Category Archives: 3. Literature

Night on Earth and the Labor of Our Efforts at Being Still

Photograph by Jose Padua
We were all there to watch the darkness
happen. The trains moved into it, the bums,
the losers, the lost and stepped upon
watched it rise above their tilted heads.
No more yellow, no more green, no more
calming white light, no King of France
bright madness in the lightness of air,
or bathing beauties on their wobbling yachts.
Just this, like a mouse standing still
on the kitchen floor before it moves
and is gone, a window shut and warm
before it gathers frost. We rolled up
our sleeves in the middle of a hundred
years of conflict. We put out the flames,
then waited for more. Listening to the wind
and rain, we wondered where would we go
when it was time to be perfect? What would
we do when it was time to be still?

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In Acknowledgement of My Ancestors, Predecessors, and Everyone Else Who Dared Cut to the Truth of the Matter

Photograph by Jose Padua
I am indebted
to the weird
sometimes
indecipherable
black magic
of speech
and the fluid
motion of tongues
spilling the
content of
souls.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

How the Gardener of Sorrows Tends to the Sadness of Things

Photograph by Jose Padua
I tend this landscape of terrible sadness
because it is my duty to bring order to
this garden of loss, to pull out the weeds
that crowd out the flowers of the gone,
forsaken loved ones, the disappeared;
to water the roots of every bush of juniper
and quince, keep the level paths of stone
clear of fallen leaves and broken branches
because there are always more paths appearing,
more flowers for the newly murdered, more
green sprouting from fertile earth in honor
of the latest victims. At the end of each day
I look to my employers, the creators of
sorrows. It is because of them that I am
always working, always tired, my tools
and instruments never far from my hands.
There is never anyone to help or relieve me,
no support for these sad, dreary tasks,
no one but myself to listen to the long list
of complaints and objections I keep in
my back pocket like a contract that binds
me with misery. And no matter how much
I wash there is always dirt under my fingernails,
dark lines on the palms of my hands whose
only purpose is to help me tell visitors to
this beautiful garden how every story ends.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For These Rainy Days on the Road at Christmas and Other Hours Lost and Found

MomDadAuntie_NoveltyPhotos_GlennEcho
The first song that got me teary eyed during the drive to Pennsylvania that December was Bonnie Raitt’s take on Joel Zoss’s “Too Long at the Fair.” It was probably the line that goes, “You can give my soul to Abraham, give my soul to Saul, and give my bones to Canada…” that got me when the traffic, after the quieter country roads, picked up in Frederick. We were somewhere around Dilsberg, PA when Stevie Wonder’s “Please Don’t Go,” the final cut from Fulfillingness’ First Finale, came on, and I was like, Christ, this is pathetic. I’m like that sad drunk at closing time who started weeping when the song order on the Stones’ Sticky Fingers was reversed and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” was followed by “Wild Horses.” Yeah, it must have been a shock to the system, but that hipster must have had a full evening’s worth of whiskeys. Me, I was stone cold sober, getting over the flu, and the only even slightly intoxicating beverage I’d had in weeks was nighttime cold medicine.

But it was all OK. It was those fuckers who never cry who pissed me off, those assholes who are only half living their lives. If Bonnie could set me off, so be it. Stevie, Mick Jagger. Sometimes it was Al Green, Alex Chilton, Aretha, Dusty. It was a long list. Sometimes it was my own words, while I was writing at night, high from a lack of sleep or an inability to sleep, or from a train of thought that wouldn’t stop until I let it go wherever it wanted to take me, those times when I was possessed by a consciousness whose source never ran out as long as it was dark outside. And, sometimes, that sleeplessness was what I needed.

As a friend had recently noted, it was the death of a parent that made her feel more strongly her sense of being dependent. I was feeling that strongly then, myself, especially now that both my Mom and Dad were gone now. I was, in that way, completely on my own–and yes, it only served to heighten that feeling of dependency.

Lately, I seemed to be finding so many of the things I needed in the car, in the chaotic mess of clothes, books, and papers that got left behind there. They weren’t practical things like house keys, bank cards, or things of that nature. They were things I needed for my recovery from this period of mourning. Which isn’t to say that that recovery itself wasn’t a practical thing. But the things that keep you alive aren’t just the things that keep you breathing.

Earlier that week I found the November 19, 2012 issue of the New Yorker in the car. It was something I’d brought along to read while waiting for Maggie to get out from school. This issue I’d never gotten around to opening—maybe Maggie had gotten out from school early on those days, or maybe I was running late and didn’t have the extra time I usually had when I picked her up. But that Monday, when I took the car to the mechanic, I noticed this issue lying in a pile on the floor of the car and brought it in with me to read while the car was being worked on.

What I saw in there was an article by Roger Angell titled “Over the Wall.” A reflection on death, it was prompted by the passing of Angell’s wife in April of that year, and he began it by detailing all the recent history his wife never got to know: Hurricane Sandy, Obama’s re-election, her grand-daughter’s attending nursery school.

I needed to read this, because this was something that had always obsessed me as well—the news, the stories, the information the dead will never get to know. Whether it was good or bad, the many things one will never get to know always seemed like the most horrible part about dying. For me, it wasn’t the trips to the beach, the good meals, or even being with friends and loved ones that mattered most. It was the knowledge, including the knowledge that my friends and loved ones, whether I was there or not, were breathing. And alive.

My mother never got to know about things like the collapse of the World Trade Center and all the other horror that happened on September 11, 2001. She never knew about the space shuttle Columbia’s falling apart on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere in 2003. She also never got to know my wife Heather, or experience the coming into this world of her grandchildren, Maggie and Julien. And then, eighteen years after my Mom’s death, I was wondering what the things were that my Dad would never know.

And so, much of the time, what I seemed to obsess on were all the bad things they’d never get to know about, the tragedies, the things that were frightening. Because there was always something about my parents knowing things—no matter what they were—that made me feel safer.

I began to understand that you’re never really grown up until you recognize that there will always be a part of you that remains a child, remains dependent. That you’re never really an adult until you realize that dependency is a fact of life, and that to deny your dependency is to deny your humanity.

And also, I began to wonder if all this was just an act of vanity. If each word I wrote was simply part of preparing for death, for that time, whenever it is, when I’ll no longer be here. If all I was doing was keeping a chronicle, a history, a monument marking my time here on earth. Words which, whether poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, would prove that I was here, speaking to the people I knew as well as those I didn’t, the people who in the future would pass through the spaces I once passed through, when I was flesh and blood solid, breathing, and known for what I created rather that what I destroyed. A person who, in his better moments, perhaps even possessed an unmistakable glow.

I wondered, too, if when I’m gone, people will still be reading my poems. If one late night, in a bar—after they’ve shut down the juke box, and there’s no music, just the hum from the refrigerator—if some drunk will remember some line of mine, maybe even an entire poem, before going outside, catching a cab, and going home, alone.

Or maybe not alone.

These two pictures were taken around 1952 at a novelty photo booth in Glen Echo, Maryland, where there was an amusement park up until 1968. The prisoner on the far left is my Auntie Lucilla, who died in 2008. The prisoner to the right of her is my Mom, who died in 1994. The intoxicated man on the right, holding onto the lamp post, is my Dad, who died in 2012. There are so many things they’ll never know about. But then again, there are so many things they lived through that I didn’t, in that long slow time I took being born.

-Jose Padua

Reflections on a Formation of Birds Seen Above a Parking Lot in Lebanon, Pennsylvania During the Winter Solstice

Photograph by Jose Padua
Though some will tell you otherwise, with reasons
ranging from aerodynamic efficiency
to a following of a leader in
order to make it to a certain
destination, there really is nothing
but poetry in this v-formation
of birds in the sky this early evening.
And nothing else to hear but the sound of
my young son sleeping as I watch this winter’s
flight through the windshield in the warmth of the car,
sheltered from the cold, mindful of the brevity
of sleep and so many other things
this smallest of days in a year that
not long ago seemed so far from old age and epochs,
so far from turning gold.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

My Father Remembers Many Legends

Cosme Tuazon Padua
My father remembers many legends, but what he
lives with everyday are the things he sees first hand
with failing eyes, eyes that can still see when my late
mother, his wife, comes to visit him and he sees her
calmly, unsurprised, knowing that this is the way we
live here, to see her walking silently down noisy
steps, or floating like a person riding fired air

through the sky, with her face of slightly parted lips and
wide approaching eyes. Somehow it never occurs
to us to ask what she says or what she does when he
sees her. Does she swing her arms high over her head
in semi-circles that create a brief moment
of clarity, that demonstrate that nothing held so
high in one’s memory can ever fall to the ground,

can ever end? Does she call him by his familiar
name while seated holding a cup at the dining room
table? For us it seems enough that she visits, that
she crosses the vast distance of ghosts to come back
from some vaguely tilted world to be solid, and if
not solid enough to touch, then solid enough
to see. This is not war, this is not flood, earthquake, or

one of the million catastrophes for which my
father waits when a storm approaches or a coup
topples another man’s unbalanced state. This is what
happens after all that, what through his nearly one
hundred years he’s learned. Who are we to question his
prescience, his parsing of everything that is legend?
Through stone, iron, and ice, this is how he has endured.

-Jose Padua

Photo of Cosme T. Padua circa 1935.

The First of a Billion Steps Toward Eternity and the Enlightenment that Comes from Being Thankful for the Color of Plums

Photograph by Jose Padua
For everyone who has ever contemplated
self-destruction, self-immolation, or such
anger as to perpetuate century upon century
of war and strife, consider the prospects
that arrive with the changing of seasons.
A stretching of daylight into what of late
had been under the providence of dusk;
or a mist of sea scent filling one’s breath
the way rest soothes the air that surrounds
a person running away from whatever
can’t run quite as fast. And although
every day someone dies, each of us
dies on only one day, which means
there will be days when you come out
smelling like a large room housing
a single tiny rose. And as the world
disappears beneath the noise of stupid
television shows, electronic conversations
conducted by idiots, and dull information
sent from city to city masquerading as
truth and deep thought, remember
that he who dies with the most toys
doesn’t win, but rather becomes just
another dead asshole, and that eternal
happiness, like the ripening of plums,
may best be approached by aging gracefully.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Whatever Can’t Be Swept Away Will Always Refuse to Disappear

Photograph by Jose Padua
The dust we left behind
in our old apartment in
a building that’s now all
expensive condos in which
we could never afford to
live will never disappear.
It’s still there deep within
the heavy brick walls like
an old layer of lead paint
or a secret lost in the history
of the way things used to be
but never were for the rest
of us. And once in an odd
while a speck of us will
escape into the atmosphere,
make its way into the eye
or nose of whoever’s living
there now, making them sneeze
or cry or scratch an itchy spot
somewhere on back of the neck
as we laugh our rough but
beautiful laughs because the future
has failed to put an end to us.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For the Famous Writers School and All the Hungry Years to Come

Photograph by Jose Padua
By the time my
mother had placed
the ad from
The Famous Writers School
on the dining room
table for me
to see—
the ad that
asked “Are you
one of the quiet
ones who should
be a writer?”—
I was already on
my way to being
less quiet;
already,
in my slow and
steady manner,
on the way to
becoming a writer.
And though the ad
was rather silly
and The Famous Writers School
yet another institution
I didn’t completely trust,
I appreciated seeing it
next to my breakfast
that hungry spring
morning
so many years and
words ago.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Growing Up in Public

Photograph by Jose Padua
In the eighth grade I’m reading
aloud to the class as we do every
week and this time it’s a story
about organized crime in America
and when I get to the nickname
of a mobster—Little Pussy
I say the name aloud and try
to continue reading but I can’t
stop laughing and even Sister
Conrad is laughing and it
occurs to me that Sister Conrad
is thinking of pussy as in pussy
cat
while I’m thinking of
something entirely different.
Several years pass and I grow up
to become a young man, so earnest
in many ways, so serious like
the sins that used to scare me
in parochial school, and I realize
that Sister Conrad may have
been thinking of the same pussy
I was thinking of when I was
an eighth grade boy, and I pause
to look at the sky and the trees
that punctuate the rows of buildings
downtown in this great city where
I live, and marvel at all the beautiful
ways there are to love language.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua