Category Archives: 3. Literature

Nirvana

Photograph by Jose Padua
Among the things I never
could have imagined
back in the day
at a Lower East Side
bar while hearing
some song called
“Heart-Shaped Box”
pulsing out of
the speakers
was that over
twenty years later
my almost twelve year
old daughter
would be learning
to play the insides
of it on guitar—
the fuzz, the blur,
the sweep—
and that I’d be
living in a small
town in Virginia,
enjoying the
path I’m taking
and the unobscured view
of blue mountains
as my hair
slowly turns
gray.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Grammar of the Days and These Evenings of a Million Words

SouthStreet_20160317_084112_Edit
These warm sunny afternoons
I remember how my father would sit
on the front porch for minutes, maybe hours,
saying it was a good day to have a sunbath.
It was never about going out to sunbathe,
about going out to do, but going out to have—
sunbath the noun, versus sunbathe the verb,
thing versus action, with the emphasis
on light and moment rather than
the passage of time.
Now whenever I sit in the bright sunlight,
I contemplate not what passes by
or what comes into view then vanishes,
but the beautiful stillness
and splendor of staying in place;
I think of the many things I never want to have,
and then I stop thinking about them.
And as afternoon becomes evening
in that hour when color is a movement
you can almost touch,
I can see my father’s face
like a glowing in the sunset’s early light,
telling a story about the days
one million words long
without ever moving his lips.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

We Are Family and Other Ways of Approaching the Concept of Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
When my daughter says she has a presentation to do
for her junior high school science class on how the
chicken may be a direct descendent of the dinosaur
I tell her I have just the thing for her to include and
I dig up a quote from Werner Herzog that says “Look
into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity;
it is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity;
they are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish
creatures in the world” and I print it on a sheet of paper
which my daughter conveniently forgets on the dining
room table when she picks up her back pack and heads
out the door to go to school the following morning. And
so I sit and write this down because in my own way I
too am descended from dinosaurs, which means that
from the dinosaurs to the chickens we are all family,
gifted in various ways and degrees, and that through
the epochs, eras, and eons, we have come to this point
on this day with the sun shining over us and a million
and one paths ahead of us through the universe, creating
sweet distances from the rough, uncertain days of our birth.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Brief Note on the Effect of Pig’s Blood on the Migration of Souls

Photograph by Jose Padua
At a rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, in February, 2016, fascist/racist presidential candidate Donald Trump repeated the apocryphal story that in the Philippines, more than a century ago, Gen. John Pershing “took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood,” and shot 49 Muslim rebels. To “the 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.” The words below are meant to say, in effect, that for Donald Trump and his supporters, their problems are just beginning.

Islands are in
my blood
if not my bones
which grew here
while the color
that flows in them
came down
through the centuries
to meet me on
solid land
where I wait.
I could feel the breeze
and the rain
both through
and in
my skin,
could celebrate
the days
without a lesson,
but was
taught from
humble beginnings
how to stand.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And the Stars Shine Like Dim Light Bulbs at the Old Motel Downtown

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was one of those evenings when
the social worker didn’t show up
and I had a waiting room full of
poor and homeless people needing
food or food stamps or money or
sometimes just cigarettes and it was
my job in high school answering the
phone and the door at the church rectory.
That’s when Mary Hayes came out of
the waiting room, walked down the hall
with the sort of grace that years on
the streets had done nothing to diminish,
then stood in front of me more annoyed
than scared and said in her precisely
annunciated Irish accent, “there’s a man
in there who keeps saying he’s going to
kill us,” and I walked in to see a man wearing
a soldier’s hat who kept looking down
to the rug and who wouldn’t lift his head
telling me, “I’m a man, you’re nothing.”
And it took a few minutes of telling him
he couldn’t threaten everyone else and
expect to get help but I got him to stand up,
his head still pointed down, and he made
his way to the door and out and down
the steps to the rest of the darkening city
and everyone in the room felt better again.
I split whatever dollar bills and change I had
on me with Mr. Thomas Jefferson Isaac
and Rose Conti and Rabbi Jerome Diamond
and all my poor homeless friends even though
what I was supposed to do when the social
worker was AWOL was just tell them to come
back the next day. And right before she left
Mary Hayes after having seen me on so many
days in the past year asked me for the first time,
“And what is your name?” and I told her my
name proudly and I annunciated precisely
just as she did whenever she spoke just to
make sure she’d understand and because
her asking my name after all this time
was like being told that yes there are stars
in the sky and even though they are dim
and don’t shine for us it is by their light
that sometimes with a little luck and a little
persistence we get where we’re going anyway.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Come and Play in the Milky Night

Photograph by Jose Padua
At the IHOP in Winchester one night, we were paying for our dinner when the young woman behind the cash register noticed that my young son was looking at something behind her.

“Oh, are you looking at these?” she said, pointing to a display of Bendaroos (those little wax sticks you can bend into a variety of shapes) that was stuck to the glass partition behind her. My son looked at her, but didn’t say anything.

“Well, no,” my wife said. “Actually, he’s looking at the map there.” She pointed to the world map silhouette that was stenciled to the glass next to the Bendaroos.

“Oh, yeah?” the woman said. “You like this?”

“What continent is that?” My wife asked our son as she pointed to a section on the map, none of which were marked or labeled.

“Africa!” he said cheerfully. Our daughter—his big sister—who was standing next to him, smiled thoughtfully.

“Whoa!” the woman said, her eyes widening in amazement.

My wife moved her finger to the right, “What’s this country?”

“India!” he said right away, as my wife, our daughter, and I looked on, amused.

“Wow!” the woman exclaimed. “How old is he?”

“He’s five,” my wife said.

“Just five?” Then she added, “I don’t know what any of these are.” Which meant that my son could have been giving the wrong answers, and she still would have been impressed. But he wasn’t giving the wrong answers.

“What’s that?” my wife then asked our son, pointing to the lower right corner of the map.

“Australia!” he answered.

“Oh my god!” the woman said, and her mouth stayed open for what must have been half a minute after she’d said it.

“He likes all sorts of animals,” my wife explained. “So he likes to know where they come from.”

“OK,” the woman said. Again, her mouth stayed open after she spoke.

In the meantime, I’d signed the receipt for our dinner, and we were ready to go.

“Well, have a good night,” the woman said.

We all said Good Night back to her.

As we headed out, I heard the woman say, “Holy crap!” right before the door swung shut behind us. My wife, my daughter, my son, and I walked toward our car—each of us, I’m pretty sure, glancing up at the sky before we got in. This was back in the fall, and there were long winter nights ahead of us. In preparation for them, it seemed like a good idea to remind ourselves of our place in the universe. Then we got in our car, ready to take whatever steps were necessary to get there.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And Sunbeams Fell Lightly Upon the Edge of the Grocery Store Parking Lot

Photograph by Jose Padua
Yesterday on the parking lot of the Martin’s grocery store here in Front Royal a woman nearly ran me over after I dropped off my shopping cart in the corral. I can’t say for sure, but I gathered that she was one of those people who like to pretend folks like me aren’t here. I yelled, she ignored it, then got out of her car and headed straight to the store entrance, her headed tilted upward as if she were praying for me to disappear.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had trouble in this parking lot. There was that one time a group of good ole boys in their jacked up pickup truck started revving their engine when I was about to go onto the crosswalk in front of them. After they’d revved the engine, I wasn’t about to take a chance crossing in front of them, so I waited for them to move on and they laughed and jeered at me as they drove off.

Then there was that other time when I was in my car, stopped at the cross walk to let a woman go by when another woman who was talking to a policeman then alerted the policeman that I had just nearly hit someone with my car. The policeman came up to me and told me to pull over. He advised me to slow down and even though I wasn’t speeding through the parking lot, I said “OK, sorry officer. I’ll be careful” because a lot of times it doesn’t help your case when you say what really happened.

Sometimes I feel so ill-equipped for life here. Sometimes I feel so ill-prepared. I remember one time at a reading close to DC, in Arlington, I’d read one or two poems that mentioned having Tourette’s Syndrome and probably OCD too, and afterwards these two people in the audience started asking if I’d tried this therapy or that and asking as if these were things I’d ever heard of. They were asking me questions based on the assumption that I wanted to change—that I wanted to fix myself. But the thing is, I’m not trying to change. And even though I may be poorly equipped to deal with certain things—with a lot of things, actually—I’m not trying to fix myself. For me that would be a giving up, and whatever remedies are out there would bore me to death, because what I’m trying to do is survive and remain exactly what I am. That’s what’s interesting for me. That’s the challenge.

Sometimes I think that anything else wouldn’t really be survival, but merely a slowing down of the blood inside of me. Me, I want my blood to move. I want it, at least some of the time, to feel like fire.

Earlier this evening, I had to go back to the grocery store. This time everything went pretty smoothly, until I was done and got back to my car. That’s when I saw one of those pickup trucks with two big Confederate flags hanging on flag poles in the back. It was parked right next to my car, and there was nobody in it. And nobody around. I wanted to spit on it, but again, there was nobody around. Who would I be sending a message to but myself? And there was always the possibility that someone was watching, and I just didn’t see them.

So I stayed calm, got in my car, and took a picture of it. That’s one obsession I’m always going to give in to. My obsession with documenting as much as I can. The obsession that requires me to complete whatever formulas are in my head. But I’m not going to post the picture I took. Not this time, anyway.

Instead, here’s a photograph of part of the valley taken from the stretch of Route 522 that lies between the General John Reese Kenly Memorial Bridge and the Cosme Tuazon Padua Memorial Bridge. Whenever I take the time to look up at the mountains or down to the river here, I feel as if the strength inside of me is constant. I feel the strength when I hear my twelve year old daughter playing guitar or piano. Lately, the song I’ve been hearing her play on guitar is the Vaselines’ revamping of an old hymn, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” and on piano, it’s one of Chopin’s waltzes. I feel the strength whenever my five year old son asks me to play Miles Davis in the car after I pick him up from school. Or when he hears the name Donald Trump mentioned if the news is on and says, “Donald Trump. No.” I feel it when my wife wakes up early in the morning, on a weekend after another busy week to work on her own book and write. And it’s in these moments that I go on being myself. And, because it’s the only way I know how, I go on surviving.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And It Was Early Spring in the Hour of Insects

Photograph by Jose Padua
On the night before my daughter’s
first soccer game of the season
I offer her some practical instruction
and advise her that if you kick the ball
into the wrong goal and one of your
teammates turns toward you just say,
“What choo lookin’ at?”
and glare at your teammate
with calm intensity
since it’s not really a question.
I tell her there should be
a level feeling in your throat
when you say it,
and your voice shouldn’t rise toward the end,
because you’re saying it in a way
that doesn’t beg for a response
and if you say it just right
any attempt at answering it
will immediately be followed
by a sense of regret.
Although she know I’m half joking,
she knows there’s another half of me that’s not,
and I can tell from the brief
spell of silence on her face
that’s she’s far from being over
that stage in life
when every question needs an answer
but one day she’ll know
that when you’re old enough,
you learn to stop asking for answers
from the ill-informed,
the insecure, or anyone whose knowledge
of the world is obtained
by being afraid of it.
Then we walk toward the soccer fields
at the edge of town
on the grounds of what used to be
the old Avtex Fiber plant,
breathing in the fresh air and
hearing the buzzing
of the early evening’s first insects
a few hours before dark.

-Jose Padua

Reflections on a Lesson that Would Soon Be Made More Clear to Me by Gil Scott-Heron

Photograph by Jose Padua
In 1971 I’m
thirteen years old
watching a big
Vietnam war protest
on television when
the bearded guy
speaking to the
crowd starts chanting
Fuck Richard Nixon!
Fuck Richard Nixon!

and the instant
the TV station
cuts the sound
is when I
realize that if
I want to
witness the revolution
I will eventually
have to turn
the TV off.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In the Future All the Heavy Lifting Will Be Done by Those Who Live and Rejoice and Die in the Streets

Photograph by Jose Padua
Among the sad though not the saddest
thing or things I ever saw was when
the transgender junkie on Avenue A
had just lifted a pint of berries from
a corner bodega and opened it up
with a big ready-to-eat smile when
she suddenly got the shakes so bad
every single berry in the pint container
bounced up and out and down to the
busy sidewalk to get stomped on
by all the people passing by and
as I said it was it was sad but
to watch the berries bouncing up
like they were alive was almost
funny and even her junkie eyes
lit up with glee between shakes
as she watched her stolen meal
fall piece by piece to the dirty ground.
The last time I saw her doing her thing
I was six blocks west at the old
Cedar Tavern where she snatched
a twenty from the tip jar and I ratted
on her, telling my friend the bartender
who grabbed the twenty back then
kicked her out, and even though
I’m sure she needed the money more
than either my bartender friend and me
that was one of the bars where I drank
and where I felt I was home and
goddammit no one was going to rip off
my home no matter how strung out
or junk sick and desperate you were.
And I walked back toward my neighborhood,
just as slowly as she snatched the cash
and with my own pockets empty,
wondering almost aloud, and definitely alone,
talking to the stars as if they were priests in church
and I’d become a solemn believer again
which I knew I never would, never could,
asking about all the things I could have done differently,
walking with my tired but steady limbs through sad
puffs of my own cigarette smoke and the aging
bourbon on my breath back to my side of town.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua