Category Archives: 3. Literature

Walking to Prospect Hill and Back on These Still Slow Days of Spring

Photograph by Jose Padua
Although my wife takes her walks
up the road to Prospect Hill Cemetery
I stay down on the straight and flat
gray sidewalk of Main Street. There’s
something about the steep hill that’s
too formidable, reminds me of long
lasting pain, and the green and stone
of the graves and the grief that surrounds
every plot and space fills me more with
sadness than peace on early mornings
when my blood has yet to waken me.
She heads up the hill while I ease up
like a slow day off from work and turn
the corner on High Street back toward
our house, then sit on the front porch
to wait. I’m two decades past those
days when I could walk for hours and
hours and hardly feel an ache or trace
of sweat on my brow under cool spring
skies, but what’s astonishing is this:
the way young birds emerge from
oddly speckled eggs, how stars appear
where there once was only mist and
heavy space, and the disappearance
of time during what’s now the light labor
of waiting for my wife to come down
from the hill and the Earth to spin,
our days growing warmer, our nights
shorter as we cross paths with every-
thing that lives and breathes or flies.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Reflections Inspired by the Space Between the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store and the Walmart Supercenter and by the Sky That Rises High Above Us All

Photograph by Jose Padua
On that Saturday night I accidentally took a double dose of my medications. I was sitting at my computer, ready to do some work, and as I usually do, I stopped to take my pills. This time, though, I immediately forgot that I had done so (I do, from time to time, have short term memory issues that have nothing to do with my occasional bouts of transient global amnesia) and one minute later I took them again. When it happened, I wasn’t sure, and I thought, “Wait, did I already take these a minute ago?” It wasn’t until a few hours later when—unable to decide whether I was wide awake and wired or incredibly drowsy and ready to collapse—that I figured out for sure that I had taken a double dose.

I went upstairs and sat in bed, waiting to see if I started to feel really bad and ready to wake up Heather if I did. After a while, the more tense feeling started to subside, and I began to simply feel sleepy. As I considered how perhaps it’s time for me to get one of those pill boxes with which I can sort my medications by the day of the week, I fell asleep. Waking up late in the morning, I felt a little shaky and a little bit out-of-it. It reminded me of the way I’d feel back in my drinking days when I’d wake up on a Sunday afternoon with a bad hangover.

Sometimes that hangover would last for days. I remember one time in New York, after a massive drinking session, running into Mike Buscemi somewhere on Avenue A. Mike had been around at one point during my drinking session, and now, two days later, was kind of surprised to see me up and about. I gather that he thought I was in such bad shape the last time he saw me that it might be a long time before I was out in public again, but there I was.

“Are you OK?” he asked. My head still felt like a cumulus cloud—slow, puffy, and out of reach. But it was nice to be out on the streets of the city, talking to someone.

“I’m still a little out of it,” I said. “But I think I’m starting to get back to normal.” And he gave me that well, hang in there look, which was exactly what I needed so I could enter the real world again.

When I went downstairs the morning after my overdose, I saw that Heather, Maggie, and Julien were out in the back yard. I told Heather what I’d done with my meds the previous night, then sat down as they kicked a soccer ball around. I had that cloudy feeling, and sitting down while watching them move around was exactly what I needed to get my mind, and then my body, moving again.

Later that day, we all made our way out of the house. There was something we needed at the Target store up in Crooked Run just north of town. Afterwards, since it was late and we were all tired, we went to the Cracker Barrel across the road. The hostess sat us at a table by the window. We rarely ever get seated by the window, so it felt like a treat to me, sitting there in the early evening at that point when the descending sun is beginning to turn the clouds yellow and orange. All through dinner, I probably looked at the sky more than I looked at my food. And though I was distracted from the pleasures of my meal—I was quite hungry by then—I didn’t mind it at all.

When we were done, we drove off from the Cracker Barrel to see the sky hovering over the slender road between the Lowe’s Home Improvement store and the Walmart Supercenter. I had to stop and gaze at it for a few moments. Then we drove on—away from Lowe’s, away from Walmart—as I started to feel less and less like a cloud, and more like something that can never be called normal but which nevertheless feels quite fine.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Days of Being Wild

Photograph by Jose Padua
Grade school was one
humiliation after another.
Shitting my pants in first grade
because asking permission
to go to the bathroom
was petrifying horror.
Kids calling me
“Chinese Checkers” in fourth grade
because they didn’t know
any slurs for Filipinos like me,
pushing me to the playground pavement,
then laughing at my Tourette’s tics,
telling me that at the end of eighth grade
I’ll be screaming for my diploma
like a freaking baby.
Now I’m this badass poet.
Say the wrong thing to me
and I’ll fuck up your syntax
with a stray adverb,
write a metaphor that makes
you shit your own pants
like you’re a freaking baby–
yes I used that phrase again
because badass poets
can do that shit.
Because even on the page
revenge is sweet, sweet victory,
and in the late middle
of my mortal days on earth
I am still wild in the heart
as my imperfections lead me ever boldly
up this beautiful, steep hill.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Directions in Music and Other Ways of Approaching the Day

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I pick my five-year-old
son up from school
then stop at the grocery store
to get milk instead
of going straight home
he says “I’ll just stay here
in the car
and listen to Miles Davis”
because right then “Spanish Key”
from Bitches Brew
is playing on
the car stereo and
since it’s a warm spring
day here in the valley
and what he wants to do
sounds better than
what I want to do
we sit in the car
and listen
until the song is over
and we’re thirsty for something other
than sound.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On Remembering the Times and Forgetting the Burden of Days

Photo by Jose Padua
No one ever remembers the times you put the toilet seat down
after using the bathroom, those days when the weatherman
predicted to the exact inch the amount of snow that was going
to fall in the next day’s winter storm. They’ll remember if you
told them an upcoming movie was going to suck but only
if you remind them that back in 1948 you said, “No Orchids
for Miss Blandish
is going to suck, big time” or that in 1990
you said, “Let’s go see GoodFellas instead of Look Who’s
Talking Too
,” but you went ahead and saw Look Who’s Talking
Too
, which pretty much put an end to your forty-two year
relationship. I remember warm spring mornings when I stepped
outside and the world felt blue and green and yellow and I felt
as if I could run a marathon but didn’t because I knew all the
beautiful blooming flowers would eventually make me sneeze
and make my eyes water so that at the end of the run I’d be sobbing
like a baby not because of the thrill of my accomplishments but
because of my stupid allergies. I remember being a boy and
seeing “FUK” spray painted on the wall of the bridge we were
driving over and laughing out loud when my Mom looked at me
and said “Oh, you’re laughing at that” and me not being able
to say it was the misspelling of the word Fuck and not the
word itself I was laughing at, even though the idea of someone,
especially my mother, thinking I was laughing at the word Fuck
was horrifying to me. And over the years I remember the people
who have lent me money or simply given generously to me with
alacrity their time and energy and support and the other varieties
of abstract assistance that keep one going during difficult times,
and although I have rarely ever been able to repay them with
anything in return, much less respond with humility and grace,
I have been able to tell them a funny story or two or lent pause
to days that needed pausing, and in those instances when my
story fails to make them laugh and the hiatuses I create are so
negligible in the space they make between then and now that
they neglect to forget what a bad friend and horrible deadbeat
I am, I offer to tickle them, which except on rare occasions is ample
distraction, and usually enough to get them to change the subject.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua.

Reflections on Shade and Tone as Day Turns to Night in the Valley

Photograph by Jose Padua
We were heading up Route 11 just north of Winchester—me, my wife and my kids—when we found ourselves crossing into West Virginia. Now, there are places where when you see the sign saying Welcome to West Virginia: Wild and Wonderful, things look pretty nice. Usually that’s during the day, when the sun highlights all the green that seems to be approaching you from the distance. This time, though, it was nearly dusk, at that point when the only thing you can see clearly is the landscape that’s close to you. It’s also when, for better or worse, that landscape and whatever buildings and signs and moving objects it includes are bathed in a beautiful yet unflattering light.

That’s when we came across Piggy’s Club—a restaurant, bar, and nightclub with a big sign out front to let you know that you could stay or get your “COLD BEER TO GO.” In the bright sunlight it might have seemed like a fair enough place to get something to eat, and in my drinking days it might have even seemed a reasonable enough place to have a few beers. It was, after all, Saturday night—and on a Saturday night, say, thirty years ago, Piggy’s might have even looked like an oasis of sorts. But then again, maybe not.

In my less hopeful moments, my mind tends to be overrun by feelings of powerlessness and insignificance. Other times I feel fully prepared for whatever form of Apocalypse might lie ahead. On this night, I felt somewhere between these two extremes—which meant that although I was a little nervous about where I might be taking us, I continued to take us there. All I knew for sure was that on this night Piggy’s gravel parking lot was a decent enough place for us to pull over.

Driving slowly to avoid potholes and any other hidden booby traps in Piggy’s parking lot, I turned the car back toward the highway. When I saw that the road was clear, I headed back in the other direction, in search of a place where we might want to spend some time. As fog settled over the valley and a slow drizzle started coming down, that’s what we did. And as the skies turned completely dark, what was once unflattered became beautiful once again, and we drove through it until we found a place where we wanted to be.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Baudelaire

Photograph by Jose Padua
Was it poetry that ate my desire to succeed
and through failure that I succeeded
in thinking only horrible things,
things so horrible poetry could never grasp,
much less control them,
and out of chaos still leave nothing but chaos,
measured accidentally in words?
These nights are like Antarctic nights in short sleeves,
the sound is nice but there is no aroma,
no touch before throwing down the dice
while tangled pieces of string dangle
from my fingers like theories
that cloud one’s mind on sleepless nights.
No poetry can lay its hands on this to heal it,
my lack of tone and the muscle that’s required
to lift dark stones from the bottom of a running river;
this is the task of mud,
this is the sealed entrance,
the leftover shell and mirror.
Before my life of horrible things,
desire, to me, was a hyena
that stays just out of reach
of the lion’s teeth;
it made me take big steps ahead.
I left jackals and wild dogs behind me,
any animal who could not understand me.
My bags were packed before I even knew I was moving;
the words I used led me to construe
that the animals and I are alive,
living in separate worlds when I am high,
feeling my veins as gusts of wind
and my mind like snow on top of a mountain.
Before the horrible things there was desire,
the ambition to move about the stage,
stepping softly with silver clipped wings
to keep me calm;
before desire there was rage every goddamn day,
the flowers falling from my hands,
the smoke rising like a season.
And as the days grew longer or shorter,
depending on whether or not the petals
came apart upon their falling,
and as the continents drifted apart
and the animals evolved into the separate
species of predator and prey,
was when I began to want,
and so learned for the first time
about sorrow.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. An earlier version of this was published at On Barcelona.

Helltown

Photograph by Jose Padua
Back in the familiar wilderness
of tattoo parlors and auto parts
stores, the cheap motels where
there’s always a vacancy, the streets
so dry and sunny you can almost feel
the dirt and grime with your eyes
when you blink, and the teenagers
with their stained shirts and the random
fucks and shits and blow jobs that spill
from their mouths as a substitute for
speech. It’s the quiet boredom of the
normal, non-existential, nothingness
that kills them, that kills me. The boy
who’s the scared misfit with a lisp
and gawking eyes when he talks to us,
when he asks us questions, turns down
the corners of his mouth, squints his eyes
even in the shade and says nothing as he
looks to the ground in an effort to fit in
with the fucks and shits and blow jobs.
This is not bravery nor is it cowardice,
this is neither infamy nor avarice, but
might there be a word for it other than
survival? A sense of accomplishment,
more and other, than that of being alive?
So I look at them looking at me, wide-eyed
like first rides on a roller coaster, thirsty
like summer afternoons with no prospects,
their arms by their sides, their hands empty;
because what tears us down creates us,
and what we tear down creates the stones
we throw, each morning, into the dirty
winding river, ready to shine, ready
to walk the jagged, gravel road home.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Black

Photograph by Jose Padua
I don’t like to wear hats, but sometimes,
when I lived in New York, and it was cold
enough, I’d wear a beret. It was black, of course,

because if it isn’t black it isn’t really a beret.
Most of the clothes I wore in New York were
black, though it was hard to tell because that

rich deep shade was usually faded from being
washed and worn too many times—I didn’t know
the art of wearing one’s clothes gently, I never

mastered that because usually I was the one being
mastered. Mastered by some woman who wore
black better than me, mastered by my inability

to find just the right amount of work, mastered
by the middle class and those things you need
to buy, mastered by my apartment when the

bathtub backed up and the water that rose
from the drain was black. One time I sat
in my apartment listening to the stereo and

imagining that when Nina Simone sang
“Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”
that she was singing it for me. Or that when

Rahsaan Roland Kirk played “Never Can Say
Goodbye” from his album Blacknuss I wasn’t
in my apartment but in the audience, watching,

listening, traveling the lost years through time.
And when I stepped outside with that music
in my head, I put on my beret hoping it would keep

the music there longer. As if music were the key
to everything from the color of clouds to the
brightness of the early morning’s light. As if

on a dark winter night all the shelter I’d need
to keep my significant sound and light secure in
the cold winter air was the power of the color black.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Signs of Life

Photograph by Jose Padua
The Biograph Theater in DC, where I first saw
Casablanca on something other than a TV screen;
Joe Cocker and Leon Russell in Mad Dogs & Englishman,
a rock documentary I saw when I was still too young
to attend a live show what with all the pot smoking
and hippie kids dancing without their shirts; and
Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary while the outraged devout
camped outside the lobby, protesting the film’s supposed
blasphemy, has been a CVS drugstore for over two decades
now, a place where you can buy shaving cream, Slim Jims,
toilet paper, ibuprofen, and all the other tools, necessary or
optional, for living in the 21st Century. But where are those
images, the words, sounds and songs that I also need?
The airplane in black and white and mist that’s about
to lift Ingrid Bergman up and off to a safer place;
Joe Cocker singing and Leon Russell playing “Delta Lady”
with English accent and Oklahoma twang; the irreverent
challenge of taking the divine back down to earth with
allegory. There is a way of living, here, in that moment
that takes you away from whatever commerce brought us
together. That allows you to forget the body while being
of the body, seated, your eyes open, glancing away from
the screen and across the dark auditorium to catch, partly
by accident and partly by intent, the unforgettable sight of
a face, in the crowd, illuminated as much by sound as by light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua