Category Archives: 3. Literature

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

The Real Deal

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when I wake up to a foggy morning
in our small town I remember that episode
of The Outer Limits where a man who
drinks liquor in the morning drives out
of his neighborhood and off into the dense fog
to find himself surrounded by unearthly creatures
whose mission is to use humans like him
not as cheap labor but free labor and who
in order to do this have taken six square blocks
of beautiful suburban America and transported it
to their dark, dreary planet. This is just one
of the reasons why on these foggy mornings
after I’ve dropped the kids off at school
I don’t hit the ramp onto the Interstate,
step on the gas until I’m going sixty, sixty-five,
seventy, seventy-five, roll down the windows
and blast the Isley Brothers playing “Go All the Way”
as I head down I-66 bobbing my head up and down singing
“Taking care of business, I’m talking about the real deal.”
The other reasons are that even though I work from home
I still have to work, and I’m always too sleepy to go
very far in the morning and would worry neurotically
about being back in time to pick up the kids then make dinner
before my wife gets home from the office.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Tearing Up a Box

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when I’m tearing up
a box I’ll remember how my father
used to do the same—collapse it
so it was flat, then rip it in half,
then quarters, and so on until it fit
easily in the trash without threatening
to burst through the side of the bag.
Sometimes he’d tear one up before
we were done with it—a box for a gift
we’d have to exchange or take back
to the store because it didn’t fit or
didn’t work. Sometimes when I take
the trash out at night into the quiet street,
drag the bin to the curb, then carry out
the bundled newspapers and broken down
boxes, I consider these little tasks,
and those minutes I’ve lost then found
spent organizing small things.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Take a Giant Step

Photograph by Jose Padua
All the out of business auto body shops
on this slow highway, all the abandoned
buildings with peeling paint, the vacant
lots overgrown with junk trees and weeds
bounded by chain link fences, all the things
we could never fix and threw away, all
the insane metaphors for living, the fake
equation of ideas, the pretty words that
soar today in a shallow heart as wisdom
before giving way to tomorrow’s clever
observation, commandment, or list
of the neglected and overrated, and all
the shut ups and neverminds we breed
with our lips because we have never been
upon the verge of either idiocy or genius.
This is not where you belong, alone in this
tiny town without mending, this is not
the long endless line that waits for an exit
out of city sleep, this is not the thick
wall you can’t hear through. So go,
like everything that has decayed
before us, everything that has shattered
so beautifully, go into that street like
a man crashing a parade with smelly
clothes and dirty skin, go into that building
that’s on fire because the sky is full
of smoke and you’re thinking about a river.

-Jose Padua

This is a revised version of a poem that was originally published on Split This Rock’s blog. I took the photograph of the Front Royal Kmart, which shut down at the beginning of the year, earlier this week.

I Feel for You

Photograph by Jose Padua
The sound kept me warm those winter
evenings walking down Broadway
after work, when I had work, with
work and wind stinging my face.
Chaka Khan singing Prince, singing
this song, in the lights. Chaka Khan,
I didn’t care even when the people
were cold, are cold, on a show business
kind of old show tune kind of high
that I never felt. My high was different.
I could breath through New York ice.
I could walk over puddles without
getting wet, swing my arms wildly
like a tourist from out of town and
never feel I wasn’t cool. I wasn’t.
The lead singers in up and coming
bands never spoke to me. The
actresses in my friend’s movie
never looked at me. But when I
finally spoke I could get them
to laugh. Maybe even cheer, at
one place, but I think these people
knew me. Maybe they were the ones
getting paid, not me. All my years
there I never ate a single salad. It
was fried chicken and fried rice. Hole
in the wall falafel. Because above
all I wanted it fried. I wanted
these streets fried, and the women’s
faces, so dark, so pale, so brown,
so beautiful they must have been
fed fried food all their lives. And
my heart, like a camera, taking
pictures developed by my blood,
sent to my brain, that I showed to
strangers on the corner of Avenue B
and Third, that space I called home.
Harvey Keitel, Rockets Redglare, Quentin
Crisp, Rick Aviles, Christopher Reeve—
so many of the famous New Yorkers
I saw on the street there are dead
now, except for Harvey, and the
women, who would have thunk? And
who understands how the world works,
and why it hasn’t broken down by now?
And how we walk like angels, sometimes.
On those days when we’d gladly give
all our money, or crawl how many miles,
five hundred? No, just five. To avoid being
inside, on the downtown F train back downtown
in glorious, I-am-a-star, I-am-a-worker, I am
an insignificant dot on the blue-green
globe of the Earth, in lower Manhattan,
Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua