Monthly Archives: September 2015

Another Vague Recollection of the Days

Photograph by Maggie Padua
Sometime in the 70s
when I was old enough
to drink or at least
bold enough
get away with it
I drank Schlitz with
my friends because
it was the cool, cold beer
and all the other stuff
like Pabst, Bud,
and Natty Boh
were for
the assholes.
Now on those less
frequent occasions when
I drink beer I drink
something called
Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA
whatever the fuck that means
because it’s delicious and
because now
in my later years
in this life of
slowly acquired wisdom
I’ve become one
of them.

-Jose Padua

Photograph of the author by Maggie Padua

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On the Cool Blue Steel of Sound in 1965 or ‘66

Dad_GlamPhoto_30s_SquareCropTwo
I must have been
eight or nine
sitting on the
long bench with
the soft black
cushions at the
Filipino barber shop
on the edge
of Chinatown,
watching the old
man smoking a cigarette
while he played
his beat-up
mandolin as confident
as a rock star,
when I finally
realized that
we could
be cool
too.

-Jose Padua

The photograph was taken sometime in the 1930s. On the left is Cosme T. Padua and on the right is a friend of his—or perhaps yet another relative I never got to know.

Ready for the House and Other Places of Profound Interest

Photogrph by Jose Padua
During our visit to my family’s old house in town,
my four year old son walks up the stairs
to the second floor and notices
the crucifix that’s been there since I was a child,
then looks at the face of Jesus
and says “Daddy.”
And I remember the time I took him
to a preschool orientation
and one of the other kids looked at me
then looked to his mother,
and as he pointed his finger
at me he said, “Jesus,”
at which point the mother said nothing
but gave me a look that seemed to say
“You ain’t no Jesus.”
And though it’s been decades
since I embraced anything that
might be called religion,
I must say there are still moments in my life
when I feel something that
approaches holiness.
Like toward the end of a long, clear summer’s day
or a cold, cloudy winter’s day
when the dimming of the evening’s last light
seems to color everything
a profound shade of blue.
Or when the sound of an ambulance in the distance
fills me with a certainty
that when they reach their destination
they’ll find someone who’s sick
or knocked down and weary
but who has somehow found
a way to survive.
And what makes me feel holiest of all
are those times when
I feel entirely human.
When I understand that
I’m just a man
with a name,
a place I want to get to,
and this vague but exquisitely lovely
idea of how to get there.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Why I Can’t Stand to Watch the Game Anymore

PHotograph by Jose Padua
Because I can’t
bear the sight of
these middle-aged men
declaring the next day
that the firing of six
bullets into an unarmed
black man was justified
or that the tasering
and death of a mentally ill
black woman was
simply unfortunate
when I’ve seen my white alcoholic
neighbor drunk out of her
mind while the cops
kept their distance
and waited patiently
for her to calm down.
And because they say it so
casually and matter-of-factly
that they might as well be
discussing how the quarterback
called an audible,
stepped back,
then threw the bomb
downfield
and hit his target,
ensuring a win
for coach,
for the home town,
and for those good old days,
and death to
any man, woman, or child
who stood in
the way.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Heavy Load We Carry with Every Act of Subversion

