Monthly Archives: April 2016

Notes on an Evening in Which Everything Sounded Like a Song by Lou Reed

Photograph by Jose Padua
Right after we picked up Maggie up from school at 5:30 that afternoon on her return from a school trip, we drove out to the soccerplex for her last regular season game. We told her that if she was exhausted from her trip she could skip the game—and we let her coach know that she might not be able to make it. But as she pulled her suitcase out of the school van, I asked her if she wanted to play and right away she said, “Yes.”

Since it was a nice early evening, we all went—Heather, Maggie, Julien and I. Maggie wasn’t a starter tonight but after a few minutes she got into the game, and as she ran down the field the song “Coney Island Baby” started playing in my head. It’s the sad and beautiful song that closes Lou Reed’s 1976 album of the same name and goes,

You know, man, when I was a young man in high school
you believe it or not I wanted to play football for the coach.
And all those older guys they said he was mean and cruel,
but you know I wanted to play football for the coach…

Now I know that Maggie was playing soccer not American football, which was what Lou Reed was singing about, and Maggie’s coach that spring seems like a nice guy and not at all the mean and cruel man in Lou Reed’s song. But still, on a Friday evening with the sun getting closer and closer to the horizon, “Coney Island Baby” was the perfect thing to have in my head. When I lived in New York, it was the perfect song to play on a Friday night as the sun went down and what drifted into my apartment from Avenue B changed from daytime noise to the nighttime street noises that always felt like music to me.

The song eventually went out of my head and I continued to watch Maggie play. She was doing fine, but pretty soon you could see she was getting tired. At one point she was standing there on the field, her hand on her hip, as if she were waiting for something other than the ball—that’s when the next Lou Reed song came into my head.

This time it was Velvet Underground-era Lou Reed—“I’m Waiting for the Man”:

I’m waiting for my man.
Twenty-six dollars in my hand.
Up to Lexington, 1-2-5.
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive.
I’m waiting for my man.

Again, what’s going on in the song (a drug deal), thankfully, had nothing to do with what was going on in Maggie’s life or my life or Heather’s or Julien’s. But that didn’t matter, because in every other way it seemed to fit. Later in the game, there was one more change of song. That happened when I remembered that the following week was when Maggie would be playing Juliet in her school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. I began to hear the lines,

Caught between the twisted stars,
the plotted lines, the faulty map
that brought Columbus to New York.
Betwixt between the East and West,
he calls on her wearing a leather vest,
the earth squeals and shudders to a halt.

It was the song “Romeo Had Juliette” from Lou Reed’s New York album. It’s a hell of a piece of music, and, standing there watching Maggie play soccer, I was glad our lives were nothing like a Lou Reed song—which is maybe one of the things I love most about these songs and our lives.

At the end of the game, Julien ran out to the field to greet Maggie, and she picked him up and walked with him in her arms back to the sidelines where Heather and I were waiting. And as we packed up our things, I wondered, Why isn’t B.B. King’s music going through my head? Or maybe some lines from the poet Franz Wright, both of whom had died the day before.

That’s when I realized—or maybe recalled is the more accurate word—that everything happens sooner or later. It always does. Because for me everything is the blues, and everything is poetry. Because every moment when something is given to me, something is taken away from someone else. And every moment when something is taken away from me, something is given to someone else. Sometimes that person doesn’t deserve what he gets. Sometimes I don’t deserve what I get.

But that’s the poetry at work. It’s what ties all this together, whether it wants to stay together or not. It’s what keeps all this going, whether it wants to keep going or not. And so these songs will continue to be sung, and all those notes within them will continue to be bent, and these lines will continue to flow, and poetry and the blues will keep going and going until everything is done. Or until there’s nothing else to do.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Meditation on All the Generations Returning to the Sea

Photograph by Jose Padua
The last time I went to Coney Island
I was still a child in so many ways,
melting slowly like glaciers, moving swiftly
like frames of film past the arc lamp.
Both my parents alive, no children of my own,
all my worries migratory like birds and refugees,
my troubles belonged only to me. We had
egg creams before hopping, stepping, gliding
onto a grimy car on the F train; you watched the
beautiful mixed young couples making out
thinking about loose breath and raised fists and
tee shirts getting dirty under the arms. I tried
to catch everything else that went by with
my eyes—a headline on subway shaking newsprint
held opposite me by an old man reading slowly,
spray painted shapes and words in fragments in tunnels,
and “Pray” scratched onto every support beam
by mad geniuses or the livers of sorrowful lives.
It was fast like that. You were German, Jewish,
and other things from Western worlds while I was
all island, second generation messy, with new world
language skills the elders would never approve of,
and I was serious about everything but anger,
your weapon being rage while mine was laughter.
When we stopped getting along it was because I was
starting to grow older, growing out of my old clothes,
wearing down the soles of my sneakers, preferring
to go only where I could get by walking—Downtown,
Midtown, Little Italy, Chinatown with everything else
feeling as far and high and narrow as a bridge or tunnel.
We ate knishes when we got off the F Train, our feet
hitting the sidewalk at Stillwell Avenue at a stand
under the tracks. We walked on the boardwalk and
didn’t talk much before finally making our way to
the beach as the years warmed the waters and the
wind blew on and off along the landscape of our
faces and all the beautiful distance between them.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Listening to Prince Outside Berryville, Virginia and the Last Poem I’ll Ever Write About Godzilla

Photograph by Jose Padua
Driving this winding
country road I
half expect
that when I get past
the next curve
in the woods and
enter a clearing
I’ll see Godzilla,
towering over the horizon,
his eyes blazing,
flames shooting out
from between his jagged-tooth jaws
as he destroys
a pretty red barn
and a quaint little farmhouse
with one grand sweep
of his massive tail,
but instead I just turn
the volume up
on the car stereo
because a Prince song
has started playing
and the world is spinning
beautifully once again.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Because Even in the Darkest of Days Revolution Is a Movement Towards the Light

Photograph by Jose Padua
On the same day in August 1967
when American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell
was killed, my younger
brother was born:
one bad guy down, one new good guy up and running.
Four days later a girl was born
who would grow up smart and beautiful
like a flower by Georgia O’Keeffe
and who would marry me
and help me shine through sleepless nights
and wakeless mornings in the raising of our children
upon the gleaming landscape.
August 1967 was also the month
when Sam & Dave released their hit “Soul Man,”
a record that seemed to spin so steadily on the turntable
at 45 revolutions per minute
I swore it illuminated my concept
of what it meant to be an object in motion.
And somewhere in the universe
there is a city where dusty roads
and paved avenues intersect
like these days from 1967,
changing the world,
rearranging space,
changing what’s in the air
from sound to song,
always moving toward clear light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph of downtown Philadelphia by Jose Padua

The Immeasurable Changes through the Measurable Years

Photograph by Jose Padua
I first saw this stretch of road a little over eight years ago when we began thinking about moving out here to the valley. On that day, we had first driven out to Martinsburg, West Virginia–which is on the MARC train line–because we wanted there to be an easy and reliable way to commute back to the city. A local real estate agent showed us a few houses in Martinsburg, but for one reason or another we found the town depressing. We then decided to look on our own in Front Royal, Virginia. For commuting purposes there was no train, but they did have a bus line.

We drove down Interstate 81 from Martinsburg, then switched over to 522 to get there. The road seemed to go on and on, but the scenery was beautiful. When we got to Front Royal we looked at a place we’d seen online. A hundred year old Victorian, it was a house we never could have afforded if it were anywhere close to DC. As we walked around it and peeked inside, we met a woman from a few houses down who turned out to be the daughter of a nationally syndicated, right wing columnist. I’d seen his work now and then over the years, usually when I was in some waiting room that had nothing else but The Washington Times to read. The words that went through my head whenever I read his columns were never pleasant.

His daughter, however, was nice and told us about the house. How the first floor used to have wall to wall carpeting but now had hard wood floors, how this family of eight had previously lived there, and that they’d left a piano behind and how the piano now came with the house—things like that. That the first person we met here was the daughter of a Washington Times columnist might have given us a clue as to some of the issues this town has. Or that she explained how she never ate at Soul Mountain—the African-American owned restaurant that became our favorite restaurant in town—because she was allergic to seafood. It’s not a seafood restaurant.

Eight years later, the commuter bus line went out of business, and the right wing columnist’s daughter is no longer in the neighborhood, though her father keeps writing his columns. Some things change, some things don’t. We’re still here, in the house that she told us about. The town is now home, and we’re home. But I love taking pictures of the road.

-Jose Padua

All We Need Is This

Photograph by Jose Padua
This afternoon right before
my daughter stands up to play
at her piano recital,
I turn to her and say,
“If you’re nervous just pretend
that everyone in the audience has
six fingers on each hand.
You’ll feel better.”
Over the years I have been comforted
from nervousness and fear
and sometimes worse,
by the notion of my enemies,
rivals, competitors,
and audiences of varying size,
hindered by a useless, extra,
parasitic digit.
“It’s all about not having things
you don’t need,” I tell her later,
“because what we don’t need
won’t help us.”
Neither great wealth
nor unwieldy objects can hand us
the notes or words
or dexterous touch
to play or sing our songs,
because all we need is this.
So we lift our chins,
we hold our notes,
and together we sing
a song as we sit across
the table from each other
under the warm dining room light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

At the Old Jail Downtown

Photograph by Jose Padua
Walking the creaky wooden
floorboards on the second
floor of the museum
at the old jail downtown,
we’re taken back in time
to the early 1800s.
I think how the sky must
have looked bigger then,
how people who were strangers
to one another usually
remained so the rest of their lives,
and how going from one city
to another took more of
a commitment to logistical considerations.
We walk back down
to the first floor’s
more solid footing
and for a moment feel
more secure until the elderly caretaker
tells us how today there are “those people”
who are happy to be in prison
and get their food and
shelter without having to work.
He doesn’t understand why
my wife and even my young
daughter turn silent,
or that the deep
breath I’m taking isn’t
because of the room’s warm, damp air.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Whether You’re Going Away or Going Home Depends More on the Direction of the Wind Than on The Time of Day or What State You’re In

Photograph by Jose Padua
Driving home with
my wife, my daughter, my son
on a Sunday
from the house in
the big city where I grew
up to the house
in the small
town where we live;
thankful to my
mother and father for
the future they
helped make for us
in both city and town;
thankful as the suburbs that
surround the highway
turn to hills and
into mountains
that follow the river;
thankful for the colors
blue, green, and the almost
red that appears in the half dark
near the afternoon’s end;
thankful, above all else
and through hours of confusion
and disconsolation,
for all the days
it took to
get to this.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Art of Moving or Alternate Interpretations of an Old Blues Song

Margarita S. Padua
I’m not sure who took this picture of my mother, though it was probably my father. He was, for a time, interested in photography, especially when he first arrived here in the states. It was taken in the early 1950s in Kalorama Park on Columbia Road in DC.

For a while, up until my older brother Tony was around one year old, they lived close to this park at a building on 18th Street and Kalorama Road. But one day, as my mother explained to Tony years later, one of their neighbors knocked on their door.

“The coloreds are moving in,” he told my Mom. “You have to move.”

My Mom didn’t know what that meant. Apparently this white neighbor of theirs thought Filipinos like us were all right, but didn’t think the same about people he thought of as “colored.”

Of course there were places where we weren’t welcome either, like this place on the Chesapeake Bay called Mayo Beach. In the late 50s or so, when I was a toddler, it was being advertised on TV and radio as being the fun new beach to go to in the DC area. When we got there, though, the guy at the gate took one look at us, shook his head, and said, “No Flips!” Then he made us turn right around.

Tony and I were crying—we just wanted to go to the beach, but they weren’t letting us in. As for my Mom and Dad, all they knew was that the white people made the rules—which was why they left that apartment on 18th and Kalorama.

As my mother explained to Tony, “And the white man said we have to move. So we moved!”

Back then, whether or not you agreed with the white man, you didn’t question him, because that meant trouble and my family didn’t want trouble with anyone. We ended up at another apartment a few blocks away. And, we found another beach to go to on the Chesapeake Bay.

More than half a century later, here in my small town, I keep moving. At a steady pace—not too fast, not too slow—my arms by my sides. And trying, as much as I can, to stay safe, while breaking as many rules as I can along the way

-Jose Padua

On Reaching Into My Pocket For What Keeps Me Alive

Photograph by Jose Padua
Forty years ago during Easter Sunday dinner
when our family friend advises us during
a discussion of the state of things, “Never
trust the police,” I look at his white skin,
his short brown hair, and his clean, tucked-in
shirt and remind myself that this isn’t some
former hippie or some other wild pot-smoking
radical type leftover from the 60s but an attorney
who as long as we’ve know him has had
a respectable job and who now lives out
in the distant suburbs far from my city
neighborhood with his tall, broad-shouldered
wife and their young son. I was old enough then
to know that I wanted to become a writer
and when he heard this he said that the most
important thing for me was to have experience
and he mentioned a few other things but never
once did he mention school. And as I grew up
I came to understand that there are a lot
of people who have an easier time than me
speaking to cops and that there are a lot of people
who have a much harder time, and that even
though there are times when the cops can be
of help, that I need to make sure I really need
them before I call them because speaking
a common language doesn’t mean there
will be always communication between us
which is why I make sure they can always
see my hands when I’m getting a traffic ticket
or walking by them on their beat. And I
understand that by saying, “Don’t shoot, I’m
just reaching into my pocket for a book of
poems,” I could either be explaining what helps me
stay alive or else speaking my last words.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. First published at Vox Populi.