Category Archives: 3. Literature

Papa Was a Rodeo

Photograph by Jose Padua
In those days when I was still a consumer
of other people’s hours, I watched as a dancer
in a strip joint held onto the pole, in the pale
yellow light of the stage, and started singing
wildly off key to “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers.

It was, perhaps, not kind of song you’d usually
hear at a strip joint. More often or not it would
be some raunchy rock and roll tune that you
couldn’t help but grunt to, like “You Shook
Me All Night Long,” and the smoothest

thing you’d ever hear would be along the lines of
“This feelin’s funk, that’s what it is, let it get
into you” from “Funkin’ for Jamaica.” So
to hear this Bill Withers tune that nearly
always picked me up from a bad sort of

funk, in the sleaziest strip joint downtown,
confused me more than a dozen watered down
cocktails could. I sat there several feet away
from the stage, watching the dancer, listening
to her horrible singing, and when she got

toward the end of the song where Bill Withers
sings the word “day” and holds the note for
what feels like half a minute, she held the note
just as long as Bill Withers did, her pitch
even more off than before and painful, too.

But like Columbus searching for a passage
to the East Indies and reaching America instead,
and bringing disease and enslaving its native
peoples, there’s something to be said about
a person’s mistakes and failures, and some-

times none of it’s good, and though I always
went downtown, rain or shine, I never went
to that dive strip joint again, though for the
dancer I’m sure it wasn’t so simple a choice,
and though she had opportunities to leave,

she had less than me, and more to lose. And
I’m trying to use my own hours now, and use
them wisely, as I stand up straight, stretch and
spin between old gray buildings and older
green mountains, seeking a sense of balance.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Vincent van Gogh and the Possibility of Opposites

Photograph: Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night as reproduced by Maggie Padua
Among the usual items I found on bringing in this morning’s mail delivery was a flyer from Miller’s Ace, which is up the road a little bit from Front Royal in Stephens City. It is, apparently, a hardware store, but looking at the flyer they sent you’d think it was the local Guns R Us outlet. Everything from small pistols to shotguns to automatic rifles were in the flyer. Except for few tiny sections featuring paint and lawnmowers, every single inch of the four page flyer featured some kind of gun. I looked down to the dining room table where I had laid it down and shook my head. Well, I didn’t physically shake my head at it—because the motion was all in my mind—and though I was safe at home, there are times out here in the valley when it’s good that other people don’t know what you’re shaking your head at.

A little later, after I’d picked up Julien from school, we were heading back toward home when we came across yet another one of those pickup trucks flying a huge Confederate Flag out the back. As he passed by, the driver gave me that look I’ve seen so many times—that empty and evil look of someone who sees me and isn’t quite sure what the hell I am, except that I’m an “other.” As he gave me that look I was shaking my head at him. Calling him a dumb-ass, racist motherfucker. But he had no idea, because I was doing it without making a sound, without moving a muscle. Of course, when the time is right, you do make a sound—a big fat fucking sound—and you move every muscle as well as you can. But you have to be careful when you do it, because more often than not, they’re the ones with the guns. Me, I don’t carry that shit, but they do. Which, to me, just means that they’re the ones who are more afraid.

Julien and I went on home and took our usual afternoon nap. He still needs his mid-day nap, and I need the nap because I’m never able sleep more than a few hours at night. The afternoon nap gives me the sort of break I need to function. I think it also helps me resist that primitive urge I have within me to give the finger to every single goon like the one we just passed. It’s free speech, just like they’re free to express their idiocy and bigotry in the form of a giant flag they wave from their jacked up pickup truck. But some free speech is protected more than others. It kind of depends on where you are. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. And when your so-called free speech attempts to communicate, legitimize, and put a stamp of approval on hate and heinous ideas, that’s another matter. And that’s why I say as far as the Confederate flag goes: Burn that motherfucker down. And when it’s burned down, I can sleep a little bit better. But not much.

Usually, I have to wake up again in an hour and half to pick up Maggie, but today we were able to sleep a little longer because until the end of the week, she’s in New York. She’s there to take part in this week’s Model United Nations activities with the other sixth graders from her school. Although I have my disagreements with the school’s methods at times, one thing that always stays with me is when during an event at the Front Royal Moose Lodge, the school’s founder explained that she began the school with idea of having an institution here that promoted peace.

Like most people from my generation here in America, I grew up playing with toy soldiers, playing cops and robbers, playing with toy guns. But I grew out of it. A lot of people didn’t, and a lot of people grow up believing in the beauty and glory of guns and the necessity of violence as a means–and, to them, the only means–of solving any number of problems. For the big business of war, that’s a good thing. As for me, I try as much as I can not to do things that aid the big business of war. Or promote the concept that this is America and that America has the right to just take whatever it needs from whoever it wants to. All of which is to say that a school that seeks to promote peace is going to get my support.

A few times this week, Maggie asked if any of the museums in New York would have some of Van Gogh’s work, because one of her school’s planned excursions, in addition to the United Nations events, was a trip to the Museum of Modern Art—and Van Gogh was an artist she just recently became fascinated with. Earlier tonight she called to say that they had just come back to the hotel from dinner, and that before the evening’s United Nations activities, she and her group from school had gone to the Museum of Modern Art. It was there that she saw, in person, Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 painting The Starry Night.

Van Gogh, who out of many disturbances, managed to bring forth The Starry Night and so many other works of beauty. Who, at the age of 37, no longer able to handle the sadness and despair he felt, apparently shot himself. Who in his own way brings to mind the futility of the many forms of violence, and sets me wondering about the possibilities of its opposite.

-Jose Padua

Photograph: Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night as reproduced by Maggie Padua

A Mix Tape for My Dad

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I don’t remember him ever being in control
of the Magnavox stereo console in our
living room. Usually it was my Mom, picking
out one of the twelve LPs from the Reader’s Digest
Festival of Light Classical Music set, the one
with Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette on the
cover of the box that held all the LPs, or on

high energy days playing one 45 after
another, a string of tunes that would always reach its
peak when I’d stare at the record label as it spun
on the turntable, trying to follow the
capitol ‘S’ on the Specialty Records pressing
of The Reycard Duet with Tony Maiquez and his
Ukelele Gang performing “Oh Baby,” a song

that was actually a Tagalog version of
Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” and which always
seemed to play more loudly than all the other records
put together and put a grin on my Dad’s face and
made him nod and follow that nod with a second nod,
which was as close to head-banging musical bliss as
he ever got. Music wasn’t something my Dad ever took

the time to choose. Instead, it chose him, and if we
played it and he liked it that was good. You could see it
in the focus of his eyes while he read the paper
if the music me or my brothers were playing
on the stereo was helping him or hindering him
as he went about his daily quest for news–news about
the world, about home, and about back home across the

ocean, a place he visited for the last time in the
70s, though now that I think of it, maybe there was one
other time. That was when he had his car accident the last year
he ever drove, because when he came to after the crash
he thought he was in the Philippines again, and I always
wondered what he saw. Did he see the waterfalls, the churches,
his friends playing baseball in the barrio, did he see my Mom

who’d been dead for five years at that time and if he did,
what did he say to her? And, finally, what was the
music he heard, the music that chose him when his car
came to a stop and began to collapse around him?
For two days he was delirious as the faintest
of stars, but when his head cleared I saw him sitting up
in his hospital bed saying “I survived” and nodding,

and I was expecting him to say something else at
that moment like “I WILL survive,” a declaration
from a song, a statement of determination like
A Love Supreme, the Symphony No. 9 in D
minor, or What’s Goin’ On? And this poem is a mix
tape for my Dad, written in the old style and recorded
on paper on the anniversary of his death.

It lies still upon the page, it does not spin, yet it
moves just the same. Like his life, it is meant to be seen
as well as heard, and like the song that starts everyone
moving, their heads nodding, their feet lifting, turning, and
shifting, it will be as long and loud as it needs to be
to take us from classical beginnings, to slow sad endings,
then back home to this eternal, curving universe of sound.

-Jose Padua

Left to right: Cosme Padua, Tony Padua, Jose Padua, Margarita S. Padua, and family friends.

For All the Drunk Mothers and All the Sailing Ships That Tremble like the Oceans on Which They Ride

Photograph by Jose Padua
I can’t see you in this confusion of skyscrapers,
you young drunk mothers of Manhattan, pushing
your strollers up and down the avenues

and sideways down the streets. What sails
above you are thought clouds filled with misspelled
but beautiful words of half-sleep wisdom; what lies

beneath you are three hundred years of dead city landscape,
a concrete mural of history written by outlaws and scam artists
before they collapsed under the weight

of the cold heavy blood in their veins;
corruption and murder, business as sleight of hand
to wrestle the downtrodden who rise, momentarily,

back down to the levels below ground,
to all the lower levels of loam and clay.
And we sell and sell this image of us

as saints who only occasionally sin and are sequestered
by class are then reformed like the newest billboard,
the new brand, and all our beautiful new ideas.

So you give birth like this, and you sail like that.
Everyone who came in on a ship is less likely to sail.
And I feel like a drunk again even when there’s only

black liquid and sugar in my cup,
because everything is a penumbra of dirt and filth,
crawling like ants around a discarded plate,

everything except that which floats or flies.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Portrait of America on Acid

Photograph by Jose Padua
It’s 2015 and everyone’s on acid.
That old guy with the straw hat and
cane who used to scream his way to
Main Street doesn’t drink anymore.
The one-armed cab driver who drove
into the attorney’s blue storefront office
doesn’t do coke nowadays, and the meth
addicts, well, they’re still doing meth,
but like everyone else, they’re doing acid,
too. Teenage Mothers on Acid is no longer
just a good name for a punk band, it’s a
good name for a non-profit organization.
And it’s not just here, it’s everywhere in
America. California nuns in black are
spending hours and hours listening to
the colors in their stained glass chapels,
Wisconsin cheese makers are staring down
vats of milk until they’re positive they’ve
separated them into curds and whey with
just the power of the acid in their eyes.
All the living ex-presidents are feeling
like world leaders again, ready to use
wah-wah pedals on our brains. Yeah,
get this: George W. Bush, totally fucked up,
tripping in Texas; Jimmy Carter, lusting
after LSD in Georgia and not just in his heart;
George Herbert Walker Bush vomiting
rainbows, psychedelic rainbows; and Bill
Clinton, singing, “Oh Oh Oh it’s my dick”
to as many of this year’s college graduates
as he can reach. Everyone named Doug,
everyone named Alicia, every farmer’s son
and every asshole with an MBA is now tripping;
all our thoughts are in the oven, rising, browning,
getting baked. In the stripes of the American flag
I see a truck with no wheels filled with food
that will never be eaten. Its stars drift and spin
and flicker as the food dissolves into fluorescent
light and the truck begins to move, illuminating
the streets for at least the next mile or two.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Water Music

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother and father never
took us to the ocean. We
always stopped at the bay.
The waves were rarely fierce
there, the sand, I think, not
nearly as fine. My mother
and father grew up on islands,
which meant they were never
far from the water. I never
learned to swim, which means
I stay away from the deep end
of the pool. I can’t speak Tagalog,
which means I can’t talk to my
own people in anything
resembling a native tongue.
My mother and father were
together for over forty years,
then my mother died. Eighteen
years later it was my father.
The things my mother and
father passed on to me aren’t
always clear. There are hours
when everything is panic and
dread, followed by stray moments
of bliss or just what some might
call a conventional sense of
security and well-being. Sometimes
I think I’ve learned how to
breath, how to stand tall amidst
indifference and everything that’s
worse. And, here and there, beneath
the dimming clouds, there are
days when as I look through
the fog and its bleak distance
to the ocean, I’m convinced
I can learn how to swim.

-Jose Padua

The photograph, by Jose Padua, was taken on the John B. Whealton Memorial Causeway on the way out of Chincoteague, Virginia.

My Life As a Slow Learner and Late Bloomer

Photogaph by Jose Padua
When my parents
came to America
from the Philippines
the furthest either
of them had gone
in school was
the eighth grade.
It wasn’t until
I was in high
school and began
venturing beyond the
assigned reading
that I was no longer
embarrassed by this.
And it wasn’t
until I was out
of school completely
reading the small print
in the back of a newspaper
that I understood
how hard it is
to be from
somewhere else.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Legends and the Way We Used to Live

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I was young they told me the legend
of the spontaneously combusting hogs. How
they’d burst into flames and become roast pork
right in the middle of the road, before you could
even carry them to the village store to sell. People
would gather round for this sudden feast, pulling
their forks from their pockets, uncorking the wine
bottles they always carried in their backpacks
to be prepared, washing the meal down with
the fruity red fermentation as the spirit of the hog
made them feel like squealing, although they
never did, because squealing was always looked
down upon by their society. And when I grew up
I stopped listening to their stories, started walking
for miles far away from the city as these legends
faded into the past like the old characters
who used to live around corners or between
falling-down buildings. And as I grow old
I stay as far as I can from the edge
of the road, looking down to the grass
and stones, forgetting more than just these
stories of feasts and the many ways we used
to celebrate in the days before you were born.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And When Lilacs Bloom There Will Be Time Enough for Both Anger and Light

Photograph by Jose Padua
After dinner one evening my daughter
asks, “What if I grow up to have anger
issues?” It feels like a summer night
with the warm weather newly arrived
and it’s a difficult age and especially
hard time to be nine. I remember
at that age neurotically worrying
about every disease I might possibly
have, but I never worried about
anger issues because back then
we rarely used the word “issues”
that way and I was simply concerned
if one day I might go “crazy,” which
was the word back then that covered
everything that sent a person to what
we called “the funny farm,” which didn’t
sound all that bad to be, because at least
you got to laugh, and I wondered if
more than anything else that’s what
made a person crazy, that ability,
that tendency, that insurmountable
predilection for laughing at the slightest
nudge of elbow or brain during even
the most serious and solemn occasions.
And my answer to my daughter is
“No, you won’t, because sometimes
there are things you need get angry about
and anger itself is not the issue.” Then
my daughter, my wife, my son, and
I go out back in this, the hour of lilacs,
to walk upon the grass, the clover,
everything that issues forth from
underneath damp ground in the noble
angry effort to reach the light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Book of Lines and Years

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I give to you a book
of days, you give to
me a line of minutes.
I give to you a story
of weeks, you give
to me a poem of years.
Seconds pass, then months,
with neither of us noticing
their passage until we look
into the mirror which
reveals to each a slight
surprise. It seems unpleasant
at first but as with wine,
it’s through our becoming
from boy to man and
girl to woman that we
learn to love it. If we
didn’t age we would
merely stay the same,
which has its benefits,
but with lack of change
comes all the horrible
baggage of boredom and
the awful dullness of ignorance.
This isn’t to say that every
line suggests much less
indicates character or even
wisdom, just that every
passage of time, whether
slow or swift, completes
the shape that makes us
into men and women
of vision, with eye and
ear, or touch and taste,
and sometimes even scent,
to recognize each clear and
brief moment, and all those
fleeting states of grace.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua