’s right there
with you, fucker, quit pacing around like you’d rather
be somewhere else, forget about your recreational
drug cravings for a minute and give her the attention
she deserves you big fat asshole,” though maybe he was
already a full-blown addict by then, and he looks
away and I look back at the board ready to run

to the gate as soon as the train gets into the station.
My mother was in the hospital a couple of weeks
before they let her go home and I was in DC
for about a month watching her recover, but she’d
had a mild stroke, too, and it was difficult for her
to get her words out, so I was impressed with the little
things she managed to say, like “she’s pretty,” while we watched

TV and Sherilyn Fenn appeared on the screen as
Curley’s wife in the John Malkovich (cool)/Gary Sinise
(snore) production of Of Mice and Men, and one night she
was in the kitchen trying after her stroke to make
a dessert for us and said “macapuno,” which means
coconut and after a while I realized she
was trying to make halo-halo, which I didn’t

like that much, or anyway I liked the coconut
in it but not the jackfruit and especially not
the kidney beans, but OK, I thought, if she’s going
to all this effort, yeah, I’m going to eat this fucking
halo-halo and I’m fucking going to like it, and
I was unemployed so it seemed like it was time
for me to go back to New York and try to get work

again, plus I’d been scheduled to record some poems
for a radio show up there, so I took the train
and went straight to the recording session which was
at a studio in the offices of Shiny
Wildebeest Records, and I can’t say the real name
of the record company because another poet
who was recording his poems for the show, too,

suggested we swipe whatever CDs we wanted,
and I remembered that another poet had told
me before a reading for which we were getting paid,
“Don’t bother with this bloody nonsense unless there’s
decent money involved” and since we weren’t getting paid
for this gig by Shiny Wildebeest Records or by
the radio show or by anyone else I thought,

“What a smashing idea,” so while waiting for our
recording sessions to begin the other poet
and I didn’t quite ransack or plunder but we stuffed
our bags with anything that seemed even remotely
interesting, and what I remembered was a record
by Grant McLennan from the Go-Betweens, a musician
who some twenty years later would die suddenly

of a heart attack, and sometimes I would worry when
I panted my way up the stairs to my apartment,
after another dinner of cigarettes and bourbon,
that I would have a heart attack one day like my
mother had had and like I suspected Chris Farley
would have one day, and when it was finally my turn
to read my poems I spoke into the microphone and

my voice sounded dead and alone and two weeks later
I was riding back to DC for good in a rented
U-Haul truck. I was smoking then and I always sat
in the smoking car on the train even though there was
always so much smoke there it made my lungs feel like
fingernails across a blackboard, like Ratso Rizzo
on a coughing up blood day, and after all these years

when I open a box of the things I had in New York
the smoke comes back out, the smoke that filled my
apartment, the smoke that filled my rides from North to South,
South to North, but now my friend Eddie is driving
the U-Haul, and I have the window open a crack
and I smoke and flick my ashes out the window
and the window gives me air in return, like a gift

from the road, and my eyes are wide-open like Ratso
Rizzo on the bus except that I’m not just awake,
I’m alive, and I’m hoping that if I make it that
far, when I’m older and wiser with a wife
and kids who love and accept me despite how fucked
up I feel sometimes, I’m hoping one day, when we’re
visiting in the cemetery across the street

from where I’ll return the U-Haul truck, when the winter
geese are flying and making sharp noises that stretch
then bounce away from us and back, I’m hoping
it will feel warm in the sun, and that we’ll shield
our eyes, making shadows over our faces so we
can see each other, as we hear each other in our
fading, in the blue and yellow afternoon light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph, taken outside Penn Station in New York, by Jose Padua

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