Monthly Archives: October 2015

Shiny Happy People

Photograph by Jose Padua
Can I change the weather with these
words? A sunken ship regains its buoyancy
to sail the seas upon its blue-green waves.
We’re standing still on the ship because
our shoes do not slip on the slippery deck
that shines with a watery mist in the half sun,
half cloud sea light. Who would have
thought us seaworthy, who would have
seen us standing after all that falling down
on land, in buildings, on roads driving in cars?
We move from this sea to the next with
a sun dog’s winds, these brief bursts of air
shaped like a crowd of streetcars with names
like “Love Me” and “Take Me to the Real Show
Where the Animals Speak in Tongues Like
the Old Mystics” and “Finished, Ma.”
Down below there is happiness in the
gentle rocking of this ride on the sea;
no queasiness results from the purpose
of this motion, and no clowns are named
after colors in this refuge from the cruelties
of the real world. And the words they hear
are “Where’s the ice? Where are the tumblers,
Where are the ice cold drinks for these
drunken sailors, oh my great and glowing
loveliness?” And our hands are full with flowers
and everything in the world that shines.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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And So the Brightness of Evening

Photograph by Jose Padua
I shine these minutes in the evening,
so heavy with the space of living,
rooms to walk into and leave, floors
to step upon to do a task and walk
away from. The end of the day is
like a polishing of time. You wipe
the table, I listen to its clearing from
the living room then take the plastic
bags of trash out the front door.
It’s a cleaning of the hours, and
for us, an emptying of what’s left
of the week. Work is what keeps
us here, what feeds us from bank
to store to hand to mouth. We keep
it clean, we let it get dirty, we mop,
we scrub, we rinse. Our clothes pile
up in the back of the house no matter
how hard we try to keep up with it.
We don’t try that hard. There are other
things to do, other things to see,
a show about tiny birds flying just
above the roofs; a book about the
end of the world, the stopping of
time, and the sailing of Greek boats.
Before I turn off the ceiling light
in the dining room I see the plates and
tumblers behind the cabinet’s glass
door gleam. It’s the quiet kind
of shining that moves us best,
a glowing with no need to make
its own sound, because upstairs
all the lights are switched on, and
I hear the soft voice of our daughter
getting ready for bed as she sings.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Another Poem About Time and Metamorphosis

Photograph by Jose Padua
Although I was said to have been born
human, it wasn’t long before I became thing,
thing being a stream of water, or on better days
a river or bay. Some days I am grass, all of it,
everywhere in the world from the grounds
of an emperor’s estate to the patch where
the man without a home rests his head,
followed by entire years when I exist
as a single blade of grass, slender and green
like all the other blades on a boring lawn
in the suburbs. There are minutes when
I am a single sad hill followed by weeks
when I am the Himalayas, towering over
boundless lands from great and powerful heights.
When I am a mountain it is harder to walk,
but when I am a river I find it easier to
navigate through difficult social situations.
This is when humans call on me the most.
To celebrate their progress of riches with
a long, slow beautiful ride of self-applause
and self-referential speech. Or else to send
their enemies somewhere they’ll never
be found and never come back from
in the belief that it will make all of us
a little safer. And I fall like rain on the streets,
splatter like bugs on car windshields,
shake the asphalt like big, speeding trucks,
before sending you off like a one way
bus ticket to the cold, desolate end of the highway.
Then I cool the air, slowing everyone down,
bringing about the change in the seasons.
I take the subway back uptown.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

When We’re Dancing the World Feels Like Higher Mathematics

Photograph by Jose Padua
When we’re dancing the world feels
like higher mathematics, equations
of irrational numbers that exist in
the real world the way ghosts haunt
dark abandoned buildings on the edge
of town. It’s the times we talk, nights
we walk by them like wire walkers
at great heights, and those numbers
of days when there’s nothing and
we divide it by the occurrence of nights
when we think we might see, or could see,
something that equals a frequency
in which time is a circle and incidence
a diameter. Sometimes a ghost is
the number you can only approach
from around the corner when your hands
are in your baggy pants pockets, which
is why it’s so hard to run in your dreams
when you’re trying to get away from
bad guys. We sit still, or stand back
in the stillness of the ancient aether
even as our souls swirl and twist like
rivers and streams and wandering gusts
of wind when we’re not dancing.
And we lie down in the deep where
numbers are not for counting because
we have traveled too far to simply
walk home, and the infinite becomes
less abstract the more we move.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