Photograph by Jose Padua
The title of the episode of Thomas the Train
is James Works It Out and because my mind
is half fried half the time and my ideas half
baked because it’s only noon I’m wondering
if this is an episode my four-year old son
really should be watching. What, indeed,
is James working out? Is it a male problem
my son is years away from needing to know
about and what exactly does James do to work
it all out? I’ve never been one to believe that
every single problem has a solution, nor have I
lived my life expecting more than individual
moments of contentment, yet even I never
expected that sudden disturbances in my
progression of thought would be the direct
consequence of my pondering the dilemmas
and predicaments of anthropomorphic cartoon
trains. As for the work, the labor it takes for
James to take that “it” and work it, change it,
turn it this way then out and into this story is
what worries me the way a room I’m about to
walk into begins to worry me when the power
suddenly goes out and all the light is gone and
the only thing that’s left is the sound of my feet,
my voice, my breathing—sounds I should have
learned to trust by now but don’t, in that I don’t
trust that they’re not going to leave me without
any kind of warning, which isn’t to say that
sort of thing doesn’t happen because it does.
But aside from the immediate subject matter
of the episode at hand, there are other things
regarding the Thomas the Train show that give
me pause. First is that the island where it takes
place, Sodor, is one letter away from being
Sodom, and second, that the guy who runs the
place and all the trains, Sir Topham Hatt, is
a lot like Snoop Dogg in that his mind is on his
money and his money is on his mind, but that’s
actually what’s sort of cool about him, because
what isn’t so cool is that Sir Topham Hatt is
probably the whitest character in all of children’s
programming, and represents, to me, capitalism’s
obsessive, inflexible drive toward obscene levels
of profit—any variation from that path and you’re
at the receiving end of the wrath of Sir Topham
Hatt, his rants, his tirades, and ultimately his
withholding of a train’s rightly earned wages.
Or at any rate that’s what I see. And with the
episode being called James Works It Out,
you know that whatever happens, it’s being
worked out not in James’s favor but for the
benefit of that fat, white capitalist, Sir Topham
Hatt. Though my son stands by the side of the
television watching and listening to the dialog
among the trains, he is still too young to grasp
the message of cooperation and the suppression
of the individual for the purpose of exalting
the corporate entity. Sir Topham Hatt is stern
or at best scary to him and he has no idea of
what he represents. But when he’s older, he’ll know,
that just as morning approaches afternoon and the
vestiges of slumber are cast off that the continuing
light of day warms both concrete and soil, and that
as the temperature in the air rises and we breathe in
the fumes, we begin to ask for something more
than bread and water in exchange for our allegiance.
When the television goes off, the room is quiet
with our thoughts, and the clear cool air seems
as still as an early morning’s mist; we straighten
our legs, lift our arms from our chairs, and clear
our throats as if to speak because it will soon be
time to move ahead and pick up our heavy books.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And If You Think I Need You There Are a Million Rivers for Us to Ride

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sunday afternoon and my neighbor
is singing Olivia Newton John
via the Bee Gees’
“Come on Over” in Spanish
louder than Avenue B traffic
and several car alarms combined
which means that her boyfriend
didn’t come home last night
or left with angry words
this morning which means
that pretty soon it’ll be time for me
to head out for one of my long walks
50 or 60 blocks uptown until
I run out of muscle in my legs
or downtown until Manhattan
comes to a conclusion and
stops like a spaghetti western
but before I go I start to hear a sizzle
from her kitchen
and the hallway soon fills
with the smell of food frying—
pork, chicken, beef, fish, shrimp—
and when I walk into the hall
her door is open and she’s
out there smoking a cigarette
because the kitchen is getting too hot
and she looks at me and rolls her big eyes
as if to say “What else can I do?”
or “I can’t believe this shit”
then brushes out a tangle in her
curling black hair with the back
of her hand and I shrug
my shoulders and swing out
my hands as if to say
“What else can any of us do?”
or “There’s no shit left worth believing”
and it’s our Sunday substitute
and spiritual choice for church,
wondering what on Earth
is there to do
then pausing to gather
our inner sources of inspiration
and strength before
continuing on our paths
in praise of the brilliant future
and whatever it brings our way.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Sight of my Neighbor Limping

Photograph by Jose Padua
The sight of my neighbor limping to his front door
in the dim, late-evening light, walking from his truck,
down the driveway to the sidewalk, then toward the
front steps of his house, his bad arm nearly dragging
from his shoulder behind his back like some name
he can’t remember–an old friend from back in the day
when he lived closer to the city with plenty to do and
places to go–reminds me of how little I know of his story.
Just that his wife has a hard time staying sober long enough
so the cops don’t have to drag her away to jail. Just an idea
that when the liquor has left the blood that flows beneath
your skin, the cold, gray walls of a jail cell must look
like the hardest substance on Earth. Which is to say
that it’s so much easier for me to imagine being her
than being him, so much easier to think about things
done wrong than things lost. And he takes his good arm
and stretches it straight in front of him as he turns to pull
his front door shut in time to sit in front of the television
to watch the Sunday night game. His wife is coming home
again at the end of the month when we’ll be more than
halfway through this third quarter season’s rush toward
winter, which is when he’ll need to crank up the wood
stove, sending rough blue smoke from the chimney
toward the sky in an effort to reach a temperature
sufficient for him to feel the tips of all his fingers, make
the motions that make it easy to believe it’s easy being alive,
and that comfort is the warmth and stillness of sitting
near the heart of his hundred year old, small town house.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. This poem was first published at Vox Populi.

On Finding My Way Home While Driving with the Windows Down and Wondering if the Cops Will Stop Me for Playing Classical Music Too Loud

Photograph by Jose Padua
Driving home from
the store blasting
the third movement
of Bach’s Brandenburg
Concerto No. 3
in G major as performed
by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra,
I look into the glare
of the setting sun
ahead of me
where South Street meets
that last stretch of Royal
before the road starts to
bend with the low hills
at the foot of the
mountains.
I can feel the cool
air coming in
through the open window,
and I catch that
damp scent that only
enters the atmosphere
at the point where
summer is ending
and fall begins
its fast descent,
and as I wander through
the haze of half warm
tones and high strung
notes, I turn right
without thinking and
marvel at my
sense of direction.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Works and Days

Photograph by Jose Padua
When my daughter was two and
we lived in the suburbs she got
a big rag doll and when we asked
her what she wanted to name it
she shook her head and said “No,
no names.” We ended up calling it
The Doll Who Cannot Be Named.
She carried it with her wherever
we went and whenever some
stranger, impressed by its height
and girth, came by and asked,
“What’s your doll’s name?”
she would explain that it didn’t
have a name, that it was The Doll
Who Cannot Be Named. My wife
and I were always the ones who got
the funny looks–me, weird dad;
my wife, weird mom. And as we
moved farther and farther away
from the city we became more weird,
more beautiful, and my wife and
I brought a son into our world,
a brother for our daughter, and
whenever we try to put a green
hat on his head he says, “I’m not
a Leprechaun” and we go about
our business refusing to say “Yes,”
refusing to say “No,” refusing
to contemplate anything but the
infinite possibilities of our lives.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Best Way to End the Day Is to Be Alive

Photograph by Jose Padua

The meanest bartender in town
was a Filipino dude like me
who was always ready
with a cold Fuck You
at the slightest offense
or No fucking way
in response to even
the most reasonable of requests.
He was always nice
to the women, though,
the ladies, the ones walking
and the ones working,
and when I went in
with a woman friend one evening
it was the first time
I ever saw him smile
and though he completely
ignored me with every
drop of hard liquor he poured
and every beer he laid down
on the old oak bar
I was sure I heard
a whispered Fuck You
under his breath
and directed at me
like a side-eyed smirk
as he winked at my lovely friend
without ever looking at me.
I knew right then
that if I’d been a bartender
he would have been me or
I would have been him
or something like that
and on the day that I heard
that he’d dropped dead
I didn’t raise my glass and
declare “Cheers” to his spirit
nor pronounce “rest in peace”
to the blank space
of his absence,
but merely continued
to drink until my mind felt full
and my fingers felt the sting
of an evening spent
smoking cigarette after cigarette
and engaging in dramatic gestures
to illustrate all the significant
discussions I’d soon forget.
Then later that night
in the dizzy warmth
of my bed I leaned slowly
to my right,
then half asleep
turned slowly
to my left
just in case
there was anyone
there I could
whisper to.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua