Monthly Archives: September 2016

Needles in the Camel’s Eye

Photograph by Jose Padua
I have in my possession volume 2, no. 6,
of the Kurdistan Quarterly, a journal thrown at me
by Giles Warner, vice president of the Kurdistan Freedom
Foundation, when, during a job interview ten years

ago, the phone rang and he wanted to give me
something to do while he took what looked like an
important call. I watched this gangly, white-haired man
speak slowly, affectedly I thought, on the phone, leaning

back in his swivel chair as he pondered question,
response, and result with the most exaggerated
gestures for the simplest actions I’d seen since the last
time I’d watched William Shatner, as Captain Kirk

on Star Trek, put his Federation approved boots back
on, while practically licking his lips with thick and
obvious sexual satisfaction, after getting laid
by a space lady who’s astonishingly hot despite

her shiny weird hair and pupil-less eyes.
Then Giles Warner hung up the phone and looked at me
solemnly, as if he’d just gotten word that the
Supreme Commander of the Federation has just

been assassinated, and said, “The Kurds have no home
of their own.” His eyes suddenly widened, his mouth
opened in a way that looked like a cross between Munch’s
The Scream and Iggy Pop’s mad smile on the cover

of Lust for Life, before he hit me with a huge,
open-mouthed, mood shattering “Ha!”—and as if I should
immediately understand that with every horror
there was a comical irony, a blinding revelation

so obvious that only idiots needed time
to recognize it. I’d had job interviews where I
knew the interviewer hated me, looked down on me,
or thought I was a drunk and a loser but never

before, as strange as I sometimes could be, had
an interviewer out-weirded me. This was a feat,
I thought, an occasion, a cause for feast, that I’d met
someone who was much more than my match for the strangeness,

inappropriateness, and odd-duck/odd-bird bizarreness
of my mind. And we went on like this for over two
hours, waiting to meet the foundation president who
was coming in from the airport, talking about what’s

buried in the earth, what flies in the air without hindrance,
what has happened, what should happen, and what will never
happen because the world is insane and all men are
mad, so what, for God’s sake, should we do? Soon I was

saying things about myself I knew weren’t true, listing
skills I didn’t have, naming tasks I’d never completed,
even though I knew when I’d walked in the door that I’d
never be offered the job. It’s in moments like these

when music disappears, when the soundtrack to my life
turns silent. And it’s not because of fear or terror,
or the breaking of my fragile comfort zone. It’s
the selling of myself, and the corruption it brings

to the surface, gasping for air; that I may have within
me my own version of a bird of prey, going for
the kill I don’t want or can’t feed from, then burying
the bones. It’s the slice of time in which I am stranded,

where crimson can only be called red, a painting by
van Gogh a piece of cloth with a price tag, a song or
symphony a number on a popularity chart,
or a sound like a siren that tells the people it’s

time to enter the concert hall, and they follow, and
I follow and I am diminished in the silence
that follows this. And we are all people without nations,
so we lock our doors at night or sleep lightly here in

the city, in the country, or whatever state of exile
we make our bed in. And I’ve kept my copy of
the Kurdistan Quarterly these ten years, and I
open it now and then, flip through the pages and

somehow I always end up at p. 34, at the bottom of which
is a photo, from the foundation’s tenth anniversary celebration,
and there in the middle, his arms stretched elegantly
on the dance floor, his head at a sophisticated tilt, is Giles Warner,

fighting the good fight, living his beautiful strange life
like me—one phone call, one Iggy Pop smile at a time—
while laughing the sort of laugh that has the power to break the world
apart into pieces before putting it all together once again.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

My Favorite Bartender in New York City

Photograph by Jose Padua
My favorite bartender in New York
wasn’t much for giving out free rounds
and if you drank all night and ended up
getting a single free drink thrown your
way you were having a pretty good night.
My favorite bartender in New York wasn’t
some hot young thing with a sexy foreign
accent but a woman in her 60s who’d say
“Nice to see youse guys” whenever I went
there with one or two of my friends and
“Nice to see youse” whenever I went there
alone. At the old Scorpio bar on Avenue A
you never saw anyone famous because
anyone who was a celebrity conveniently
seemed to go there only on the days
you didn’t so you could drink in peace
without distraction. If there was anything
on the jukebox more recent than Tony Bennett
singing “I Wanna Be Around to Pick Up
the Pieces” you knew better than to play it
more than once a night if you were a regular
and wanted to stay one. When the simple
neon sign in the plate-glass window was on
and the bar was open you knew the day wasn’t over
nor was your life no matter how fast it seemed
to be going in dangerous directions and whatever
needed to be said or heard could be said or heard
inside. I wish I could say that the day Sally
my favorite bartender in New York died
was when I quit drinking so much but it wasn’t.
That, like many other things, happened slowly
over years that were stretched and twisted into
lovely shapes like so much heavy bleeding,
and bred in different spaces more scattered
than all the beautiful mistakes and lucky errors
ever made by any man or woman and me on
the lower east side of Manhattan, New York, USA.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

I Dreamed You Paid Your Dues in Canada

Photograph by Jose Padua
Does Van Morrison drive and if he does
I wonder if he drives a mini-van?
I started driving a mini-van in 2005
when we thought we were going to have
another baby, but we didn’t have that baby
until 2010, and a mini-van is probably
the sort of vehicle you’d expect a man
like me with a wife, a daughter and
a son to drive. Twenty years ago, before
I left for New York, I drove a Dodge
Charger, just like Frank Booth, the wicked
character Dennis Hopper played in David
Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet, and
before that I drove a red VW bug that
one night got smashed to bits by a
brown Pontiac when I parked it outside
the 9:30 Club in DC to see The Bush Tetras,
a band most people remember for the song
“Too Many Creeps” but which I remember
more for my car getting destroyed while
listening to them play that song live on stage.
That’s when I got my Frank Booth car.
And though Dennis Hopper once said
“I am Frank Booth” to David Lynch
and everyone believed him at least a little
bit, that’s not me, even though I did drive
a Frank Booth car for a number of years,
and even though sometimes, at parties,
I would do a Frank Booth-inspired dance,
jerking out my hands in what might be called
an anti-jazz hands move, when what I wished
I could have done was break out in song
with a voice like Van Morrison’s, singing
hush-a-bye don’t ever think about it,
and taking everyone by surprise like that
because it’s not something, it’s a thing
that people wouldn’t think me capable
of doing, just like when I was in fourth grade,
and while waiting in line at the water fountain
I suddenly broke out and danced like James Brown
(for half a minute) as I listened to the sound
of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (Part 1)”
playing in my head the way it sometimes did
in those days. It wasn’t what anyone expected
and it wasn’t even what I expected, especially
since I’m not James Brown and I’m not Frank
Booth or Dennis Hopper or Van Morrison and
I’ve never been mistaken for any of these people
and never been expected to do what they do or did,
because James Brown and Dennis Hopper are dead,
Van Morrison is alive, and Frank Booth never existed,
and I don’t know if Van Morrison is somewhere
right now, behind the wheel of his mini-van,
on the way back home from the grocery store
with a pork roast, a bag of frozen vegetables,
and a half-gallon of strawberry ice cream, but I am,
living my life among the trees and the two-story,
sometimes paint-peeling streets, and though I rarely
get to dance anymore I love these days spent like
leaves floating on low water, and the song that
plays in the background, filling my mind with vision.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And I Walked Through the Market and Stared at the Harbor Lights Through the Soft Rain

Photograph by Jose Padua
Tonight the check-out clerk
at the Martin’s food market
who looks like Jimmie Dale Gilmore
at around the time
of the Spinning Around the Sun album
replied to my “Good, how are you?”
which was my response to his “Hi, how are you?”
with a half shake of his head
and a plainly drawled,
“Well, I guess it’s another day in paradise.”
It’s what he says every time,
probably not so much
because he thinks it’s a great line
that like a funny story is worth
hearing every day,
but because it’s something
he’d like to believe;
and every time he says it
I laugh,
not because I’m trying to be polite,
nor because I’m genuinely amused
at every instance
when he half slyly/half sarcastically
proclaims this to be paradise,
but because I too
would like to believe it.
And sometimes the best way
to express belief of any kind
is to laugh,
whether it’s intensely or hysterically
or so quietly that the only person
who can hear it is yourself—
ten minutes, an hour,
or several days later
when you’re sitting alone in the house
waiting for everyone to get home.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Brief Meditation on the Clouds That Hover Over the DNA Building in York, Pennsylvania

Photograph by Jose Padua
I always knew this was
where the instructions
were written;
it always felt
like a fever
when an illness was finally
lifting;
it’s just that
I was never sure
what the exact words were
whenever I looked up
to the sky reading
mist and vapor;
there was no
dictionary,
no brake to step on
or way to slow down
their subtle movements,
not that speed or
the lack thereof
would do anything
to change things—
not that in an entire lifetime
there was a single action
I could take
to overcome the odds
against me
in this continuing struggle,
and improve my ability to
comprehend clouds.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Hard-Boiled Fatherhood

Photograph by Maggie Padua
Whenever I think about fatherhood
I can’t help thinking that
each time I’ve become father to a child
I’ve managed to dodge that really hard
part at the beginning. If
I were the one who had to carry
a child and have it come out of me
I can tell you I’d be screaming in pain
like the most insane
motherfucker on the planet
on the day of its birth.
Fuck, I’ve seen photographs
of crime scenes
with less blood, less stress,
less sturm und drang
than a goddamn birthing room.
Still, who else but a mother
could challenge me when I take
on that tone of voice,
could tell me when I say that I’m suffering
that my suffering has only begun
and that my suffering ain’t shit
compared to what she’s gone through
and isn’t it about time I stopped
being such a bitch?
Endurance is a mother raising her child,
fatherhood is driving slowly in a fast car
when you’re an hour late and
a loud song that makes you want to pump your fist
then play air guitar
is playing on the fucking radio.
You keep your hands on the wheel
even though your kid’s in the back
screaming and ready to puke
and has a diaper that stinks and needs changing
and you keep your eyes on the road
even though you need to piss
like right now
like a whiny asshole with a tiny bladder
because the asphalt is hot in the summer,
and cold in the winter,
and you’re driving into the kind of sunset
you never see anymore except
in old black and white movies.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Maggie Padua