Category Archives: 3. Literature

New Year’s Resolutions Written While Listening to Albert Ayler’s ‘Truth Is Marching In’

Photograph by Jose Padua
This coming year I will try to take everything
personally and to cultivate lengthier states
of hysteria in the course of my day to day living.
I will do everything in my power to gain more
weight, to feel the blood rushing through my veins
upon hearing of the latest absurdity, upon being
at the receiving end of a significant snub or slight,
upon peeing on my shoes when I go to the bathroom
and am in too much of a hurry to watch what
I am doing not that I ever do that anyhow.
I will write a hit song that’s total bullshit.
I will sit on my ass completely still until some-
thing starts to feel sore or I start to bleed inside.
I will learn what it means to be proactive.
I will drive around my small town until I am lost
or am so bored and tired I have no choice but
to park and take a nap, whichever comes first.
I will drown whatever sorrows I may have by
drinking glass after glass of cold water and
pretend that it is fine wine from the south
of France. I will drink fine wine from the south
of France and pretend I am the late Bob Ross,
painting my latest masterpiece that includes
a landscape of green trees, blue birds, and
clouds, so many beautiful clouds. I will walk
along these streets, I will think about the books
that could be filled with stories about the things
that happened here, and I will believe in nothing.
Not the things that happen only on television,
not the useless distractions that take me away
from the history of mountains and trees and
the steady power of slow-moving rivers;
not the world of diamonds and hard gold
because above all else I am a human, walking
on solid ground under multi-colored skies through
an atmosphere riding its planet through space,
born with a powerful yearning to breathe.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In the Valley of the Bobs

Photograph by Jose Padua
There’s nothing more frightening
than a man named Bob. Not a day
goes by when I don’t think, Bob is
coming to get me
. Not a motion passes
before my tired eyes when I don’t think,
Bob Bob Bob. I hear the sound of Bob’s
footsteps two blocks away, walking
up my street, going up to my front
porch, knowing that when he gets
to my door he won’t bother to knock.
When I was a kid there were menacing
Bobs in my neighborhood, guys who
I knew had knives in their back pockets
or guns in their Bob-sized boots. Bob X.
was not my friend, nor was Bob Y, nor
was Bob Z, and I’m not talking about Bob
Dylan who was always really a Robert
not a Bob. But those Bobs couldn’t get
close to me the way the Bobs can today.
It wasn’t me who ripped Bob off,
but that doesn’t matter to Bob. He
doesn’t care who did what or where
or why because this is Bob’s world now
and the hills are alive with the sound
of Bob’s pissed-offness. I see those hills
bouncing as if they were bulls in the rodeo,
tossing cowboys off their backs. I see them
bobbing for Bob against the bold blue sky
while he eats his morning bacon. It is summer
and the Bobs are taking back the country.
It is summer and the Bobs are just around
the corner, singing their horrible songs,
holding out their hands as I look straight ahead
holding my head up like a statue, walking
a line like a robot watching his step. This is
how I live here in the valley of the shadow,
in the valley of the Bobs, staring at the Bobs
as they look away, as they stop to ask questions,
as the robins stretch their wings, and rise
from the ground like malevolent angels
because everyone and everything is afraid
and the next Bob is around the corner,
counting fingers, eyes, hands, souls.

-Jose Padua

First published at Truck.

Joy and Comfort

Photograph by Jose Padua
Whenever I see the word Joy
stitched into the bright red
cloth of the Christmas towel
hanging in the bathroom
what I hear in my head
isn’t “Joy to the World,”
a song I learned to play
on guitar by listening to
John Fahey’s version
when I was fourteen,
but “Joy,” a song sung by
Teddy Pendergrass in
1988 when I was 30
years old. For a few years
I could sort of play guitar
like John Fahey, sort of
re-create his sting and
drone when I plucked the steel
strings but my voice could
never come close to the smoky
sweetness of Teddy Pendergrass.
And in the several years after
I turned 31 I took the train
back from New York
to DC then back again
every year at Christmas,
coming home and going
back again like a sentimental
song in a major key that
sounds so much sadder
than you think it should.
I went back to the Lower
East Side where “crackhead”
wasn’t another word for an
asshole or a loser and was
only used when you were
talking about your friend
who was addicted to crack,
and art was created by
the people for the people
and product was what was
left on the floor and swept
into the trash or flushed
down the toilet once we
thought we’d made sense
of everything. Sometimes
we were wrong. Now I live
in a small town away from
the big city and I rarely
ever take the train or even
the bus and I’m rarely ever
away from home. Now joy
is like a bird on a sidewalk
somewhere off Main Street,
flapping its wings briefly
before deciding there’s no
hurry, no reason to rush or
leave the warm, calm comfort
of the middle of things.
John Fahey died in 2001,
Teddy Pendergrass in 2010,
and whenever I hear their
music in my head or in
the world I am reminded
of days gone by, and I turn
away from the bright red
of the cloth that hangs
against the deep green of
the bathroom wall and walk
out into the shadowing yellow
and slow, lowering blue of
this beautiful, young morning.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Further Notes and Observations on the Spirit That Moves Us

Photograph by Jose Padua
It’s been a long time since the word Catholic, much less Christian, could be used to describe my approach toward spirituality. Yet, at this time of year, I do get this feeling that I must admit comes from that time in the past when I was a follower of such things. It is, certainly, a manifestation of a side of me that is unapologetically sentimental. And, perhaps, a concession that for my children, a lot of the old Christmas traditions are actually quite enjoyable. Or even, dare I say, magical. All of which is to say that even though I myself am not now a believer in any traditional sense, I am happy to have come from a state of believing. I am also happy that when I was a believer I was not involved in the manner of believing as practiced by the Skyline Baptist Church.

This morning I took a photograph of that church, which is down the road from us here in Front Royal, as they prepared for their annual Born to Die festival. Well, I suppose that they officially refer to it as their annual live nativity presentation, which is how they describe it on the sandwich board they place down by John Marshall Highway every year at this time. But, when you look to the church itself, what you see is that Born to Die banner—and an approach to spirituality that I find troublesome at best.

Although the Catholic church certainly has its own macabre elements. My favorite example of this is the hymn about Jesus on the crucifix that went, “Oh sacred head surrounded, by crown of piercing thorns”—with the musical accent being on that crown of piercing thorns. Still, I don’t think this compares with the Facebook posting I once saw of a Baptist minister in the Midwest who to illustrate his observation that it was a “glorious day in God’s creation” chose a photograph of himself holding a muskrat impaled on a stick. This same minister then went on to speak of God’s “violent acts of love.”

It’s precisely this sort of so-called spirituality that seems push me from my usual agnostic stance toward one of pure disbelief. Yet I find atheism, and its utter certainty that there’s no such thing as God or deity of any sort to be just as depressingly lacking in imagination as the fundamentalist Christian vision of god as an all-powerful spoiled brat who demands that you worship him or else face the horror of eternal damnation.

Of course, if I had to choose one over the other, I’d opt for atheism over the spoiled brat vision of god any time. Still, there are those moments about which atheism has nothing to say. As with the other day, after I’d picked up Maggie from school with Julien and we went home and sat in the living room as Julien watched an episode of Dora The Explorer. Maggie and I came up with the idea for a show in which Dora is a bad guy, called Dora The Corporate Executive. This Dora would ask her viewers things like, “Can you say hostile takeover?” and “Strikers, stop striking.”

After watching Dora, Julien started playing with his trains, and Maggie went to the hall to practice on the piano. I took the opportunity to check my work email on the laptop I have setup at the dining room table, and it was there that I heard a song that sounded familiar coming from the piano in the hallway. It took me a few moments to recognize it, because somehow it wasn’t the sort of song I expected I’d ever hear being played on our piano at home. And what I was hearing were the opening bars of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.”

The song was part of the soundtrack Ryuichi Sakamoto did for director Nagisa Oshima’s eponymously titled film, and I’d always been surprised that this peaceful bit of melancholy is what stays with me from that prisoner of war drama. That out of war, violence, and death, what I always came back to was this. And on hearing Maggie playing these notes, I somehow felt this connection to decades long gone—my mother, living through the Japanese occupation of the Philippines; my father, working at a hotel, after the end of war and their separate journeys, over the ocean, to meet here in the states; and all of the separate journeys—mine, Heather’s, Maggie’s, Julien’s—that brought us to where we are now.

And so, this season, it was the music—and certainly not any “violent acts of love” or the notion that Jesus was “born to die”—that put me in the spirit of things. And although this spirit may still have something to do with “Christmas,” it’s not, for me, a Christian thing. Or any rate, not the sort of Christianity that focuses on death and violence and the annihilation of its enemies.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking about those who oppose me and my kind this season. That, for the sake of celebration, I will banish all consideration of the crimes of torturers, racially profiling killers, oligarchs with their obscene wealth and power, the heinous demagogue with twitter compulsive disorder who will soon be the president of my country, and all the other murderers of both life and spirit. It’s just that I’ve accepted that for any person of conscience, struggle is a way of life; and that those true moments of peace and connection can’t be manufactured—they have to be found, over and over again. Which is why the best among us are always looking for something.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Nine or Ten Things I’ve Learned About the Process

Photograph by Jose Padua
You can’t be more avant garde than to tear down
the hierarchy of those who seek to limit you.
Playing “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
full blast from my mini-van tends to remind the
people flying Confederate flags from the back of
their pickup trucks that Newton’s Third Law maintains
that for every action there is an equal and opposite
reaction. Even though you can catch more flies with
honey it’s better not to waste your time catching flies
and instead get rid of whatever brought the flies here
in the first place. Pretending that Jimi Hendrix is alive
can help you get through the roughest patches but most
of the time you’ll get farthest by thinking about the people
who hinder you and pretending that they’re dead. Loving
everything works just as well as hating everything but
you’ll have a better time if you love everything despite
the embarrassment you feel in times of deep reflection
when you look back at all the things you loved and ask
yourself, “Well, how stupid was that?” Give the things
that help you a name and give the things that hurt you
a number, that way the things that help you will feel
like old friends while the things that hurt will feel
like obscure statistics compiled by full-time employees
lost within the bowels of the cultural bureaucracy, which
means that no one really gives a fuck about them nor
should you. Remember that just like professional wrestling,
everything is fixed, the only way we can change direction
is through the choreography, which means that dancing is
a direct route toward reaching our objectives, even when
the only thing dancing on pointe is an idea in our heads.
Remember your power chords, play your stride piano
because these are the sounds of the people but be ready
to take the music back out to the ozone because this is how
they learn to fly. Pay homage to and remember the past
but remember that we’ve recently discovered that
what happens in the future can sometimes affect what
happens in the past because time and physics are two
things you must fuck with very carefully if at all. And
be silent, oh my sadness, as we move farther and farther
from the planet, and our troubles themselves begin to weep.
Let us meditate on these flowers and the task that lies ahead.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Fourth Gymnopedie

Photograph by Jose Padua
I just realized that when you play
Reinbert de Leeuw’s performances
of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies
numbers 2 and 3 at the same time
you get a fourth Gymnopedie
that sounds like the sort of thing
Satie might have composed
had he lived into the 1940s.
The music is still incredibly slow,
would probably put a lot of people
other than me to sleep,
and could never be used to sell anything,
which only adds to its beauty.
I remember in the 1980s going to bars
where there’d be live music upstairs
and hearing just slow bass notes
drifting to us drinkers downstairs,
a sound that made me think
of the slow sailing of boats
across vast expanses of ocean.
I drank gin and tonics then,
and the composition of bitter and sour flavors
would lift me like a fast arpeggio
played so lightly the musician’s fingertips
must feel nothing but thin air or negative space.
Now the sounds I hear aren’t
as loud as they used to be;
I don’t feel them in my chest
or on top of the steady running
of my pounding heartbeat.
The skin of my fingers
is weathered like old wood
in the late winter’s cold,
and my brittling bones ache from
the misdirection of my fingers
typing in spaces too tight to breathe in.
But like a traveler through space
I am grateful for the speed of light
and the grace of a wandering that subsists
without politics or purpose—
that delicate balance of sound and shadow
that moves me through the unmarked breaches
that exist among all living things.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The First of a Billion Steps Toward Eternity and the Enlightenment that Comes from Being Thankful for the Color of Plums

Photograph by Jose Padua
For everyone who has ever contemplated self-destruction,
self-immolation, or such anger
as to perpetuate century upon century
of war and strife,
consider the prospects that arrive
with the changing of seasons.
A stretching of daylight
into what of late had been
under the providence of dusk;
or a mist of sea scent filling one’s breath
the way rest soothes the air
that surrounds a person
running away from whatever can’t run
quite as fast.
And although every day someone dies,
each of us dies on only one day,
which means there will be days
when you come out
smelling like a large room
housing a single tiny rose.
And as the world disappears
beneath the noise of stupid television shows,
electronic conversations conducted by idiots,
and dull information sent
from city to city masquerading
as truth and deep thought,
remember that he who dies
with the most toys
doesn’t win,
but instead becomes another product
that has achieved the long, slow crawl
to its expiration date,
and that eternal happiness,
like the ripening of plums,
is best approached
with small, steady steps.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Wall and What Surrounds It

Photograph by Jose Padua
I’m thinking that someone else
has probably already written a poem
about building a wall
around Donald Trump’s penis
so I’m going to write about
the leaves this fall;
the gentle turning of their colors
from bright and deep green
to light and sometimes
even fiery red and orange.
From tones and shades that blend in
almost invisibly
with the American landscape
to those that stand out
boldly among the old ways,
speaking other languages,
bringing new dance moves,
new flavors and scents
and ways of organizing time.
I’m thinking about
the muddy waters
of this winding river turning
bright blue in the slight bend
and chill of twilight,
turning the purple mountains
into beautiful black silhouettes
that will make it easier
for the rest of us
to reach great heights
Dizzy and tired,
we’ll walk boldly
though with slow, steady feet,
balancing ourselves like flying acrobats,
demanding our strange names be heard
and holding out
the dry, cracked skin
of our large hands.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Marquee Moon

Photograph by Jose Padua
This is a poem for all the nobodies
who got fucked over
by someone with a name
and became ghosts,
who once held blueberries and radishes
and tiny animals in their hands
and now find that these things slip
through the mist that has replaced
the meaty flesh that once made their hands
things they could grip cold doorknobs with,
who once walked with heavy feet
on sidewalks through town
and moved their belongings
from room to room and city to city
in a suitcase they held
their arms around on the bus,
and who found shelter from the rain
by adjusting their hats.
When you’re a nobody
and you’re a ghost,
no one knows what to call you.
There’s no name for your style of haunting,
just the ghost man on the stairs,
or the ghost woman who screams at sunset
on County Road 725
, or that thing.
Sleep is disturbed but no one
understands the message,
your ghostly touch startles
but is mistaken
for the buzzing of a fly
or drafty windows
that the living swear they’ll replace
when they can afford it.
You cannot breathe,
you cannot think.
You try to touch again,
but the mist of your fingers disobeys,
your curses cannot be heard,
your existence removed,
over and over, again.
Life, we know, is hard,
and the afterlife may be even harder.
When I was young I lived in a house
with a ghost with no name.
This poem about the ghost was
written in winter under another roof
while listening to the solid sound of rain.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Head Over Heels

jp_june1982_edit
At the doctor’s office in Charlottesville, Virginia
to investigate the possible reasons
for my ten-month-old son’s large head,
the doctor measures my own
and informs me that my head size
is off the curve, off the charts,
and when I offer “freakish”
as a way of describing it
he doesn’t say yes but he doesn’t say no
and he looks at me calmly eye to eye,
mano a mano, and without a word
he answers my question,
which reaffirms my initial impression
that he is smart, informed,
and on top of his area of medical expertise—
a good doctor whose feet
are planted firmly on Virginia ground.
He explains that he has a special interest in big heads
because they run in his family—
his father, the elder neurosurgeon,
has a massive head, a trait which he himself,
unfortunately, did not inherit,
which he says is why as a doctor he must use
every bit of his smaller-sized brain,
and it’s why I feel better now,
after days and weeks and years of feeling tense,
knowing that my son’s head size is character,
maybe even personality, not disabling pathology,
and that in this one measurable way
I am ahead of nearly everyone else in the world.
And my wife, my daughter, my big-headed son
and I leave the hospital to eat lunch
at the downtown mall where my wife, my daughter
and I order sandwiches which we will insert
bite by bite into the biggest opening in our heads,
and then we’ll drive nearly two hours back north,
and walk into our big house
where I’ll step into the living room
and lie back on the sofa
so I can relieve myself, momentarily,
of the incredible burden of standing,
walking, running tall,
in an America that is shrinking
in so many ways,
and lay down my huge head.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of the author was taken in 1982 from a balcony near the top of the Library of Congress.