To the White Supremacist Who Referred to Me as Taco Boy

Photograph by Jose Padua
It’s been said that what makes life
so precious is how it can all suddenly
end, but why should I believe the
scoundrel who tells me this? Why
should I trust him more than the man
who sells the snake oil and says you
can live forever or the woman telling
fortunes behind the blue glass storefront
in the sort of old downtown that’s vanishing
before our eyes? Not everything that is
precious becomes a snake once the doors
are closed. Not all fortunes collapse
or explode just because the woman
telling it has an intense way of expressing
her dark opinions. There are times
when a dog on its four legs senses
disaster more accurately than a reading
of highly calibrated instruments, days
when aching bones say more
than thick reports in heavy black binders.
I confess that I’ve only started asking
for extra, for more than what you think
is my fair share, and I’m about to stop
saying ‘Sir’ and asking ‘May I?”
We breathe the same air, drink
the same water, but the planets
still revolve around the sun and
reflect its light, and even the universe
as wide and heavy as it already is,
will continue to amaze us in
its ceaseless efforts to expand.

-Jose Padua

Photograph, “The Sky As Organized Over the Fast Food Restaurant,” by Jose Padua

Recollection During a Light Storm in the Valley

Photograph by Jose Padua
On 14th Street near Avenue B
I’m walking in New York City
during the short middle
of a long summer day
behind a lovely, young,
brown-skinned mother pushing
her child in a stroller
when a man in his late middle
age whose skin has seen
too much sun, too much wind
walks down the steps
with his eyes and says to her,
“Take that little rug rat home—
stick him in the oven”
with a satisfied sneer on
his wrinkled, leather face.
And the mother does what
she can, which is to keep
walking, keep ignoring
this ugly man and his
ugly joke and keep being
strong like only a mother
can be strong and so
I moved on down 14th Street,
around the corner,
and into my favorite bar on that block.
So many years before
I had children of my own,
so many miles away
from this beautiful, fall rain.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

How the Blues They Send to Meet Me Don’t Defeat Me and Other Easy-Listening Favorites

Photograph by Jose Padua
This is what it’s like living with me.
My wife, not feeling well but having
to work, works at home like me today
and sits across the table. “Do you need
quiet?” I ask, before I put on some music
because I always play music while I’m
working and the kids are at school and
she answers, “No, it’s OK,” and I say,
“I’ll put on something mellow,” and go
looking for the music I want to hear.
In a few minutes my music starts to play.
First there’s the sound of the keyboard
then a snare drum and a voice going,
“Nuclear war. Yeah. Nuclear war. Yeah.”
When Sun Ra starts singing, “It’s a
motherfucker, don’t you know, if they
push that button, your ass is gonna go,”
my wife starts to laugh. “What’s funny?”
I say. “This is mellow?” she asks. “But
it is,” I reply, because Nuclear War is
actually one of Sun Ra’s mellower records,
but it begins with that title cut. And I explain
how this was a song Sun Ra actually thought
he could have a big hit on the radio with,
and that the tune is completely catchy,
though it does have that “motherfucker” in
the chorus. “And plenty of big hits have
the word ‘motherfucker’ in them,” I explain,
though at the moment I can’t think of any.
“But wait,” I say, “for those of us who are
old enough to remember there was ‘Raindrops
Keep Falling on my Motherfucking Head;’
it was a big hit for BJ Thomas in 1969,”
but my wife doesn’t believe it. “It was big
on the country charts,” I say, but she doesn’t
budge from her state of incredulity and
secular disbelief. Then I make myself some
sausage and eggs, and when I’m done eating
I ask, “Do you want some?” as I look at
my empty plate, knowing that if she’s hungry
I’ll be right back in the kitchen, warmed by
the heat of the stovetop, and glowing like
the songs that forever fill my heart with joy.

-Jose Padua

Photo by Jose Padua of Maggie holding up her drawing of Sun Ra.

Thieves Like Us

Photograph by Jose Padua
When a civilian once asked me
who in the world of poetry
do you trust, I said
no one. We are always telling
each other lies, I said, creating metaphors
for the things we’ll never be,
lines that cloak our faults and weaknesses
and turn them into the characteristics
and idiosyncrasies of warm,
sensitive beings,
and rhythms that lead our audience
to believe we are saints when we
are thieves out to steal your wives,
your boyfriends, your summer cottage,
your tickets to see Patrick Stewart
in a play by the late Harold Pinter
who although he was a playwright
had the heart of a poet
which is why we’re still keeping an eye
on him. Although I have never stolen
a wife, a ticket, or even a plot of real estate
on which stood a dilapidated brick building,
I have in the past stolen books
and sundries from unsuspecting
shopkeepers who didn’t
know I was a poet
and therefore didn’t know enough
not to trust me.
I spend my days planning
lovely thefts and robberies,
each more daring than the last
because I have so far to go
to catch up with my contemporaries.
I stand about on street corners,
looking left then right,
as if I’m waiting on a friend,
when I’m actually deciding
what to steal next.
You will know I am done
when the color of the evening
sky skips a tone on the way
from blue to dark blue.
You will know
I am gone
by the steady
beating of your broken hearts.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Slow Glittering of Far-Flung Diamonds

Photograph by Jose Padua
I almost bought a $98 chicken this morning.
I know the first question some friends will ask
is why I’m still eating meat, especially when it’s
probably coming from the processing plant
down in Edinburg, Virginia, but it was plump
and cool in the refrigerated bins at the grocery store,
and I was not quite awake. I brought five other
items with me to the checkout line, and when
the clerk said “$108” I pulled out my wallet,
and took out my bank card before saying,
“What?” It was payday, when the biggest chunks
of money go out not without a thought but
with less regret and trepidation, but I didn’t
recall ever spending that much money that
early in the morning, which gave me pause.
The clerk was either just young or not
quite awake either or both, but she didn’t
think anything was odd about five items and
a chicken adding up to over a hundred bucks
and asked a manager to come over to help.
That’s when we discovered the $98 chicken,
and the guy behind me in line said, “That
must be one damn good chicken,” and I said,
“And at this price it better not be just good,
but give me superpowers as well.” And
though the guy laughed, I suddenly felt bad,
because there were so many days behind me,
so much dark history in the world, so many
times when I could have made a difference
and I chose this moment to wish for superpowers.
And I remembered when I was five I used to say
to my Mom that when I grew up I would buy her
a Rolls Royce, a diamond ring, a castle. Now
that I’m older, I would much rather cook her
a meal that she’d eat, then say “sarap”—which
means ‘good’ and ‘delicious’—and I’d tell her
how I almost paid a hundred dollars for a chicken.
And I’d take her for a drive, in our dirty, beat-up
car to show her the time, here in the mountains,
in the early evening, when the fragile sunlight
peeking out between the trees is like
the slow glittering of far-flung diamonds.

–Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Wheel As Invented by My Ancestors

Photograph by Jose Padua
Not many people know the real story but
the wheel was invented by my ancestors
back on the islands so you could sit
at one spot during a feast, and have a go
at all the entrees without having to move
around the table with your plate, or keep
changing seats and feel like a loser.
It was invented by a fat man named Phil
who lived in early Neolithic times, and
who recognized that a device like this
would make him a big hit with women.
He was right. And besides, being able
to bring, with a simple spin the grilled
lechon, adobo, lumpia, Chicken Afritada,
and Bibingka to where he and his date sat
made it that much harder for his date to say,
“I’m going to get some Sotanghon,”
then walk to a chafing-dish on the other side
of the room and start talking to another man
who she’ll end up thinking is funnier,
more clever, more handsome, and never
return to the table to sit with big dull Phil.
So the wheel was born, spinning on its
side at feasts, and Phil went on to father
nearly three hundred children of various
shapes and sizes. He knew the names
of them all, though not all of them knew
his name. Just that he was the man
who invented the wheel, this windward looking
man with the many wives, some of whom
had many husbands, in faraway lands,
but by then Phil didn’t mind because
the parties were so damn good. And
although the women and the wives
hadn’t invented the wheel, they studied it,
tested it, inspected it, and lifted it to
a formidable standing position so that
like a gulp of palm wine it could take
you places. And through all the years,
past the age of doubt on through to the
dawning and falling epochs of industry,
they began to make their presence known.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua