Monthly Archives: July 2016

These So Long Days We Spend in the Middle of Things

Margarita S. Padua
I always loved the way my mother
said the word ‘macapuno,’ which
is a kind of coconut that’s sweeter
and fleshier than the regular kind.
One time after she’d had her stroke
she came into the kitchen looking
for a jar of it, and when she said
‘macapuno’ it sounded like a long
slow journey, each struggled syllable
creating the opening lines of a great
epic. And I thought about all the years
it took for her to get here, living through
war and occupation, work and child-
birth and the raising of us, her children.
Macapuno–the word sounded like world
history, like what I would have said
had I been the first person to walk
on the moon. Macapuno–the sound of
swimmers swimming above the surface,
and the effort of these long cold days
we spend in the making of things.

-Jose Padua

First published at Vox Populi. The photograph of Margarita S. Padua was taken in the Shenandoah Valley in 1950.

Aquarius, and My Name Is Ralph

Photograph by Jose Padua
I’m sitting at a table in a nightclub during
the disco 70s with my friend Paul and his
older friend who’s also named Paul who’s about
five feet tall and is out with a woman in a tight
pink sweater who’s about a foot taller than he is.
Paul No. 2 is probably the smoothest person
I’d ever been in the presence of, or at least he’s

in possession of that cheap kind of smoothness that can
impress an twenty-year-old like me who has no idea
how to be smooth or cool or even just competent
in a place where drinks are served. I’d just finished reading
Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and only then
had I figured out that in most situations saying,
“I just finished reading Crime and Punishment. What do

you think of Raskolnikov?” is not a good pick up
line. Of course, one might say that I’m just not hanging out
with the right sort of crowd for me, and though my mind is
still overwhelmed thinking about the novel and how
Raskolnikov advances from his terrible crime
to develop an awareness of the world outside
of his perhaps self-indulgent sense of alienation,

I’m still incredibly impressed by how Short Paul gets
to have this tall, beautiful woman hanging onto
every smooth and suave utterance of his—things like
“another gin and tonic, please,” and “this song reminds
me of last summer at Myrtle Beach.” I mean, it’s far
short of brilliant and it’s far short of charming and
interesting yet he’s the one controlling the table

like he’s dealing blackjack in Vegas, and he’s the one
with the incredible date, and if he didn’t have
a date when he came in, he was the kind of guy who,
without the tiniest iota of existential doubt,
knew he would have one by the time he left, and I wondered
if I could ever say something like, “Aquarius, and
my name is Ralph,” which for me came out as “Sagittarius,

and my name is Jose,” which when I said it in my head
did nothing but reaffirm my certainty that I
would be spending my life alone, in a prison
of my own making even though I’d never done anything
as horrible as what Raskolnikov did, and who
by the end of the novel somehow ended up
with the virtuous Sonya, but that was where you woke up

while reading the book. That was when you were reminded
that it was fiction. And the song that was playing that night
at the club was by the Floaters, and “Float On” was their
one big hit. And though so many people laugh at the label,
at the idea of a one-hit wonder, as if that’s some
horrible badge of shame, or, if not that, an indication
that someone falls squarely on the pathetic side

of things, I’d always maintained that one hit was more than
most people ever had. What on Earth was wrong with having
just one hit? Not everyone can be like Dostoyevsky
who not only wrote Crime and Punishment but The Idiot
and The Brothers Karamazov among about a dozen other books,
and The Floaters came out of the projects in Detroit to get this
big hit, “Float On,” and I thought that, yeah, it’s hard to get

cooler than that, to keep going takes a lot of work, and
sometimes you had to go so hard you could feel the pain
in every curved surface of your bones, and sometimes you
needed a little bit of luck, and sometimes, when I got older I’d go
through periods when I thought that luck was the only thing,
that like the saying goes it’s better to be lucky than to be good,
and when I was young I never had a moment like that when

I thought that luck might be everything, that it could trump
talent, brains, or even love. But when I was young I was young
for so long, until the world made me learn, made me believe
that one day I had to know it, that I had to feel it, that like
a man who’s let the world beat him down for so long, I had to be
like everyone else, I had to search everywhere, from green earth
to blue sky, to find the things in this world worth killing for.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. First published in Vox Populi.

Movie Night at the Pony Island Motel in Ocracoke and Other Moments of Far-Flung Revelation

Photograph by Jose Padua
On our last night on Ocracoke Island we were all pretty tired, but my daughter wanted to watch a movie. My wife recalled that there was some Juliette Binoche film that was good and might be appropriate for a twelve year to watch, but she couldn’t quite remember the name of it. My daughter then picked up my wife’s iPhone and asked Siri, the personal assistant program, “What movies have Juliette Binoche been in.” Siri answered that she couldn’t find any movies by “Julia No Shit Bitch.” Which meant that that night we didn’t watch any movies by Juliette Binoche or Julia No Shit Bitch.

This is a photograph of a sea bird I took earlier that day on the beach. If I could fly like this, then every day—take my word for it—I would be telling you all some real serious shit.

-Jose Padua

Around the Corner from the Neighborhood Convenience Store and Four Thousand Miles from the Streets of Barcelona

Photograph by Jose Padua
I could be mistaken but
something tells me
that the good ole boy,
sitting up high in
his pickup truck
and smiling smugly
as he watches
a cop hold a young
black man’s face
to the asphalt,
loves his country
almost as much as he
loves his gun collection
and believes strongly
in the building
of walls.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Lean on Me

Photograph by Jose Padua
Back then sausage, eggs, hash browns, and toast cost
under three dollars for breakfast any time of day
at Lesko’s on Avenue A. Cigarettes cost me about two
dollars a pack. A six pack of bad beer I could get
for about the same and I could drink cheaply at any
of the bars where I knew the bartender and I knew
a lot of bartenders. I could walk out of my apartment
on a Sunday morning still half-drunk after not sleeping
all night and see Sade taking a stroll on First Avenue.
Maybe she was on tour, maybe she had a place in town—
I didn’t know, but she was already a huge star.
When I smiled at her she smiled back at me with a smile
that could destroy every nightmare I’d ever had in my life.
She smiled back even though she had no idea
what I might do with that smile. Sinead O’Connor smiled
back at me, too, one hot sweaty New York afternoon in June—
not quite as readily as Sade, but she smiled at me anyway—
a quick and easy smile that she had no reason to keep.
One night as I walked back toward Avenue B
a woman driving by stopped her car, called out
and said, “Excuse me,” lifted her shirt, smiled, and drove off.
The view of her breasts was a gift, on an evening, during a week
when I had nothing going on and could think of nothing that could
move things up or down, backwards or forwards, for me.
Me, I used to always give the guy panhandling outside
the old EAB bank a quarter or two or three. I had
no idea if he could work, I had no idea if he wasn’t
really disabled, I had no idea if he wasn’t fucked up
or crazy. I gave him the money because whether he was
using it for food or to get high he needed it more than me.
I didn’t need it at all, at least not on that day and
on a lot of other days that all looked the same. I’ve got plenty
of weight about me when I stand, even more when I walk
and I walk when I have the time and we all need to get high.
One day or one way, we all need something that holds
us up or lifts us up because without that we fall.
Without that we’re dead, and all the talk and sweat
we live on tells us just look straight ahead,
or that there’s a better day down the road
or through that door, or in another town, but
whatever you do, just resist the urge to look down.
The man at the bank and all the others I gave money
to could do what they wanted to do. As far as
I was concerned they were geniuses and this was my gift.
The EAB bank is gone now, eaten up by Citigroup,
another in a series of open mouths that gnaw on us
and feed on us and never quite kill us until the time is right.
If you can’t deal with being swindled once in a while
by some guy with a two bit scam that gets him drunk
every night, what kind of asshole are you? Have you
forgotten what’s it’s like? Did you ever fucking know?
So much of the time it’s the scum that rises to the top—
the creeps, the goons, the louts, the boors, and other murderers
of souls. If I ever get there close enough to touch you will I
punch you in the gut, take an elbow to your nose, and
grab the money in your pockets? Or will I have learned
how to smile at you until my nightmares are destroyed,
until you shit in your pants like a baby—just so you’ll know,
just so you’ll remember what it’s like not to get high? Will
I, in the cold light of your day, remember how to be kind?

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. Originally published in Sensitive Skin.