Monthly Archives: October 2017

On the Possibility of Creating More Beauty and Less Trash

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was the music of Franz Liszt that had me turning to my daughter Maggie in Armstrong Concert Hall at Shenandoah University that day and mouthing the words, “Holy Fuck!” She mouthed back an exasperated, “Dad!” then we turned back toward the stage, where Nikolay Khozyainov, the Russian pianist, was playing Liszt’s Transcendental Étude, S. 139, No. 4 as if someone were squeezing his balls and wasn’t going to let go until he was done creating the best performance ever of this difficult piece.

Khozyainov had started off the concert with Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob.XVI:49, and both Maggie and I were going “Wow,” but as well as he played Haydn, nothing prepared us for the way he took the music of Franz Liszt and, as good as it already was, made it seem like the best shit ever written. I mean Jesus! Khozyainov went on to do Liszt’s Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata from Années de pèlerinage II, S . 161, then on to close his main program with Schumann’s Arabesque, op. 18 and Fantasy in C Major, op. 17. Whether the music was loud or soft, fast or slow, Khozyainov played it all like he was the most insane motherfucker in the universe.

Of course, when he was done everyone in the audience applauded until it seemed like our hands would start to bleed. He came back out, and then again and again, doing three encores, the last of which was a punked up medley of tunes from Bizet’s Carmen during which he ran his fast fingers sick as fuck up and down the piano. I’d been hoping that maybe he’d pull Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1 out of his hat for a final encore, but his punk rock Bizet made me forget about that.

And I must say, that even though I love jazz, from Sidney Bechet to Sun Ra, and beautiful raw rock and roll shit like the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, and then everything from P-Funk to throat singers like Tanya Tagaq to the did-the-record-get-stuck modern symphonic music of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, there’s nothing like classical music from the Romantic era to make me think, Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck everything he believes, fuck everything he thinks he knows. I mean, there’s so much in the world that’s beautiful and we have to deal with his ugly shit and the massive stench he keeps building up with it and then be civil and polite and respectful about it? Fuck that.

That evening, when Maggie and I got home, I looked up some of the music Nikolay Khozyainov performed and played it for my wife Heather and our five-year old, Julien. They didn’t quite put it this way, but they looked at me and nodded as if to say, “Yeah, this shit is fucking good, motherfucker.” Then we ate dinner.

Late that night, when everyone was asleep, I looked to see if there was any footage of Nikolay Khozyainov playing Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1, and there was–after all, it’s one of those incredibly challenging and beautiful pieces which any badass classical pianist has to try at some point and Khozyainov is definitely a badass. So I listened to it, and Jesus, his Chopin was the fucking shit.

Still, I think the great Argentine pianist Martha Argerich’s take on Chopin was a little better. But then again, is there anything anyone can do that Martha Argerich can’t do better? Hell, back when she smoked cigarettes she smoked cigarettes better than anyone else. There are pictures of her doing it. You can look them up.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Self-Portrait as a Whale in a Hotel Room in York, Pennsylvania

Photograph by Jose Padua
They don’t usually let whales stay in hotel rooms
in these parts, but today they’re making an exception.
Be proud of that fact, just as you are proud of your
great girth and impressive though more practical height.
Remember, if love is a foreign object falling to Earth
from some unknown corner of outer space, you are
the creature it is falling for, which is to say that love,
as always is a miracle and at the same time something
we should always encourage. And remember, too, they
don’t sell plankton or even krill in the vending machines
here, which means you are going to have to settle for
potato chips if you’re lucky, or that strange substance
they call Andy Capp’s Hot Fries if you’re not. If
anyone tries to capture you, play your whale music,
let your voice, which is strange and eerie to the ears
of humans, echo throughout the halls of the hotel, then
slip out the back door, flop your way down the parking lot
back to you car, and drive immediately to Lancaster,
where they may appreciate your presence, though
of course in America today, nothing is guaranteed.
If worse comes to worst, as they say, remember
that you are a mammal and not, as they also say,
a fish out of water. In other words, pull the car over
to the side of the road. Put your emergency lights on,
check your map or your smart phone for the nearest
hospital. If anyone approaches your vehicle as you wait,
roll down your window, be polite, step out if they ask you,
and breathe calmly, lightly, steadily. Remember that
hidden amongst weeds and wreckage, broken lights
and busted pavement, are opportunities. Remember
it’s better to be lucky than beautiful. Remember that
which is scattered over what survives in long, neat
rows. Be thick where everyone else has grown thin.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Days and Nights in the City Where I First Opened My Eyes

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother worked nights at home, daytime too,
in the house, at the sewing machine, making dresses
for women who could afford to have dresses made
for them. We bought our clothes at the store, though
sometimes she would sew something special for us–
a vest, a Barong Tagalog made out of sheer white
fabric which I never wore because I thought it would
make me look even less American than I already did
with what the kids at school sometimes called my
Chinese Checkers eyes. I liked jeans and tee shirts,
sneakers, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and
I’d never think of playing The Reycard Duet with
Tony Maiquez and his Ukelele Gang singing
“Oh! Baby” which was wild and raw and—though
I didn’t know the word for it at the time—badass.
My father took care of the ambassador’s residence,
made sure water ran through every pipe, and lights
went on in every big, fancy bedroom and in the
grand dining room where every piece of furniture
was hand-carved with ivory inlays and where the
long narrow halls were big enough for us to live in.
At nights he served drinks and appetizers to the class
of people who could drink strong drinks and
eat gourmet meals, hoping each night for good tips
and maybe good leftovers which he could bring
home to us—strawberries in custard in a miniature
pie shell, flaky black and white pastries that came in
layers that fell apart like the times as we bit into them,
staying up a little later than we were supposed to,
waiting for our treats, but mostly for him, which
was when my mom would turn the sewing machine
off for the night and come into the fluorescent light
of the kitchen, where we’d sit, the sweet taste on
our tongues interrupting every stray question and
tidy answer, our eyes getting heavier, happy, content
with long tiring days ending in long bright nights.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On These Passing Hours of Butterflies and Dangerous Living


In my darker hours I like to imagine a knitting club
where no one is allowed to smile. I don’t knit, but
this is how my mind works: I think of tigers, consider
our struggle, raise my hand as if asking a question
when I’m not. We sit in a circle, our needles held
like dangerous weapons which at any moment may explode,
fire chunks of lead at suspicious looking strangers, or pierce
the flexed muscle and flesh of our club members. This
is why we don’t wear wool but instead cover ourselves
in body armor. As we knit we look at each other with eyes
like burning cigarettes, so determined to live our dreams.
If we had money we would speak of our investment portfolios,
but since we have none we remain silent. We are ice falling
from mountains, moons tearing away from old orbits.
When we have finished a scarf or a sweater, socks or
a tricolor dickey we do not declare “At last!” or “There,
I am done, look at this!” That wouldn’t be right, and
that’s not what this knitting circle is about. In the old days
we would run around the avenues and never take time
to plan our escape, never contemplate the next move
once we’d binded off our stitches. But the times have changed.
There are windows to be opened, fresh air to be let in.
And when the beautiful noises of the outside world
enter the confines of our inner space, we stretch our arms
and stand in the moment’s fleet gleamings, remembering
that we know how to dance. Our movements are fast as a
purl stitch, and we shine like metal in the late morning light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

If I Could Get High or Something

Photograph by Jose Padua
If I could get high
the way I used to,
I’d talk faster
than the speed of sound
to complete strangers,
tell them the deepest shit I know,
arcane knowledge,
incredible legends,
words from long lost texts,
stories only people
who are total insiders
would know or
even understand. Then,
when I’m done
and the people
have all gone home,
gone to sleep,
whatever,
I’ll make myself
a sandwich,
because when everything
has been said and done,
the only sensible thing
one can do
is to stop, eat, drink,
whatever,
and think about
the future
while staring straight ahead
into the distance.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua