Category Archives: 3. Literature

Notes on Growing Old

Photograph by Jose Padua
I admit to having been less than enlightened about a lot of things in my youth. And while there were some areas where I was ahead of the curve, there were many where I was behind. That’s what growing old and growing up is for—to fill in those gaps of knowledge, those dark spots of ignorance and to overcome the many irrational, ill-informed fears that come from not having been around all that long.

And one thing I learned in those years—or perhaps I should say ‘decades’ rather than just years—of filling in those gaps was this: If you ever by chance run into those people who for whatever reason screwed you over or treated you like dirt or used you as a stepping stone to get somewhere and abandoned you as soon as they got there, don’t just turn away, remembering and sometimes reliving the anger and betrayal you felt. Take a deep breath, and close your eyes if you have to, and think of how far you’ve gone since the last time you saw this person. Then let that anger slip away, disappear.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still tell these people to go fuck themselves. You should. It’s just that when you tell them to go fuck themselves you should say it with love in your heart before walking away, and out of their lives, forever. And, as you walk away, raise your arm and lift your middle finger. Just in case they’re watching.

I realize some of you will say that, in itself, the act of telling people to go fuck themselves means a person has a long way to go before he’s reached his potential as a complete, mature, and contented human being. Fuck you.

This is a photograph of some sheep sitting under a tree.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Preamble to the Unicorn Rainbow Poem

Photograph by Jose Padua
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will not be
looked upon kindly by the establishment,
will win no popularity contests, and will
be deemed unfit for intellectual consumption
by people in possession of massive widescreen
televisions, and suburban residents with
four car garages who believe that charity
begins at your second home in the Hamptons.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will not be reprinted
in any anthologies that matter, will not be chosen
for Best American Unicorn Poetry, though a horror film
will be produced in which the line “Who put this
motherfucking poem in this motherfucking
anthology?” is spoken a third of the way through,
giving voice to the unspoken fears of the population
that in worlds even more dangerous than the one
we live in now, this sort of thing could happen.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will not protect you
from home invasion, the exotic people you fear
so much will still come through your front door
without bothering to knock or offering you a copy
of the Watchtower or subscriptions to magazines
you’ll never read, and as usual you will end up
shooting yourselves rather than defending yourselves.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will do nothing
to bring more justice to the world, Ayn Rand
will still be read by people who are under
the mistaken impression that it’s real literature
and not pubescent fantasy that’s the equivalent
of looking into a mirror and saying “I love you”
with a straight face then smiling sincerely
like a B-Movie actor from 60s selling cigarettes.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will be denounced
on the news by all major broadcast and cable
networks and on the internet as the reason why
you are no longer free, have to wear a seatbelt,
and are urged to eat healthier food by the tyranny
of the nanny state, even though you drive like
a maniac and really could stand to lose a few pounds.
The Unicorn Rainbow Poem will be blamed on
every street corner and on every highway billboard
and on every popup ad as the reason why
corporations are struggling to make a profit,
why you’re always in debt, and why a guy
with a name like Antwoine or Carlos wearing a hoodie—
so tall, so magical and so frightening—is waiting
for you to get out of your car so he can ask for
directions to the nearest library or bookstore in this,
his endless quest at finding something reasonable to read,
as he slowly makes his way home through America.

-Jose Padua

Photograph, Burger King Sunset, by Jose Padua

Truth, Art, and Other Immeasurable Glimmerings

Photograph by Jose Padua
Julien is becoming more aware of the camera. When it’s just the phone camera, it’s no big deal—he’s goes about doing whatever he’s doing. But this afternoon, when I took out my good camera and took off the lens cap, he came right up to me. He then started making these funny faces, widening his eyes in a way that reminded me of an early sequence of Peanuts comic strips in which Linus declared he wanted to become a “fanatic” when he grew up—in particular, “a wild-eyed fanatic.” Somehow, with me being his dad, it’s not hard to imagine Julien’s excellence at doing the wild-eyed thing. I was, of course, impressed, but what I wanted was a more natural expression that would show a combination of enthusiasm, joy, and confidence. Finally, I got him to tone down the wild-eyed expressions to get this photograph. It’s not always easy to get him to cooperate. As his first evaluation from his new school noted, he’s often impatient and has a tendency “to reject rules.” This will serve him well later in life should he choose one of several career paths, none of which will pay well. Of course, we’re not raising either him or Maggie to think in terms of money. We’re raising them to think in terms of truth and art—and, more often than not, truth and art will break some rules along the way as part of the process of coming into being. It can take some time, but eventually they emerge, surrounded by a million broken rules and the sort of beauty that—no matter how hard the corporate goons and corporate ass kissers try—can never be expressed in numbers.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Meditation on the Inheritance of Dreams

