Category Archives: 3. Literature

My Obsessive Compulsive Order

Photograph by Jose Padua
When not done properly a simple action can have incredible consequences:
sometimes I have to touch things twice, sometimes I have to close a door
with my eyes closed, sometimes I have to say “your tits are nice” to the man
who’s come to fix the toilet. He doesn’t seem to understand that I’m not really
talking about him. Though one time when a woman plumber came I managed
to say “I watched spectacular gymnastics on the Olympics last night” as my
eyes focused on her pliers. She gave me that look of perpetual ambiguity,
which meant that she thought I might be a liar but I wasn’t. I wear something
gray on Saturday, I can’t wear black on Monday or Friday, and when
I leave the house I have to think about Al Green. Sometimes he’s singing
“Let’s Stay Together” and the rest of the time I imagine he’s eating a plate
of spaghetti. I get tired, though, of feeling like I’m walking through these
woods in this rain, and I wish I could go at normal speed without interruption
but this is my mind’s idea of order. It’s a music that never rests: color, sound,
and rhythm stretched—a Shakespearian play about a king in ill health that’s
half comedy and half history with so many paths leading to so few possibilities.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Thank You for the Stars and All the Things That Slowly Drift Away in the Distance

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I gave the panhandler some spare change
he looked at me and said Thank You then he
looked at the person next to me and said
Thank You again. I was alone, at the time,
and this was thirty years ago, but ever since
that moment I’ve been waiting for the day
when I can see that other person beside me—
the person the panhandler said Thank You
to right after he thanked me. I know there
will be days ahead when I’ve taken a break
from knowing things. When things stop
coming to me and instead begin slipping away
like the sound of voices sliding through a city’s
blank spaces, or long goodbyes that never
seem to finish and never bring an end to things.
I think by then it will be good to see that person
no one else sees now. Because I’m sure that person
will have the answers to all the questions
I never get around to asking anymore. Like
where is there to go this early spring night as I
stand tilted in my winter coat against the wind?

-Jose Padua

The photograph was taken in Baltimore, MD by Jose Padua.

The Wayward Path to the All the Mystic Revelations and Revolutions of the Soul

Photograph by Jose Padua
Walking down New Street in Staunton,
Heather, Maggie, Julien, and I are in a line,
and lurching toward us are three big guys
in big coats, big baggy pants, snapback hats
or do-rags on their heads, looking all tough
and serious, and the first one looks down
to Julien, who’s sitting back in his stroller
still sleepy from a nap, and says all bright
and cheery, “Hey, little man!” The next
guy passes right by me, looks me close
in the eyes like he’s examining the poker hand
he’s just been dealt and says quietly,
almost whispering, “Hey, playah,”
while the last guy looks over to me and
nods approvingly. And I have to ask Heather,
in case she wasn’t paying attention,
“Did you hear that? He called me a player!”
But she’s not impressed, and Maggie asks,
“What’s a player?” and we find ourselves
having to explain, in ways appropriate
for an eight year old girl, that some people,
in some places, are perceptive enough
to recognize, that in my own way, I am
a total badass. And we realize that
no matter how hard we try, we can’t think
of another word for “badass.” And just like
up north they don’t really have
a hundred different words for snow,
there’s no other word in English
that means everything “badass” means;
no other expression where you open your mouth
so widely, daring everyone who’s watching
to gaze into the length and breadth of your soul.

-Jose Padua

The photograph was taken in Staunton, Virginia earlier today by Jose Padua.

My Filipino-American Breakfast

Family_1966_67
My Filipino-American breakfast of the 60s
was the local Briggs brand pork sausage patties,
sunny-side up eggs, and rice, with the runny yolks
broken over the rice, and the rice and yolk and
sometimes the eggs whites, too, mixed, stirred,
or just turned yolk top over rice bottom
depending on if my Mom or me or sometimes
my Dad was doing the mixing. I gathered
it wasn’t the typical American breakfast.
I understood that my Anglo friends didn’t
eat this way in the morning and I knew
for sure that they didn’t have rice for breakfast
though I didn’t exactly know how I knew,
which was the case for a lot of the things
I knew back when I was a child. And
the thing was, I didn’t know if any other
Filipino-American kids ate like this either
because my Mom had been the cook
for the Embassy in DC and this very well
could have been her breakfast invention
or innovation. All I knew is that we were
different; I didn’t know exactly how or
by how much. All I had was this vague
child’s notion, and all I wanted was to fit in,
and one thing I knew for sure was that this
breakfast was one thing I wasn’t changing
no matter how much I wanted to think of
myself as a real American. Because some things
just weren’t worth it, while other things
were worth more than the price you paid
of feeling strange. Call it tradition, call it pride,
call it the price of admission to the exclusive club
I belonged to because even I had it back then—
looking into someone’s ice cold, blue eyes
with my brown ones as if there were an ocean
of distance between us—a symbol of what
would forever be my independence from America.

-Jose Padua

Photo (1967 or 68). Top row: Margarita S. Padua, Cosme Padua; Bottom row: Jose Padua, Tony Padua.

A Poem for the Rolling Hills and Lovers of Cheap Moonshine

Phtograph by Jose Padua
So much of the time my pants are
down when I read a poem. There are
so many books of poetry in my
bathroom, so many lines to separate,
so many words to join. Sometimes
there’s an image I love, an idea
that binds me to it like a motion
I repeat until my mind is clear,
and as I grow older I find that
I need to spend more time here.
When my pants are down and
I read I’m free, and what were
once plain words become beautiful
words. Poetry can be so horrible
when you’re sitting at a table practicing
perfect posture: I don’t care if “each
day we go about our business” and
“the best minds of my generation”
can get fucked. What did they ever
do for me? If you give me a poem
and I don’t like you I will read it
standing up, my back against
the wall; I’ll pretend I’m waiting
in line in a place where there is
no line. When I really want to like
a poem I pull down my pants. Then
I pull them up and write my own
until you are ready to pull yours
down again, on a gray and cloudy
morning when the grass is damp and
the birds have stopped falling from the sky.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Somewhere in America There’s a Broken Down Building Filled with Electric Kool Aid and Seersucker Suits

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sitting on the living room sofa
as my son watches Dora the Explorer
I start to feel drowsy then imagine
I’m wearing flared pants, bell bottoms,
and when I shut my eyes for a moment
I can see the faded blue denim of my pants legs,
absurdly wide, and I wonder just what
I might do with the extra room for my ankles
and shins and believe that maybe I can now
run faster, last longer on my feet in line
for tickets to see the Stones, and maybe read
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test like the cool
kids were doing instead of Ulysses and
perhaps even contribute significantly
to world peace because it was the early 70s
and I had no idea what my limitations were.
My favorite dreams are those where everyone
I’ve ever loved is alive again, but dreams like these
come infrequently like the full blood moon
or Halley’s Comet and I need to work long
and walk hard on concrete steps and sometimes
touch the brick walls of old renovated buildings
that look nothing like they did back then
to keep the image close like a vest—
my Dad in dark blue trousers as always,
straight to the shoe, and his white dress shirt;
my Mom wearing her first pants suit,
beige, or maybe it was seersucker,
with a light, sleeved jacket, and her long
pants flared slightly at the cuffs;
each of them feeling the epic greatness
of being able to stand and the grand
and shining thrill of being alive.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

How We Are Born and the Road We Take to Get There

Photograph by Jose Padua
I’ll never forget the face of the man
standing on the sidewalk as I rode
in the backseat of a car with my cousin
Nilo driving. Nilo, who had the same
genetic condition jazz singer Jimmy Scott
had and who though he was a grown man
and practicing physician was the size of
and looked like a nine year old boy.
I was around twelve or thirteen at the time
so I actually looked older than Nilo
and I’ll never forget the man’s face.
The way his eyes bulged out like
a mad clown when Nilo drove past.
The way the man stood on the median
above Dupont Circle, my brother
in the front seat of the car, me in
the back and little Nilo at the wheel.
The way the man’s mouth opened
and the way I would have heard my first
out-loud-in public “What the fuck?”
if Nilo hadn’t been playing full blast
on his car stereo Jerry Vale’s version of
“My Woman, My Woman, My Wife”—
the lamest song Marty Robbins
ever wrote in his life.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Reflections on 2043 Which According to the Most Recent Census Data Is the Year When Whites Will No Longer Be the Majority in the United States

Photograph by Jose Padua
Although the odds are
against it
if I am still alive
and able
I will walk
out the door
of my house
my head held high
my legs moving strong
and steady
and act
as if I own
the joint.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Beautiful Day on Earth

Mom_Yard_1950
All I remember is that it was a beautiful
sunny day when my mother came out
of the fast food restaurant downtown
near the bus station and walked
to the car where my dad and I
were waiting and told us how sad
it was that the man standing in front
asking for spare change was almost
in tears because everyone was
walking right by without even looking
and how she gave him money for lunch
because How could you not? How could you
just walk right by him like that?
and I was seven or maybe eight and
as we ate our sandwiches in the car
that afternoon I thought for a brief moment
that my mother—who’d worked as a cook,
a dressmaker, sometimes for people
who were wealthier than we could ever imagine
and who could forget us in less than an instant—
might be the most powerful woman on Earth.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of Margarita S. Padua was taken in 1950.

Shenandoah Breakdown

Photograph by Jose Padua
One day when it’s fine
when I can give in not
up to what moves me
inside I’ll yell to the
women wearing frontier
dresses, “I can see your
vagina!” as they walk
down Main Street on
a sunny Sunday morning.
I’ll declare to the guy
in the pick-up truck
with the Confederate flag
flying out the back and
gun rack, “You’re on
the losing side!” as his
face turns ugly and he
lifts his fat fist. Then
I’ll add “Nice pants!”
and he’ll stop and say
“Thanks” because like
so many Americans he’s
proud of the way he walks.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua