Monthly Archives: January 2015

Bold as Love

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was my end of the summer visit back home—
to DC, from New York, from the train full of bad snacks
and half-cold beer, and when I got to my house I found out
I’d just missed a visit from my Auntie Anna who’d gone
into town from the suburbs to see my family and
ended up staying for a week. She’d been making obscene
phone calls to her neighbors in Wheaton for a few years now—

living alone could do that to you, I guessed, could
bring out that indelicate madness, but what was it that
kept the rest of us from saying “I’m naked, now,
Mrs. Lewis” or “The wind blows for free how much do
you charge, Mr. Wheeler?” instead of “Do you know
of someone who can mow my lawn? The last guy retired”
or a simple, “Hello, how are you today?”—all those

boring things we ask and don’t really care what
the answer is. Anna was my Uncle Ray’s wife,
an Anglo-Saxon lady, a white woman who’d married
a Filipino man back when that was still at least
half a scandal to half the people in America,
back when they couldn’t have gotten married in Virginia
where I live now because back then it was against the law.

If my wife and I were living back then, we wouldn’t
have been able to get married in Georgia, Mississippi,
Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia,
Arizona, California, Idaho, Maryland,
Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon,
South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. (Yeah, I
included a list, but how could I just mention one place

and stop? Sometimes what it’s all about is not stopping,
sometimes what angers the enemy most is the way
you persevere like a monster in a cheap horror film.)
And back then, before they moved to Wheaton, Uncle Ray
and Auntie Anna were city people, and Uncle Ray
would drop by our house all the time after waiting tables
at a luncheon downtown—like my dad, he worked for a caterer—

and I was a kid and Uncle Ray seemed cool, but Auntie Anna
was one of those quiet grown ups I never said much to
and Uncle Ray had been dead for nearly twenty years
when she made her visit and talked and talked and talked. She
and Uncle Ray had hosted the annual New Year’s Day
party, where everyone ate and ate (which I liked to do)
and drank champagne and cocktails (which of course I was

too young for) and watched football (which didn’t interest
me then and which now, after a few decades of watching it,
has left the stadium of things that keep my excessive
attention). And their house was filled with more people
than I usually ever saw in a single house,
like this guy Joe who looked like a Filipino version
of Popeye, and Max Dizon, the cab driver, who was always

there with his wife and their daughter and Max would outlive
Ray by some thirty years and make it to his nineties,
and there were so many people I didn’t know there
and New Year’s Day was always so cold. I never wanted
to go. It was like a hangover day for me even before I’d
ever had a drink, back when as child of nine or ten I finally
figured out what death was all about and as always I was

obsessed, and I suppose there hasn’t been a day since then
when I haven’t had a moment when I didn’t stop, take in
a deep breath to make sure I could still breathe, or tried to decide
if I was getting stronger or getting weaker, and if the color blue
was less blue than it was the day before, because my idea
of vision was that as one grew older the colors began to fade
until everything was black and white like on some bleak

winter day when it’s so cold that your face is stung and
your eyes feel like ice. Auntie Anna stayed for a week
and sat on a baking pan during meals and explained,
“I’m protecting myself from the gamma rays.” And back
when she was young, and probably wickedly beautiful,
I imagine she found beautiful ways to protect herself,
and other beautiful ways to go out over the edge in ways

that people would think was mad and reckless and in the end
married the man she wanted to marry no matter how wrong,
how awful, how indecent anyone thought it might be.
Because when I was young I didn’t understand how bold
she really was, didn’t know the difference between dirty and
obscene until words, like a curve in the hem of Auntie Anna’s dress,
began rolling off my tongue so easily in times of trouble.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Monkey Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was a minor soul ballad, though
not quite a ballad, or not a ballad at
all, that brought Billy the Kid back
to life in a dive bar downtown. Some-
one started doing a strut on the tile
floor that looked like the floor of a
church, but it wasn’t a church it was
Baltimore, on a spring evening, during
an era no one but me calls the Renais-
sance of past lives now coming back
to life when someone plays a certain
song on the jukebox. It was time to
stand up, so we stood until we were
taller than we were before, until we
felt dizzy from being so high over
the tiny names carved on the wooden
bar. All the workers from the neigh-
borhood stood up, too, to dance,
because Billy was always good
to them and was like white death
to their enemies. So many more names
were added to the wood that night,
and even more were said to have
never sat down for the rest of their
lives, and for four hours not a sip
of beer was spilled, nor drop of bourbon
wasted, by being wiped away on man
or woman’s lips by anything other
than a kiss. Until it was time, and the floor
moved closer to the dirt in our eyes
as Billy the Kid followed his footsteps
faster than a pinball machine going TILT,
and danced his way out the door, around
the corner, into a yellow tinted mist of rain.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Notes from a Poem Rewritten While Listening to Prince

Photograph by Jose Padua
The first protest I ever attended
was on a beautiful spring day
and I was asked to leave
because I wasn’t animated enough
for a spring day or for a protest
or for the guy who was filming it
who yelled “Go home!” at me
as he lifted his nose with his face
raised his right arm in frustration
then threw it back down
like a drunk tossing an empty beer can.
I don’t know,
maybe he meant for me to go home to my apartment,
maybe he meant for me to go home to my country,
but I didn’t go home and I ignored him
and kept on marching even more quietly than before.
I’d like to say that twenty years later,
the guy who told me to go home
has become one of my closest friends,
that our families get together,
my kids play with his kids,
he cooks, my wife and I bring good wine
but I don’t think he has kids,
and this isn’t that kind of poem,
and if I were to see him again today
my mind would still swell
with insults and imprecations
that I would refrain from speaking
because although I’m not good at forgetting
much less forgiving
I like to think that the world is a big enough place
for us both of us
and all of us
to live and ignore each other
as long as we agree that gray skies
can still be replaced by blue
and that years
are just these separate days gathered
by snow and dust and wind.
All of which is to say
that this is a celebration of sorts,
a poem of light and praise
in anticipation of the moment
when the heavy lifting is done for the day
because this is for you, my friend,
and you and you,
not him.
You who never told me to go home
when you could have,
you who never told me to get lost,
when getting lost
was what I feared more than poverty, madness, dying.
You who listened to me when I was young
and knew nothing,
who sat with me quietly
when I was quiet and still
in the hushed air of early morning,
waiting for animation and sound.

-Jose Padua

A Better Tomorrow

Cosme Padua, Tony Padua
My Dad was the caretaker
of the Philippine ambassador’s residence
for several decades
but the day when he seemed
to take the most pride
and joy in his job
was when he said had
something he wanted to show us
on the top floor.
My mom, my brother, and I followed him
up the steps to one of the bedrooms,
maybe it was the ambassador’s
own room. My Dad looked
at us, paused, and then
clapped his hands twice,
which made the light
in the bedroom go ON.
This was at least a decade
and a half, probably two,
before The Clapper went on the market
in the mid 80s, so to us
this was fresh and amazing,
to clap your hands instead
of flipping the switch,
like we were living in a world
out of science fiction;
and my Dad laughed
and smiled, so delighted
and proud he could show us
this glimpse into a beautiful future.
And I walked back down
the stairs feeling like
I’d skipped ahead
to the next grade in school,
leaving behind
all the other kids
whom I knew would
always be more
American than me.

-Jose Padua

The photograph was taken circa 1960: left, Cosme Padua; right, Tony Padua.

A Simple Declaration of My Personal Philosophy

Photograph by Jose Padua
Efficiency is the enemy of art,
purity the death of the soul.
Curses are rarely stranded
at the tip of my tongue, and
the blades I work with are dull
from overuse. A day when
I haven’t wasted a moment
is a day when I’ve done nothing
worth doing. I have horrible feelings
I live with, spend hours staring
at sidewalks, empty park benches,
and dirt, before finally writing down
the correct sentence. The hospital
I was born in was torn down,
the building I once lived in renovated,
its apartments transformed into
units priced too high for everyone
except the assholes. Afterthoughts
are my greatest inspiration, the
black buttons that seem connected
to the pale cloth by the slightest threads;
distractions the things that move me
the most, take me the farthest
from here out to there and never back;
the old houses that brought me here,
and the noisy floors and filthy walls
that let me stay. Because the farther I go,
the closer I get to being where I was
when I started, to recognizing the Earth
and the way my feet stand slightly tilted
upon it. Because the farther I go
the more I find myself returning
with soft steps to these hard places,
these points scattered like the dark
flickering of stars on the old, wrinkled
map, each of them lying in wait
for its moment of rediscovery.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Clouds Out of Key in the Country Sky

Photograph by Jose Padua
I’m in the front seat driving, changing
lanes to get around a slow moving truck,
stepping on the gas as the noise of both
car and road get louder, and behind me
my wife is talking to my son, holding a
stuffed bear in front of him as he lies back
and laughs in his infant seat when I hear her
ask, “Do you see that turd in the sky?” I look
toward the horizon and up, check if there’s
traffic ahead, then look left, then right,
in search of a magical turd in the sky,
the sort of turd that my son, at eight
months, needs to see, but I see nothing
other than unremarkable clouds. Finally
I ask, “Where’s the turd?” and my wife
says “What?” and my daughter who’s
in the seat behind them echoes “What?”
and if my son could say something
other than baby talk he’d probably
say “What?” too. “Where’s the turd?
I ask again, “you asked, Do you see
that turd in the sky?
” “No,” my wife
says “I asked, Are you getting tired
of this guy?
This stuffed bear. He stopped
laughing at it.” “Oh,” I say, and I drive on,
but I’m driving slowly now, just in case.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Poets Are Weird, It’s True

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Poets are weird, it’s true, and they
smell funny. Have you ever eaten
a meal with a poet? It’s hard to keep
your food down. Poets don’t wait
until something’s dead to eat it.
Poets don’t wait until a person’s dead
to write nasty things about him,
her husband, his wife, their
beady-eyed children.
Poets have horrible halitosis,
do not try to kiss one,
you’ll vomit meaningless but well-arranged
paragraphs. Poets aren’t wise, though
they’ll make you think they know things
they don’t, they’ll make you think you know
nothing but they do, know things that is,
like the name of the person who discovered
that desire is a language that was first spoken
in France. Don’t trust poets, they’ll
tell you you’re on fire when you’re not,
they’ll tell you you’re not on fire when you are,
they’ll tell you to dial 999 for an emergency
even though you’re nowhere near England.
Poets wash their hands with ice, the chilling effect
cleanses them, clears their minds so they can focus
on ways to hurt you, so they can devise
strategies to make you feel ashamed
of your misshapen heads and disgusting bodies.
Poets are cruel, sarcastic, masters of
inhumane irony. They love to lift you up only to
let you fall, hopelessly, to solid ground like
stones from the top of a mountain.
They love to end their poems in ways
that will ultimately disappoint you.

-Jose Padua

My Definition of a Boombastic Poetry Style

Photograph by Jose Padua
Going up to bed early
on the night before
his first day of school for the year
our four year old son asks,
“Is Daddy coming up too?”
and my wife says,
“No he’s staying awake
to write poems,”
and our son says,
“Poor Daddy,”
because already at this
young age he understands that
poetry is a motherfucker
even though he
doesn’t yet know
how
to say it.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

I Remember the Night We Tried to Get a Poet Arrested

WorkshopGarage_20140205_173142_colorcrop_THREE
I remember the night my friend and I tried to get a poet arrested
for his crimes against literature, his hiding
of horribly sentimental lines by speaking like a seller
of cheap real estate, those broken down houses
where everything and everyone leaks, in neighborhoods
divided by the tornado roar of long, slow trains, night and day.
It was just poetry, I know, words arranged like a landscape
of dark trees against the, whatever, azure sky,
but why should he escape punishment like the stealers
of poor people’s minority fortunes, the rule makers
who make us break our backs at hard labor
while they sit up high in penthouse suites
eating their feasts, drinking the best wine,
as they sneer at the riff-raff drawing heavy strings
and pushing square wheels along concrete floors
in the moldy basement, thump thump?
We called the police. “There he is,” I said,
“at the corner of State and East Washington,
ready to recite his deceptive verse. Take him.”
But they didn’t understand our soundness,
didn’t consider this criminal activity worthy of arrest,
as flagrant action against the laws they were paid
to uphold, defend, and protect. We argued,
we pleaded; they explained, they turned silent,
they hung up, believing they’d arranged the letters
of the law to the best of their abilities.
Because we couldn’t get the poet arrested
my friend walked around for years wearing
loose blue muscle shirts, his head bobbing
down and up through all the thick slabs of winters,
the thin white lines of summer, looking right, looking left,
grimacing what the fuck? to anyone passing close
enough to hear and refusing to listen.
These days I sit on park benches in the bright daylight,
enduring all manner of slurs and imprecations
and the endless spinning of the earth,
humming an old tune from my youth,
and thinking of all the different words for stone.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Avenue Banana

AvenueB3rdUp_20140808_175917_CropThree
Living on Avenue Banana
in the 1990s is not a lot like
drinking tea. I look up to the sky.
You shout at people driving by
in limousines. We eat rice and
chicken, wonder what to do.
You could go home and watch
your color TV or whistle on the way
to the sink. I can lie back on my
mattress like a tiny buffalo
and wave my hands at the flies
in the air or on my knee. Alone
I see white paint chips on the ceiling,
feel the need for something green or
golden. With you there’s sometimes
a step in between, you sitting
in my window reading a magazine.
Sometimes we’re watching
the same movie on different TVs.
Other times I’m giving you cigarettes
like moonshine by the sea. And
though this isn’t Paris in the 1930s
and I can’t be Henry Miller and you
can’t be Anais Nin, the look in your
eyes sometimes makes me think
of you as Grace Kelly in bed reading
a copy of Vogue, and me as Jimmy
Stewart, asleep by the window
with two broken legs.

-Jose Padua