In the photo on the back of an edition
of his selected poems published in England,
Charles Simic looks a lot
like someone I used to see at the
downtown strip joints in the early 80s,
a guy with big glasses and a big forehead,
who was an even bigger dork than me.
I’d go to this one strip joint from time to time,
when I just wanted to be a dork, alone,
but every time I went I’d see him,
which meant he was probably there everyday
with the sort of cluelessness
that put my own cluelessness to shame.
He would communicate with the dancers
by slowly raising and lowering
his trembling eyebrows, over and over,
watching them when they got close
as they stretched arms, legs, torsos
and anything else they had
that could be stretched.
He’d respond by doing the thing with his eyes.
Maybe he thought the dancers
would think it cool or even sexy
in the way that only great poets can be
cool and sexy, putting the rest of the world
to total fucking shame.
I doubt that the guy was actually Charles Simic,
but what if he was?
I’m looking through Simic’s poems to see
if he ever wrote about this,
about doing that annoying thing with his eyes,
and the strippers he tried to impress with it
and whom he went home with
and loved and left before
driving off in his sensible car
to write more great poems.
I know he wrote with loving enthusiasm about breasts,
but did he ever write about going to grungy strip joints?
That would be evidence that the guy
doing the eyebrow thing really was Simic.
But when I consider the possibility that
the real Charles Simic would do such a thing
and try to court and bend the world
with such unimaginative motions
I come to the conclusion that
no, I was never in the company
of this great poet
in a downtown strip joint.
Why the real Simic would have the dancers
sitting down with him, surrounding him.
He’d buy them drinks and entertain them with observations
about the baby pictures of famous dictators,
discuss his neighbors, the formidable Hittites,
and ride almost roughshod
over the list of classic ballroom dances
he’d mastered in the matter
of just a few short years.
Or, would he attempt to assert his mastery of the arts,
his mastery of the fantastic, the unimaginable,
by doing the dorkiest thing possible?
Yes, I think finally and with certainty,
it was him, I know it was him.
Confident, insouciant, unafraid, even
proud to stand up from his table
while both women and men rolled
their bloodshot, liquored eyes,
then shook their heads at him behind his sturdy back
as he approached the exit,
hit the sidewalk,
pulled out the keys to his 1974 Dodge Dart,
then headed back home to the books
and their innumerable blunt images and dark words.
To the loving discomfort of our sometimes unfathomable art.
Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when I think of Petula Clark
I think the planets have stopped spinning
around the sun. That all of space is still
as the universe takes a moment to catch
its breath and pay homage to the simple
perfect sound of her voice. So many kids
nowadays have no idea who Petula Clark is
or the power that Glenn Gould could wield
with the pure touch of his fingers on the piano
keys. So many of us think everything should
be easy. That pomegranates will appear
like everyday miracles in the produce aisle
near the entrance to the grocery store, that
love will suddenly rain down upon the young
like summer thunderstorms, leading them
to seek shelter before their clothes get too wet,
the atmosphere too electric, as logic and
proper grammar get lost among the swirling ions.
I think if Petula Clark had the power to raise
Glenn Gould from the dead she would, and
if Glenn Gould were alive and Petula Clark
dead, he would do the same for her. This is
how we take care of one another; this is how
each generation builds upon what the last
generation left behind. And maybe this is how
once again I’ll see everyone I’ve ever lost;
when stepping outside into spring rain I mix up
memory and space, mountain and the brittle
pages of an old book as stones roll down the
mountain slope and paper breaks apart between
my fingers. Thinking of what might have been,
I save every piece of paper and take my time
coming down from the mountain, believing
in the wisdom of taking the long way home.
Photograph by Jose Padua
Posted in 3. Literature, 5. Music, Photography, Poetry, The South
Tagged Glenn Gould, Jose Padua, Petula Clark, piano, poem, Poetry, time
The stray cat appeared in our yard making
the most mournful sounds. Last year’s
dead leaves were caked on its black fur;
dirt covered its paws. I thought it was dying,
but my daughter said let’s feed it, and it came
back the next day. Sounding less mournful,
it was hungry for more. We gave it dry food
and water, started calling it a he and he started
to look at us more, and came up from the yard
to the front porch. Every day, we fed him,
and he started rubbing against my shoes,
the bottoms of my daughter’s jeans when
we sat on the porch on sunny afternoons,
waiting for my wife to get home. His sounds
weren’t mournful, now, and when he looked up
at us he wasn’t always hoping for food. Soon
he looked strong, and we placed a cat bed
on the porch and in few days he began
to use it. Our seldom sober but nice neighbor
said she saw her running around in heat late
one night just the other week. That’s when we
discovered it was a she not a he. My daughter
named him Chocolate Drop, after the string band,
the Carolina Chocolate Drops. She had seen
them play live in concert and remembered them
fondly; she could almost hear the sound of a banjo
and fiddle in Chocolate Drop’s deep-toned purr.
Me, I still have trouble remembering to say she
instead of he, and her instead of him, when I talk
and when I write or even when I think about my
daughter’s new adopted cat. Still, I like to imagine;
I wonder about things that may one day rise slowly
from beneath dry, brown grass; the beautiful sights
made visible by the drifting off of clouds, and the
slow telling of tall tales under the hunter’s full moon.
Photograph by Maggie Padua
Posted in 3. Literature, 5. Music, Memoir, Photography, Poetry, Shenandoah Valley, The South
Tagged Carolina Chocolate Drops, Jose Padua, Maggie Padua, photography, poem, Poetry, stray cat
Remember all ye tedious millionaires the bent
honeysuckle whose white flowers bloom in the
late spring. Remember the burden of the books
you burn, the smoke that stains the glass you
look through every morning and the false smiles
you pawn like old guitars with your quick and
clean motions. The less we know the easier you
breathe. The less we know the easier it is for you
to pass the blame. What I remember is the land-
scape of a place I never knew the name of. We
were somewhere, in the country, getting out of
our ’59 Chevy Impala, and the ground felt more
secure beneath my feet then, and I walked straight
ahead to a house where I saw people inside, speaking.
– Jose Padua
Photograph by Jose Padua
Our premiere anatomist draws themes
as sharp as razors, has managed to stay
perfectly balanced, in full possession of
her craft. Each one is a gift, a rich visual
palette over sharp portraits of people, it
embodies the specific arresting psycho-
logical landscape, brief but powerful
moments, and abandonment, after our
failure and neglect. History is layered, full
of bones and ghosts, herself a storm of beau-
tiful, frightening talent. Like the estranged
lover in one of her poems, her lines measure
the vulnerable grace of working people:
What is time? Why are you wasting your life?
A poem constructed from the blurbs for Bob Hicok’s Insomnia Diary, Julianna Baggott’s This Country of Mothers, Natasha Trethewey’s Domestic Work and Native Guard, Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, Ron Padgett’s How to Be Perfect, and Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife. Photograph of a building in Middletown, Pennsylvania, by Jose Padua.
If I could write pretty words about trees
I would note how green is a color with
a subtle glow best admired in the vanishing
hour before dusk. As you watch it, it looks back,
looks through you as if you were glass,
as if you were the collision of time and light.
Green comes from the strings of a guitar playing
“Almost Blue” at sunrise. Though the moment
is right it’s not the song you expect because
green is a surprise that can’t be given away,
a plot from a film that makes you shiver
more than memory. Green is like that. Green
begs for the deafening storms that come
when you run for cover in the middle of a day,
then pushes its way out by bending shades
of gray like a psychic bending spoons.
I have suffered green, its various whims,
furies, and implacable attitudes, but it hesitates
to suffer for me. So I look at green through
the shifting heat and steam of this winding
highway. I love how green moves when I’m
not watching, when I look down to my hands
to steady my direction and find the new
shapes it created when I meet it again with
my sleep deprived eyes. Green—there is
a shaking in the earth like an old legend
come to life, a mythical creature come looking
for its day and its mate under the hot, hot sun.
Green—it’s a sound I will follow like that
of my blood running through my veins.
Green, I am old and I am lost and
I am so far behind the times and so slow
with grief and consternation and my heavy,
tired feet and my full and swollen belly
but the world is spinning tonight.
First published, in an earlier version, in Gargoyle.
I am writing this because my world is
being made uninhabitable by assholes.
I am standing still on a manhole cover
that’s about to explode upward as the
shoreline moves closer to my feet. I
land in a city a hundred and forty miles
away and brush the ash from my shoulders,
exhale the smoke that accompanied my rising,
then after a half hour spent coughing breathe
new air into my lungs. I am walking into
a restaurant where everyone is armed
but me. They are watching the game on
TV. I eat my meal and kill time by pretending
to watch the game with them when I don’t care
about games and I don’t care about TV.
I overhear the wealthy family man whose
inspirational holiday pep talk about the playthings
he brings into his swinger’s bedroom is
“you gotta treat them like pieces of meat.”
I see a woman dressed like a mobile crucifixion
scene stand up and scream when the home team
scores. When she sees me she reaches for her Glock.
I have been drinking so much coffee and need
to pee so badly that I am now faster than any
gun. So I fly away from the red, white, and blue.
Over rows of beer mugs and plates of greasy
chicken wings, I float toward the fading light
of the western world’s flaming sunset, ready
to score my first touchdown as I consider the
ways I might make America great once again.
Photograph by Jose Padua
My favorite thing to say in German
is “meine Rundfunkapparat ist kaput”
while in English my favorite phrase
is “I love you” which I say all the time to
my wife and kids.
Sometimes I wonder if as I age
I may begin to mix things up
and say “I love you” to the stranger
to whom I’m demonstrating
one of three sentences
I know in German
while telling my wife and kids
“mein Rundfunkapparat ist kaputt”
meaning “my radio is broken”
when they go to bed
or go off for the day
to do the things they need to do.
Already my daughter has learned
from me that you can bid a person farewell
by saying, “Mutter wir haben post,”
meaning, “Mother we have mail.”
She knows these words are wrong and have
nothing to do with farewells or so-longs
or even see-you-laters
and that most people say “Goodbye”
but she loves to say the only words in German
that she knows as do I.
Perhaps one day my son,
will say “I love you”
during a discussion of Newton’s First Law
upon realizing these words
are the shortest distance toward
an understanding of basic physics,
and “schönes Wetter heute”
(nice weather today)
down in the valley,
when it’s four in the morning
and everyone else is asleep and
he feels that finally,
after long, slow years of doubt and indecision,
progress is being made.
Photograph by Jose Padua
This is my portrait of America in plastic surgery procedures:
a new nose for George Washington.
America, behold his new nose!
The Grand Canyon, too deep—
who can understand its great perspective these days?
Rock and stone are too slow;
actions need to start right away.
Let’s add a fucking car chase ride over the edge and back
as scary as a Texas heart attack.
Alabama, you have a fat ass.
Let me fix that for you now.
Minnesota, your tits are starting to sag.
Do you think a Midwestern cowboy
will want to look at that,
do you think he’ll want to grab that sag, you hag?
Instinct tells us that variations on the infinite are finite.
Science tells us that the number of days in one’s youth is limited.
So bend up instead of down, America.
William Howard Taft can now touch his toes.
Ronald Reagan will lose the wrinkles
around his eyes and make the rich even richer—
that’s right, the money still goes to the biggest assholes.
A face tightened like plastic will last
just as long as plastic and will inherit the earth
along with all the profits.
A face peeled like an apple will grapple
with enemy combatants who seek
to destroy the land of your birthday suit,
America, one nation under a plastic surgeon’s knife.
America, state your rights, bleach your teeth,
bleach your mind and your anus
will have no choice but to follow.
America, as the bible belt expands
the wrinkles run from east to west
though we have tried to keep them from spreading
by tweeting as often as we can.
The plastic surgeon is our pied piper.
He can’t keep up, he’s not getting it all done.
He hasn’t rested in over two hundred years.
But today, he puts down his knife; he looks down upon us,
he takes a sharp-focus picture;
then takes the time to consider the great skill he wields
with his slightly wrinkled fingers.
Photograph by Jose Padua
I can’t imagine how boring I’d be now
if I’d always been the best person
I could be instead of operating
at fifty percent of my capacity
or sometimes even less.
I can’t imagine the trouble I’d be
if I’d never totally failed at anything,
if I could sing a song like a rock star
when I was young, give the girls
that rock star look of total confidence,
why-try-to-resist-me look, or if
I’d been better at applying the principles
of higher mathematics to my ambitions,
devised a formula that would have made me
a success in my chosen field twenty years ago
at the age of thirty-five. Oh, the times
when I just didn’t know what to do;
when like a set of instructions written
in a language no one understands,
I wasn’t of much help to anyone;
and all those years that seemed to stretch
me between long seasons that looked
like they were about to break me.
I can’t imagine how having been
smooth and calm in my younger days
would do anything other than ruin me
for these more recent weeks, run me down,
my arms falling to my sides, my legs collapsing
beneath me fragile as an old wooden chair that’s
been left out too long in the cold and damp.
And I can’t imagine these days being more
beautiful for my being wealthier, this
frail house feeling warmer for being newer,
and my life being better for being certain
of how to stand, how to walk, how to grow
old a little more slowly. Sanctuary is never
the reason for these dense mornings,
these softer evenings, these nights like
moments of sweet enlightenment;
and preservation is best left for houses
and monuments; all the solid objects
that might be laid to waste if they
weren’t busy being made; or being born.
Photograph by Jose Padua