Monthly Archives: December 2014

Blue

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I was young I would say that my favorite color was
blue. Blue was the color of the sky, the color of the clothes
I most liked to wear, the color of the ink from the fountain
pen I used in school. Being slightly color blind, blue meant
more to me than purple, which didn’t seem all that different

from blue, and green, which I could see, but never on the moon
or up a mountain. Yellow I could see well and red was clear, too,
as was orange, but if significance can be measured in words, and
those days remembered like an object I can hold in my hands, no
color had more to say than blue. When blue spoke, I paid attention.

When blue was silent, I waited for blue to speak again. I am taking
my time learning to understand blue. I am becoming more familiar
with the things it says when it’s winter and the leaves have fallen
and the waters run black in the evening. Blue is the story I was told
when I was too young to know who my enemies were and had only

a child’s sense of pride. Blue is an idea I never had until today when
I stood outside with my hands in my pockets and followed with my
eyes as the birds made circles against a dull, gray sky, when a man
played music no one listened to, when all I could recall were the colors
I can’t see, falling like stones from my hand into a level field of blue.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Electrolite

Photograph by Jose Padua
I must have been nine or ten when I first
wondered how I would leave the world when it

was time for me to leave the world. Would everything
be flat like glass in the future? Would the curves

on buildings disappear like the airplanes
that flew away from me to the world until

they were too small to see and I was too
far to catch them? When it was 1965

the 21st century seemed far away,
seemed not exotic but more like science

fiction or a Thursday night film like
The Island of the Killer Shrews or

The Hideous Sun Demon. When I was
young I had weird pains in my chest and one

night I even woke up shaking. And even
before all that I sometimes thought about

the end of the world, like at the New Year’s
Day party we always went to when we

were kids when I would have rather stayed home
than see that old guy with the big forehead

and the age spots on his nose. Now, going
into town for Christmas my daughter asks

for the song she calls “Twentieth Century
Go to Sleep,” as my wife feeds our son from

a bottle then puts it in her purse when he’s done,
and they all fall asleep as the winter sun goes down.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Beauty Like These Decades While Walking So Slowly in the Sunlight

Photograph by Jose Padua
Two decades ago I’m walking
down 18th Street when
two beautiful young women
walk my way and as we pass by
each other one of them looks at me
then looks to her friend and says
with an accent out of a Fellini movie
one sweet, luscious word—”bello.”
I’m pretty sure “bello”
means “beautiful” in Italian
but as always there’s that splinter sized
sliver of doubt that nonetheless
has the strength and power
of a mother bear protecting her cubs,
and I wonder if I’m wrong
and “bello” isn’t beautiful,
but is instead the same as
a musical term instructing the musician
to SLOW DOWN.
If this is the case
the woman isn’t describing me
as beautiful
but rather is telling
her friend not to walk so fast
because it’s a hot summer day
and her feet are aching,
words that have
nothing to do with me.
When I get home
I look up the word to find
that it does indeed mean beautiful
and I look in the mirror
thinking “maybe” and “possibly”
because my hair did look good.
Nowadays if someone passing by me
were to say “bello”
I would skip looking in the mirror
and instead wonder,
on a day when I’m uncharacteristically
calm and content,
how that person had
managed to look
into my soul.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Sabotage

Photograph by Jose Padua
In the middle of the crowd this woman standing
next to me swinging her hips, doing a dance that
looks like a leisurely swim except she’s standing,
keeps saying over and over “Good stuff. Good
stuff. Good stuff” and I know she’s not talking
about the band on the stage a few hundred feet
away from us, because when you’re that far back
from the band without slowly inching closer and
closer, you’re not as interested in seeing the band
up close, or even at all, as you are intent to reach
a certain almost out of the body state of being,
where you’re almost watching yourself make
the most absurd movements which in any other
setting would be what causes hundreds of bewildered,
bemused, or frightened looks from everyone witnessing
these strange motions, but here, I’m the only one
looking at her, and the reason I’ve been standing
next to her for so long instead of moving closer
to the stage as I usually do is that, I guess I somehow
hope that some of the incredible high she seems
to be swimming through will rub off on me, but
so far, although I’m enjoying the music, and am
doing a slight, barely noticeable bobble head dance
of my own, more than anything else, I am afraid.
Afraid of this stranger, somehow, and her state
of mind in which a total lack of self-consciousness
has led her to comment ceaselessly to herself, like
a living advertisement to herself, on the quality
of the product she has purchased and consumed,
and which has taken her away like a beautiful
balloon from 1967 when I was too young to feel
the way she does now, and landed her in a world
she is consuming and which we must consume
along with her, and I am sad, because human beings
are disappearing from our lives and becoming sets
of trendy activities and interests in bright,
easy-to-see colors, are becoming the owners
of significant objects and the livers of insignificant
styles of living, talking to themselves, not out of madness
or guilt, but because it really is such a disgrace—the way
we lie down wearily when there’s no way to escape,
and all the days we spend alone with our thoughts.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Realization That Miracles Are the Result of Hard Labor

Photograph by Jose Padua
“I’m not having one of those things
coming out of me,” my six year old
daughter says, meaning babies, “no way!”
She pokes her head up from the back seat
on our way home from the doctor,
her brother next to her but five months
away from being born. “I’m just going
to adopt,” she declares in defiance,
because when you’re young that’s
what you rely on. Then reflecting
on what might be expected from her
by family, by friends, by fellow travelers
in a future she knows will be here
whether she’s ready or not, she says,
anticipating the asking of questions
that may be less than polite,
“I’ll just lie. Tell everyone I tried.”

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In These Insufferable Dreams

Photograph by Jose Padua
In these insufferable dreams I am becalmed
by sweet monsters of joy—unfamiliar faces
that move with jagged motions as in an old
film, color photographs pulled from a wrinkled
envelope while standing beside a highway, or
a blue woman placing a yellow orchid on a red
guitar in a wooden room. What becalms me
is beyond speech, beyond symbol, and no one
recognizes it as joy, no one fathoms them as
monsters but me. These are my half-sleep dreams,
semi-formed subconscious demi-creations I control
every other evening when I fall asleep beneath a rain
of falling sweetbay. Nothing else rises like this,
nothing slides so suddenly with a frantic rushing and
a child’s impatience, yet there isn’t the slightest trace
of apprehension in my steady sleeping fingers.
What is insufferable is to move so calmly in one’s
sleep when one knows that one’s waking will
destroy all this and all that with incivility. This isn’t
to say that these dreams are polite, because in them
I am less so and am more a drunken night
on a collapsing marble floor. In the end I fall,
I forget, I leave tiny objects behind in my sleep
and I can’t reach back to grasp them with my hands.
When I wake the grass in the back is overgrown
with weeds; a deer skull hangs from a nail on the
wall inside the workshop and its floor decays
underneath a new roof. When I am cured it will
be unexpected. When I am better I will be
rearranged, like crumbs fallen from the table. I
bring a cup of water to my lips and drink. Dogs
are barking outside and a woman next door
opens and shuts her gate, rattling her fence. When
my eyes are open I fight against everything that
my waking erases, and only when I raise my
voice do I bring life to these dead spaces.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

At the Intersection of Columbia Road and Crab Soup

Cosme Padua, Tony Padua, Jose Padua
It’s one of the intersections of my growing up,
the corner of Columbia and Ontario in DC
where the Safeway and Giant grocery stores
stood side by side across from the sub shop
and Steve Zweig’s photography studio; these
were the roads I passed by every day in my youth,
going to school and back even though
it wasn’t always the quickest way
even back in third grade, before the traffic
got bad or I was old enough to ride
the DC Transit bus. One time when I was
maybe ten I was in the car with my Dad
waiting for the light to change and a tall skinny
man on the sidewalk next to us pulled out
his gun, all cool and focused like a lens
looking for someone to shoot in the bright
afternoon light. I didn’t tell my Dad
“Hey, look” or “look out” I just watched
even though I didn’t know what the gun guy
was looking for, just that he wasn’t looking
for us, and my Dad and I were almost home
after he’d picked me up from school,
and as usual I was hungry, and that was
probably the end of an era for me, that phase
of my youth when I believed that
as long as my Dad was there I was safe.
And I was hungry in all those senses
of the word, for food, for friends, for a future
where I could do whatever whenever, depending
on my whim and perchance my sense of style
or to be more precise my lack of it. That was
when I was young and couldn’t drive,
and decades later when I’d left home
for New York and I came back for a visit
my Dad picked me up from the train station,
and somehow we ended up there again, outside
the Safeway. And my Dad asked me if I could
run in, while he waited in the car, and get
a few cans of crab soup, because he loved crab
in all its forms, and whatever time of year
it was that day, canned soup was probably
the easiest way to get it, so I went inside, walked
down the aisle to find crab soup, thinking
how such a simple thing, even more than
leaving the house where I grew up and
leaving town made me feel old,
and made me wonder if somehow
I was doing the same thing for my Dad
that he did for me all those years, before
I hit ten, and when we got back to the house
I walked up the stairs and kissed my Mom
on the cheek, as my Dad stood close by,
then shut the door behind us because
we were home and ready to eat.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of Cosme Padua (center), Jose Padua (left), and Tony Padua (right) was taken around 1960-61.

It Was Spring in the Ice Age

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was spring in the Ice Age
and Mary was the mother
of Bob, who out of a primeval forest
rose to sculpt glass sculptures,
blow hot air into glass bubbles,
and brag about the daylight,
about all the fabulous ass he got,
which is what Bob loved most of all
when he gave birth to arson
and grand larceny.
Mary lived to sell his tail,
forgive his crimes,
and sing from mountain to mountain
the songs we all remember
from the young summer we loved the most.
And I was born of iron in the Bronze Age,
a slow train before there were tracks
to roll upon toward the coast,
a cold drink before there were throats
that were dry from desert thirst,
a wound before men and women
learned how to heal.
This is my foot upon the gas
pedal of an automobile,
surrounded on the road
by Jacks, Jennys and Johns.
Their headlights are on
but mine are not, or mine are on
and theirs are off on tangents, aimed
at the wind, the trees, the flying insects
in the aging, wrinkling breeze.
I am a man. I am a woman.
I am a shining silver ghost,
missing all the buttons on my
old gray dusty winter coat
but I am going places.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Socialism

Photograph by Jose Padua
In the town of
Front Royal where
I live I am a socialist.

I live there with
my socialist wife
and my socialist daughter
and my socialist son.

We think socialist
thoughts like “water,
wind, sun, moon, earth
belong to us all”
and “privatize this.”

Just like we did
when we lived
in the fatherland.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Child’s Introduction to the Million and One Secrets of Jazz

Photograph by Jose Padua
I think that long before I’d even come close to having a child, I believed that it was never too early to plant the seeds of a certain kind of determination in a child’s mind. Furthermore, if I had slightest bit of control over it, no child of mine was ever going to be addicted to the blowing up and blasting away of things and people as occurs in so many video games. I didn’t care whether or not any experts thought they had any lasting effects on a child’s development, these things were, as far as I was concerned, a colossal waste of time. And, also as far as I was concerned, it was first things first, and let’s just forget all the other nonsense.

It was unlikely, then—with me being her father—that Maggie would go through her toddler years without hearing the music of Charlie “Bird” Parker. Maggie was around three when I first played Charlie Parker for her and she immediately liked his music. Of course, by then, I’d already played Sun Ra, later Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and even some Cecil Taylor for her. So, when she first listened to Charlie Parker, she was actually moving slightly back in musical history, and didn’t really need the child’s picture book we’d found—Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka—to help her appreciate Charlie Parker’s be bop sax solos. Which isn’t to say she didn’t also enjoy the picture book we read to her.

Her introduction to jazz went slightly like mine. When I first started listening to it around 1974 or so, I was listening to things like John Coltrane’s free jazz versions of “My Favorite Things” and “Naima,” as well as Sun Ra’s The Magic City and Atlantis. It wasn’t until a few years later when I started exploring Charlie Parker and the music of the be bop era. To my surprise, after my first exposure to Miles Davis being his 1970 LP, Bitches Brew, I found that his work went back to the 40s when he replaced Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker’s quintet.

Soon, I realized there was quite a bit of jazz history I needed to learn. And though I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject, I learned enough to get annoyed whenever someone would say something like, “I enjoy big band music” or, even worse, “I like jazz.” My reaction would always be, OK, who do you like or what do you like? Swing? Be bop? Hard bop? Who do you listen to, Glenn Miller or Duke Ellington? Bud Powell? Eric Dolphy? Albert Ayler? Do you listen only to jazz that puts you on some kind of nostalgia trip?

Because to so many people jazz was a single type of music they’d heard once at some party where everyone was smoking pot, or that they’d heard during a trip to New York when they stopped in a club and had a drink, or that they’d heard when they went to a friend’s wedding and the band at the reception was this group of old guys wearing cool tuxedoes. In other words, it was a superficial acquaintance that they would exaggerate into some kind of in-depth knowledge when the truth was they didn’t know the first thing about jazz.

Yeah, I know. I was a difficult person back then—and in a lot of ways I still am. But to me, real art of any kind isn’t a way to kill time—or to see or feel things that are pretty, or to get high, or to simply entertain oneself. When you’re experiencing real art you’re learning something you didn’t know before, you’re discovering a different way of looking at the world, and above all, you’re not escaping the world, you’re digging down deeper into it. And, when you know real art, and give it the time it takes to know it, you’re less likely to get fooled by all the idiocy that’s out there, exploding like an atomic bomb of horseshit.

In this photograph, taken somewhere around 2006 when we were still living in the northern Virginia suburbs, Maggie is holding The Very Best of Bird, a double LP I bought in 1977 at Olsson’s Books and Records on Dupont Circle in DC. (Or was the store still Bob Bialek’s Discount Books and Records back then? I’m not sure). Little did I think when I bought it back then that, more than 25 years later, I would have a child who’d be holding it, and listening to it, and digging it. And who in so doing would be sharpening the tools with which she learns— separating what’s beautiful from what’s merely pretty—and be determined to contribute to peace not war.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua