Category Archives: 3. Literature

This Must Be the Place

Photograph by Jose Padua
Tonight I let out a Tourette’s grunt just as Heather was trying to record a greeting for the voicemail on her new phone. When she played it back, the first thing you heard was me in the background going, “HUNNNGGGGGAAGGGGGHHH!” This was followed by “This is Heather, I can’t answer your call right now…” I thought it sounded incredible. In fact, we all loved it. Heather, Maggie, and I, and—if he were listening at the moment—I’m sure Julien would have loved it too. We laughed at the absurd beauty of it.

Maggie and I each told Heather she should use it as is for her greeting. But, since she gets a lot of calls from the office on her cell phone, we decided she’d better re-record her greeting. There isn’t much room in the professional world for odd, grunting noises. People would be asking for an explanation, saying, “What was that?” Or probably what would happen more often is that they would say nothing, but think us odd, weird, or perhaps even scary. Which is fine, but we have to make money, and so often money looks down on what is odd, sneers at anything it deems weird, and steers completely away from anything it thinks is scary.

This is why, at home, we are artists, driving away the money we make during the day except for that little bit that’s fine with our being odd, and that tiny fraction that doesn’t fall from our hands because it’s scared. This is where we live the best part of our sort-of-hard, always weird lives. This is, indeed, the place.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Travelling Men

Photograph by Jose Padua
When we were seven or eight my neighbor would sometimes
run around behind his house with no pants, laughing his child’s

laugh. Sometimes we’d see him with a glass and we’d ask him
what he was drinking and he’d say sharply “whiskey” not with

pride or to surprise but just because that’s the way it was. He
never went to jail like his brothers and we were never scared

to have them living next to us, even when his brothers were
stealing or robbing people with guns. I was not a pervert like

him when I was young, I didn’t drink like him when I was young,
and my brothers never went to jail like his when I was young

but he was my neighbor which meant that he was one of us
and I was one of his, and the door to his house opened and closed

as ours opened and closed. He grew up and worked cleaning
the floors at bars I sometimes went to for fun, doing the hard work

I didn’t have to do and couldn’t have done. Clarity for me were
those moments of revelation, clarity for him were those moments

of stillness when there was nothing left that someone needed him
to get done, when the noise had stopped and the lights went on

and the air was like whiskey and wine and time was like a coin
that had dropped through a hole in outer space. We were different.

When I see him for the first time in ten years with my wife and
daughter he’s sitting on a bench staring into space. He’s still mopping

floors, he says, and he talks and he talks, about how he’s getting married
as soon as his girlfriend gets out of jail, and he lives in another part of town

now because he can’t afford to live where we grew up together and when
he tells my daughter that he’s like a brother to me I can’t say that it isn’t

true, because although we didn’t hang out together and you could only
measure our closeness with units of measure or measure how perfectly

we fit into our separate spaces, we somehow are destined to journey back
to these same places. I could say that it easily could have been me mopping

floors but it wouldn’t have been easy—the odds were against him even more
than they were against me and anyone with a brain can see that and anyone

with a heart would know that, but sometimes there’s no heart, no organ
pumping blood and wisdom, just machines of great efficiency pumping

noise through our veins until there’s nothing left to do but talk and listen
and do nothing, and I walk with my wife and my daughter to our car while

he waits on his bench on this beautiful spring morning for his wedding day.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. First published in Gargoyle #58. I will have new work in Gargoyle # 62, which will be available in February 2015.

The Prince of Intoxications

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when I’m driving around my small town
in my mini-van I like to listen to Desmond Dekker’s
“The Israelites,” and as if I were a character in an
old Gus van Sant film, I pretend that my goal for
the day is to score some drugs. I have never spent
much time trying to score drugs. Usually if a friend
had some and was sharing them, I’d partake, but
now if they have some to share, I decline, which isn’t
to say that a lot of my friends are still sharing drugs
because they’re not. But this also isn’t to say that
they’re not still doing drugs because I think they all are—
which is how they tolerate my many indiscretions and
obfuscations of fact—it’s just that they no longer
share them. So I continue driving through town
in my mini-van, leaning back, my arm hanging
out the window like I’m cool, pretending this
family vehicle is really a beat-up old sedan with
stolen license plates, and knowing that as soon
as he’s old enough my four-year old son sitting
in the back will snitch on me and that I’ll respond
by saying, “Yes, yes, my boy’s giving it to you
straight. I did all that.” Because after all he is my son,
and although I am a grifter at heart, for me blood
runs deeper than any drug, longer than any high,
and I’m raising him to always speak the truth.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Fifteen Bucks and the Passing Glory of Every Gone Year

Photograph by Jose Padua
I’ve somehow forgotten the name of the place, but back in 1990 I got a call from Matthew Courtney asking me to do a reading there. It was somewhere on the Lower East Side, which meant it would be easy for me to hop down from my place on Avenue B and 3rd to get there; plus, with Matthew hosting the event, I knew it would be a fun gig as well—he was, at the time, one of the most entertaining poets/actors/artists on the downtown scene. But what most sold me on doing the reading was what he said I’d get in return for my performance: “Fifteen bucks, and all the glory.”

Back then, fifteen bucks could pay for a least part of a decent evening, and the glory part was the icing on the metaphorical cake, even if the glory was only being bestowed upon me by an audience of fifteen people. I wasn’t all that picky back then–I didn’t even have a chapbook out at that point if I remember correctly—so there really was no reason why I should have turned it down, and I didn’t.

As it was, the audience at this reading turned out to be of a fairly decent size, and I ended up meeting a number of other writers with whom I’m still in touch to this day. But what I most remember about that night and that reading is that it was here when I first met Maggie Estep and heard her read her poem, “The Stupid Jerk I’m Obsessed With.” Right away the poem blew me away, and like a lot of other guys, I too wished I could be that stupid jerk. She was a cool, smart, gorgeous woman—the sort I thought would want nothing to do with me. So when she came up to the table where I was sitting after I’d read and told me that she was blown away by my work, I just went “Wow” and “Thanks” and “Cool” and I was pretty drunk (as I usually was at any reading back then) and I thought I must have sounded like an idiot.

About a week later, on my way into work one still sleepy morning, I was catching the bus to go cross town on 23th Street when I saw her waiting at the bus shelter. (As big as New York City was, I was always running into people I knew.) I was more coherent at this hour and we talked and talked and it was here that she gave me her phone number, saying, “Call me, call me” and that was how I started to get to know her—which isn’t to say that I called her. It’s just that there were soon so many readings and events going on that I didn’t have to in order to see people. I’d see Maggie at one event or another, and we’d talk, but I’d always just leave it at that, because I was a drinker and she—having lived beyond her own days of wine and roses and other substances—wasn’t. Back then, liquor was a big part of both my social life and my poetic process.

Still, she’d call me; and I remember one time getting the most amazing phone message from her in which she told this long, surrealistic story about how these microscopic dwarves had invaded her blood vessels and made her ill, all of which was a way of explaining why she wouldn’t be able to see me at some important reading I was doing. In addition to that, even though we only lived a few blocks apart, we’d write each other letters. Her letters were like her phone messages, filled with stories and imagination and far out ideas—all written in a state of total sobriety while I always liked to have a few sips of something before writing my replies.

She eventually started seeing this guy I knew who was one of the nicest guys on our scene, and I was happy to see that she’d hooked up with him. In the meantime, I went on in my own way, in search of poetry and drinkers, and never once imagining that I could separate the two.

Maggie, of course, went on to hit it pretty big, appearing on MTV, fronting her own band and recording CDs of her work, and then on to writing novels, and working and playing with some pretty well-known people. The last time I saw her in person was in 1995 when she played the old 9:30 club in downtown DC, my hometown, where I’d moved back when I left New York. It had been a couple of years since I’d last seen her, and when I went down to the dressing room after the show she was surprised and genuinely happy to see me, introducing me to people as this “tremendous poet.” But this time—even though she was as nice as she always was—I just felt like some kind of a fuckup talking to her. After that, I’d only be in touch with her every few years or so with email exchanges that began enthusiastically with the sharing of news and other life changing events before eventually turning quiet. SkepReading_1992_Blog
Over time, I found a way to separate poetry and drink—though in doing so I spent around eight years when I hardly wrote a damn thing. They were years when I just sat back to enjoy one drink a week—though most of the time it was even less frequent than that—and a life of domestic tranquility with my wife and kids. Then, after thinking there was no way for me to be content and still write, I found a way to write again. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, I should say that the words started coming again, because those years when I didn’t write were years when certain uses of language just seemed beyond me—in particular, the sort of writing where I had no idea if I’d ever get paid or not. Because, now that I think about it, I did do some writing during those years, but it was always for one job or another. Writing for which I knew there was both immediate purpose and payment—never poetry or fiction or anything where I was taking a risk of some sort.

A year ago this month, when a friend sent me a message telling me that Maggie Estep had suffered a massive heart attack, I was shocked. I’d always thought of her as the healthy artist, the one who’d found a way to keep her edge and angst and still be healthy and content. Even though I’d been living a much healthier—no, I can’t use this horrible word, but what the hell, I’ll go ahead and use it—lifestyle, I never imagined that someone like Maggie Estep would die before me. Me, with my high blood pressure, my heart condition, and my high-strung OCD attitudes and impractical worries and Tourette’s rages—older and outliving a writer like her. And taking more and more risks, even if they’re only in my mind. But then again, sometimes the risks you take in your mind can be just as dangerous as the ones you take with your feet or your hands or your fists—well, that is, if it’s a risk worth taking.

So here I am after all those years, writing poem after poem and story after story and feeling bored or sad in those moments in between, before I’m quite ready to start the next one. And then I start it. It isn’t, by any means, a logical sort of storyline. But, then, no one becomes an artist of any kind because it’s the logical thing to do—and anyone who does become an artist because he or she thinks it’s the logical thing to do is probably more of an asshole than an artist. Which isn’t to say that that person can’t still get some work done.

And of course what I’ve felt through all this is not just sadness but fear as well. Sadness, still, over an old friend’s death, and fear from thinking about all the damage that’s been done over the years. Yes, damage, because to live and survive means spending time being damaged, being hit and bruised and getting back up, losing blood, hair, teeth, muscle, and all those other things that make living an easier thing to accomplish, and it’s only when one dies that the damage stops.

And though it’s yet another thing that isn’t logical, I like to think that once the damage stops that there’s something that continues somehow. It may not be life as we know it, but it is, nevertheless, a form of existence. Call it soul or spirit or the collective unconscious or whatever you want, but I think it’s something that somehow gets released into the air. Something like that early spring breeze that hits you on the cheek like a surprise. That sweet feeling in your gut that’s part ache and part hunger when you look toward the mountains and think you can almost touch the colors you see. Or that joke from years ago that you’re only now beginning to understand.

-Jose Padua

In Homage to the Wandering Metaphysicians of These Darkening Streets

Photograph by Jose Padua
I started the first real job I ever had between my junior and senior years in high school, soon after I got back to DC from my summer program studying chemistry at the University of Georgia. Science was, at the time, still a passion. I was young and logical, but my relationship with logic was not an exclusive one and I was curious about what the mystical world had to offer. Having happily joined the throng of mortal sinners known as lapsed Catholics when I stopped attending mass in eighth grade, I knew the church was not for me. Still, I went back for a couple of years, and what brought me back was not renewed faith but my job as an evening and weekend receptionist at the very church I’d stopped attending. Mrs. Sanders and Miss Gonzalez, the two older church secretaries, whose guarding of the rectory door I was relieving on evenings and weekends, referred to me as “the boy.”

My job during my four to eight hour shifts was to answer the phone, answer the door, and alphabetize the weekly collection envelopes. Alphabetizing the envelopes was, of course, the dullest part of the job, followed by answering the phone to hear yet another voice asking what the mass schedule was. But once in a while it was someone interesting, like the first time I picked up the phone to hear the voice of Mildred C. Wallace. Mildred talked on and on, paying no attention to what I was saying and ignoring my attempts to end–because I was behind in my alphabetizing–what was actually an intriguing, one-ended conversation.

The reason the conversation was one-ended was because it was essentially a sales pitch. Mildred, hinting at what she had to offer our “gentleman parishioners,” and after naming some of the women she had working for her, finally ended her pitch with the clearly but quickly spoken clarification that what she and her ladies were about “is prostitution!”

When I finally met Mildred in person, I saw that she was a tiny woman, maybe sixty years old–though it was hard to tell, because the street can age a person beyond his or her physical years–who always carried bags of rotting groceries with her. In person, she carried on a conversation the same way she did over the phone: oblivious to your response or lack of it, she was all about making the sale. Even if she didn’t have anything or anyone to sell anymore. She was like an ad in the back of a dirty newspaper, an ad that somehow talked. And never stopped talking.

Mildred was just one of my favorite visitors at the church rectory. If my supervisors had known about her, they surely would have put her on the list of people who were not to be admitted to the rectory in the evening, which was when a social worker from the St. Vincent de Paul Society was on duty to help any homeless people who came to the rectory for assistance.

Whether they were trouble makers, thieves, or people who were considered beyond help, the list of people who were not to be admitted fascinated me. So one evening, when I picked up the phone that rang when someone was at the front door and the voice at the other end announced, “This is Rabbi Diamond!”–another person who was on the list of those who were supposed to be forever damned–I immediately said, “I’ll be right there to let you in.”

Rabbi Diamond was always angry, outraged, and incredulous in a waving his arms in the air sort of way. One day when I let him in he yelled, “I’m going to burn this city down!” Whether it was political, cultural, or moral decay, his rants on these topics were things of beauty. And no matter how angry he got when he spoke, he always hit this tone, this note, that seemed to say “we can do this” or “change is coming.” I didn’t know his full story–maybe he was a rabbi of the sixties who took one too many acid trips, the Syd Barrett of organized religion. All I knew was that he was a real rabbi who went mad at some point and ended up on the street. And that even if he didn’t quite elevate being pissed off into a higher state of consciousness or some ground-breaking form of nirvana, he at the very least he turned it into an art.

On those nights when the social worker didn’t show up, which seemed to happen once a week, I’d give Rabbi Diamond money myself. I only made a buck fifty an hour, which even though it was 1974 was below minimum wage, but I guess that was one of a number of things a church could get away with, and one of many things so many of us never questioned. They were The Church–we assumed they knew and did what was best for us. In giving Rabbi Diamond what money I could I did what I thought was best for me, because far from being hard-earned money thrown away, I saw it as an investment in the future, an investment in the continued well-being of Rabbi Jerome Diamond.

And I’d give money to Mildred Wallace. To Thomas Jefferson Isaac who always introduced himself on the phone at the rectory door by saying, “This is Thomas Jefferson Isaac, but I’m also known as Thomas Jefferson Morris.” Mr. Isaac aka Mr. Morris, who looked like the actor Lou Gossett, would tell me he was once a research scientist, a surgeon, a college professor. I’d run into him outside the rectory, too, in Dupont Circle where if I saw him I’d always stop to talk. He’d spend many a day there, sitting on one of the benches, sitting tall, proud, maybe even contented. And if madness was the path to contentedness for some people, I thought, so be it. Amen. Maybe I’d end up there too, one day.

And there was Mary Hayes, the frail thin, old Irish woman with the voice like a nervous child who always said, “Thank you. Thank you very much, indeed.” And Mary Orta, the loud short-haired radical who could never speak of anything but politics and diplomacy and conspiracy. And Rose Conte who sold on the street the flowers she’d picked and who spoke like a mouse and who always seemed like she’d close her eyes and never open them again.

These were the people–not any teachers, priests, diplomats, not even the eccentric fellow students and scientists I’d met earlier that year at the University of Georgia. They had no lucky star shining down upon them, did not live in comfort. They were knocked down to life on the streets, their loose connection to the real world challenged every day. The bright future for them was not that scholarship, that academic grant, not that windfall of profit or stock market killing or that fancy new car. No, the bright future for them was the next meal they could dig up out of what someone else left as trash or through the grace of spare change. The triumph was that they managed to stand, and sometimes even stand tall as if they were on the verge of discovering the cure for cancer or ending this war or that. These were the first people I met the first time I really went out into the world. The first people whom I thought were truly brilliant.

And there was that one time when I was in the rectory office with the Archbishop as the sounds from church were coming in from a speaker that was installed above the office door.

“Do you hear that?” the Archbishop asked me.

“Yes,” I said. Then the Archbishop looked at me, his eyes wide with delight—a kind of delight I was pretty sure I knew nothing about. He kept looking at me, expecting me to go into more detail about what we were hearing. To explain what it was and why it was so splendid. I listened a little longer, thinking it must have been something other the usual Sunday service, but what exactly was different about it I couldn’t tell. Finally I looked at him and, unable to think of any other way to respond, said, “I don’t know what it is.”

“That is the liturgy!” he said, raising his voice. And I thought, The liturgy, as in just another mass? I’m supposed to be in awe of that? The archbishop, I gathered, was shocked–perhaps even outraged–that I wasn’t at all impressed. That the sound of the mass, coming into the rectory office through the speaker, stirred nothing within me.

It was the sort of thing which, in my more vulnerable years, might have disturbed me and made me think I had things in my life I had to set straight. But the thing was, I didn’t care what he thought. What would have disturbed me was if Mildred Wallace, Rabbi Diamond, Thomas Jefferson Isaac, or any those other brilliant people had thought I was a fool. That would have been a sign that I was wasting both time and space and learning little of real significance as I wandered about from one day to the next totally lost, when the truth was that I was only slightly lost.

This is a photograph of the decaying building on John Marshall Highway just before Apple Mountain Road where we take the ramp to I-66 on our way out of Front Royal toward DC. I took this picture a couple of days ago, and the building has been like this ever since we moved here nearly eight years ago. The night before, at around ten in the evening as we were heading back to Front Royal from up north, we saw a shooting star moving south, with us, on 522. Sometimes when I’m driving the memory of one or another of these metaphysicians of the street will suddenly come to mind. Mildred, Rabbi Jerome, Thomas Jefferson—people whom I know must be long gone and lost with all the other memories for which there are so few people or sometimes maybe no one to carry them in their minds or in conversations or the sort of photographs you carry in your wallet. So when they pop up in my mind this way, it’s as if they’ve come back, however briefly, like these sudden flashes of light in the sky. Telling some sort of story, and being brilliant once again.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Every Process of Living Begins with Short Steps

Photograph by Jose Padua
A hint of yellow shine appears
at the window while the weak
ticking of the clock is heard again
between mumbled words. Our house
is like an old man humming songs
in the back of a dusty store on a flat
highway that runs away from the hills.
Though I am no longer catching my
breath with my hands these days,
my feet feel my weight with each lift
and fall quickly through short spaces
when I stand and walk down noisy stairs
to meet you. So, walk me through
the sidewalks with their fallen blossoms
still damp from a cold spring day’s
fulsome rain. Fill these boots with
the motion of your leading me,
and I will step away from beneath
the clock to follow you with short steps.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Bold as Love

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was my end of the summer visit back home—
to DC, from New York, from the train full of bad snacks
and half-cold beer, and when I got to my house I found out
I’d just missed a visit from my Auntie Anna who’d gone
into town from the suburbs to see my family and
ended up staying for a week. She’d been making obscene
phone calls to her neighbors in Wheaton for a few years now—

living alone could do that to you, I guessed, could
bring out that indelicate madness, but what was it that
kept the rest of us from saying “I’m naked, now,
Mrs. Lewis” or “The wind blows for free how much do
you charge, Mr. Wheeler?” instead of “Do you know
of someone who can mow my lawn? The last guy retired”
or a simple, “Hello, how are you today?”—all those

boring things we ask and don’t really care what
the answer is. Anna was my Uncle Ray’s wife,
an Anglo-Saxon lady, a white woman who’d married
a Filipino man back when that was still at least
half a scandal to half the people in America,
back when they couldn’t have gotten married in Virginia
where I live now because back then it was against the law.

If my wife and I were living back then, we wouldn’t
have been able to get married in Georgia, Mississippi,
Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia,
Arizona, California, Idaho, Maryland,
Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon,
South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. (Yeah, I
included a list, but how could I just mention one place

and stop? Sometimes what it’s all about is not stopping,
sometimes what angers the enemy most is the way
you persevere like a monster in a cheap horror film.)
And back then, before they moved to Wheaton, Uncle Ray
and Auntie Anna were city people, and Uncle Ray
would drop by our house all the time after waiting tables
at a luncheon downtown—like my dad, he worked for a caterer—

and I was a kid and Uncle Ray seemed cool, but Auntie Anna
was one of those quiet grown ups I never said much to
and Uncle Ray had been dead for nearly twenty years
when she made her visit and talked and talked and talked. She
and Uncle Ray had hosted the annual New Year’s Day
party, where everyone ate and ate (which I liked to do)
and drank champagne and cocktails (which of course I was

too young for) and watched football (which didn’t interest
me then and which now, after a few decades of watching it,
has left the stadium of things that keep my excessive
attention). And their house was filled with more people
than I usually ever saw in a single house,
like this guy Joe who looked like a Filipino version
of Popeye, and Max Dizon, the cab driver, who was always

there with his wife and their daughter and Max would outlive
Ray by some thirty years and make it to his nineties,
and there were so many people I didn’t know there
and New Year’s Day was always so cold. I never wanted
to go. It was like a hangover day for me even before I’d
ever had a drink, back when as child of nine or ten I finally
figured out what death was all about and as always I was

obsessed, and I suppose there hasn’t been a day since then
when I haven’t had a moment when I didn’t stop, take in
a deep breath to make sure I could still breathe, or tried to decide
if I was getting stronger or getting weaker, and if the color blue
was less blue than it was the day before, because my idea
of vision was that as one grew older the colors began to fade
until everything was black and white like on some bleak

winter day when it’s so cold that your face is stung and
your eyes feel like ice. Auntie Anna stayed for a week
and sat on a baking pan during meals and explained,
“I’m protecting myself from the gamma rays.” And back
when she was young, and probably wickedly beautiful,
I imagine she found beautiful ways to protect herself,
and other beautiful ways to go out over the edge in ways

that people would think was mad and reckless and in the end
married the man she wanted to marry no matter how wrong,
how awful, how indecent anyone thought it might be.
Because when I was young I didn’t understand how bold
she really was, didn’t know the difference between dirty and
obscene until words, like a curve in the hem of Auntie Anna’s dress,
began rolling off my tongue so easily in times of trouble.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Monkey Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was a minor soul ballad, though
not quite a ballad, or not a ballad at
all, that brought Billy the Kid back
to life in a dive bar downtown. Some-
one started doing a strut on the tile
floor that looked like the floor of a
church, but it wasn’t a church it was
Baltimore, on a spring evening, during
an era no one but me calls the Renais-
sance of past lives now coming back
to life when someone plays a certain
song on the jukebox. It was time to
stand up, so we stood until we were
taller than we were before, until we
felt dizzy from being so high over
the tiny names carved on the wooden
bar. All the workers from the neigh-
borhood stood up, too, to dance,
because Billy was always good
to them and was like white death
to their enemies. So many more names
were added to the wood that night,
and even more were said to have
never sat down for the rest of their
lives, and for four hours not a sip
of beer was spilled, nor drop of bourbon
wasted, by being wiped away on man
or woman’s lips by anything other
than a kiss. Until it was time, and the floor
moved closer to the dirt in our eyes
as Billy the Kid followed his footsteps
faster than a pinball machine going TILT,
and danced his way out the door, around
the corner, into a yellow tinted mist of rain.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Notes from a Poem Rewritten While Listening to Prince

Photograph by Jose Padua
The first protest I ever attended
was on a beautiful spring day
and I was asked to leave
because I wasn’t animated enough
for a spring day or for a protest
or for the guy who was filming it
who yelled “Go home!” at me
as he lifted his nose with his face
raised his right arm in frustration
then threw it back down
like a drunk tossing an empty beer can.
I don’t know,
maybe he meant for me to go home to my apartment,
maybe he meant for me to go home to my country,
but I didn’t go home and I ignored him
and kept on marching even more quietly than before.
I’d like to say that twenty years later,
the guy who told me to go home
has become one of my closest friends,
that our families get together,
my kids play with his kids,
he cooks, my wife and I bring good wine
but I don’t think he has kids,
and this isn’t that kind of poem,
and if I were to see him again today
my mind would still swell
with insults and imprecations
that I would refrain from speaking
because although I’m not good at forgetting
much less forgiving
I like to think that the world is a big enough place
for us both of us
and all of us
to live and ignore each other
as long as we agree that gray skies
can still be replaced by blue
and that years
are just these separate days gathered
by snow and dust and wind.
All of which is to say
that this is a celebration of sorts,
a poem of light and praise
in anticipation of the moment
when the heavy lifting is done for the day
because this is for you, my friend,
and you and you,
not him.
You who never told me to go home
when you could have,
you who never told me to get lost,
when getting lost
was what I feared more than poverty, madness, dying.
You who listened to me when I was young
and knew nothing,
who sat with me quietly
when I was quiet and still
in the hushed air of early morning,
waiting for animation and sound.

-Jose Padua

A Better Tomorrow

Cosme Padua, Tony Padua
My Dad was the caretaker
of the Philippine ambassador’s residence
for several decades
but the day when he seemed
to take the most pride
and joy in his job
was when he said had
something he wanted to show us
on the top floor.
My mom, my brother, and I followed him
up the steps to one of the bedrooms,
maybe it was the ambassador’s
own room. My Dad looked
at us, paused, and then
clapped his hands twice,
which made the light
in the bedroom go ON.
This was at least a decade
and a half, probably two,
before The Clapper went on the market
in the mid 80s, so to us
this was fresh and amazing,
to clap your hands instead
of flipping the switch,
like we were living in a world
out of science fiction;
and my Dad laughed
and smiled, so delighted
and proud he could show us
this glimpse into a beautiful future.
And I walked back down
the stairs feeling like
I’d skipped ahead
to the next grade in school,
leaving behind
all the other kids
whom I knew would
always be more
American than me.

-Jose Padua

The photograph was taken circa 1960: left, Cosme Padua; right, Tony Padua.