Photograph by Jose Padua

When my eleven year
old daughter sings along
to the pop star’s song
but changes the lyrics
from “don’t wanna fall
in love if I ever did that
I’d have a heart attack”
to “if I ever did that
I’d have a fart attack,”
I have evidence better
than any DNA test or
Multiphasic Personality
Inventory exam that
she inherited at least
some of the connective
logic and tissue that
makes me the baddest
motherfucker in this town.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Yellow

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes I look back with regret,
wishing that at some point in my life
I’d done more drugs. I drank like
a master, for a time, but I didn’t get
high enough, didn’t do acid enough,
didn’t do line after line, and I never
did heroin, never did crack. The harder
drugs may not have killed me the way
they killed a lot of the others, but maybe
they would have, it’s too late to tell now.
I may have survived. I may be alive, now.
I never did ecstasy yet why am I so whacked
anyway, like a nervous guy standing
at the corner wearing an old-fashioned hat,
like the famous comic I used to see on
Avenue B, standing outside Mona’s in nice,
almost unfastened slacks who seemed
way far gone for someone still holding on
to a regular gig on TV. I wish I’d done
more drugs and that I’d worked less,
or that I’d spent more than half the time
I was working doing drugs too, filing papers
or shelving books while staring into blue,
exquisite space, just being there, feeling
like a machine with feelings. Now when
I work with the people I work with I feel
stabbed. They’re looking for ways for me
to not be there, looking for ways for
me to not work. I wish I could do drugs
with them and skip knowing them through
work, but I can’t even smoke the cigarettes
that used to keep me from shaking. Now,
all I take are drugs which keep my head
from hammering and keep me from sneezing
up too much snot but which do nothing
for my inner perceptions. Where are
the miracle drugs of the future now
that I’m sleeping at a comfortable distance
from the past? I’m thrilled but where
is the pill that will be the fabric bandage
for my working wounds? What is the dosage
that will never let me fall? The comic died
from drugs. They gave him his disease.
My eyes drop acid like it’s 1973. My ears
hear everything that’s yellow and can’t stop
hearing. My hypertrophied heart does the drinking,
for me. It’s thinking, with slurred speech.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In the Aftermath of All Our Years of Living

Photograph by Jose Padua
In January, 1967, when
I wrote 67 instead of 66 for
the first time that year
at the top of a sheet of paper
in fourth grade,
the year 2000 seemed
like science fiction to me.
We were still in the middle
of the cold war; we had
a fallout shelter in the basement
of our church next door,
and we believed that at any moment,
depending on the whims
of men sitting behind fancy desks
in beautiful dark rooms,
bombs could start falling
as steady as cold rain.
If we ever make it through this century,
I thought, the next one will be
an age of wonders—men and women
flying through the air on jet packs,
riding rocketships to the moon,
and travelling even farther out
toward unknown space.
Now that we’re living in
that next century
I still walk on my feet,
move through the cold with
my hands in my pockets,
and lack plans
for setting foot on the moon
or flying through distant space.
And though bombs never fell on me,
they fall on other people every day,
following them like hungry animals,
and the rest of us put our feet up
when we rest, some of us
ready to run at any moment,
all of us, in different ways,
so lucky to be alive.

-Jose Padua

Photograph taken in Alligator, North Carolina by Jose Padua

Love Not Money

Photograph by Jose Padua
The first time my three-year old son
said the words I Love You
was when my ten-year old daughter, his big sister,
was away on a school trip,
and when she called
we talked to her first then gave him
the phone and he said
“I love you”
to her more clearly
than just about anything else
he regularly says except
maybe the words “cold milk”
and his mom and I were happy
because until they say those words
men are savages
and sometimes even after that,
but like at the end
of a long journey lost
on country roads the dust
was beginning to settle
and in the clearing between
the trees and with the first
flashes of light we welcomed this
and all the other beautiful signs
that seemed to tell us
that maybe it wasn’t just our son
but all of us
who were getting closer and closer
to civilization.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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

MixTapeForMyDad_Edit
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.