Category Archives: 3. Literature

A Book of Lines and Years

AnotherFuckingSunset_20150530_195834_Crop
I give to you a book
of days, you give to
me a line of minutes.
I give to you a story
of weeks, you give
to me a poem of years.
Seconds pass, then months,
with neither of us noticing
their passage until we look
into the mirror which
reveals to each a slight
surprise. It seems unpleasant
at first but as with wine,
it’s through our becoming
from boy to man and
girl to woman that we
learn to love it. If we
didn’t age we would
merely stay the same,
which has its benefits,
but with lack of change
comes all the horrible
baggage of boredom and
the awful dullness of ignorance.
This isn’t to say that every
line suggests much less
indicates character or even
wisdom, just that every
passage of time, whether
slow or swift, completes
the shape that makes us
into men and women
of vision, with eye and
ear, or touch and taste,
and sometimes even scent,
to recognize each clear and
brief moment, and all those
fleeting states of grace.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

All Things and Other Versions of the Course of Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
At the formal dinner party
sometime during my college
years my friend’s younger
sister who has Down’s Syndrome
blurts out “My Daddy’s dead”
because it’s just a week after
the funeral and she’s still
a long way from leaving it
behind and my friend’s
girlfriend shakes her head
in disapproval as if being
sad and saying “My Daddy’s
dead” is some terrible social
faux pas and I look at my
friend’s sister and tell her
“I know, it’s sad” then look
back at my friend’s girlfriend
who I think is the most gorgeous
woman in the world and for a
moment I stop thinking about
how things could have been
different and instead consider
on this cold winter day in
the 1970s how beautiful it is
to be young, be here, and be
alive.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Hundred and One Years of Sun Ra and Other Examples of the Beautiful Passing of Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
Over the years, of all the musicians I’ve seen perform live, the one I’ve seen more than anyone else is Sun Ra. Wherever I was, if he was coming to town, I went to see him. There was never any question about it. Even one time, in New York, when I was in the middle of some horrible flu, I went to see him play, and by the time the show was over I felt completely fine. He and his music had that kind of effect on me.

In fact, one of the few things I actually regret—and, since I consider every sort of misstep, error, or wrong turn a learning experience, I don’t regret much—was that time in New York when Sun Ra was set to play at the bandstand in Central Park. It had been a stormy summer day, and I just assumed the show was going to be rained out. Of course, later in the day things cleared up a bit—still I didn’t think it was enough for the show to have gone on. Then, in the early evening, when I stepped outside for the first time that day, I ran into one of the guys who worked at the Nuyorican Poets Café, which was just down the street from me. He was heading into work.

“Man, I just saw the greatest show,” he said.

“What?” I said, incredulous. And I’m sure I must have been pissed and said something like, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Things cleared up uptown, and he went on. Of course it’s going to clear up for Sun Ra.”

I, of course, felt like such a fucking loser, for not having faith in the power of Sun Ra. I did manage to catch him in a club in New York at least one more time before he left the planet on May 30, 1993. When he died, WKCR played his music non-stop for about a week, and so for about a week, whenever I was home, I listened to Sun Ra and nothing else. There aren’t many musicians I could listen to exclusively for a whole week without eventually wanting to hear something different.

When my daughter Maggie was born, it wasn’t long before I played Sun Ra’s music for her. I probably started with something easier, like Jazz in Silhouette. Though by the time she was four she was already asking me to play her “some of Sun Ra’s weirder stuff” when I picked her up from school. So there we were, riding around our new home—this conservative small town called Front Royal, Virginia—playing Sun Ra’s Disco 3000 record in our mini-van. For a little while, anyway, when we first moved here, it was pretty much just Sun Ra and P-Funk that Maggie wanted to hear when we were making our way around town. And, naturally, when Julien was born, it was probably just a week—or maybe even a few days—after we brought him home that one night I played for him “The Conversion of J.P.” from the Sun Ra record, Space Probe. It’s this deceptively simple piece from Sun Ra, starting with percussion and flute for several minutes before Sun Ra comes in playing these halting, broken chords on the piano. Subtly and beautifully, he builds on this as the notes start to come together and move forward. By the time the piece is over, you know and you feel that Sun Ra has taken you somewhere. And in a way that no one else could.

Today, May 22, 2015, marks the 101th anniversary of the arrival of Sun Ra on the planet. About two and a half years ago, on the occasion of his second birthday, Julien seemed to take a few moments to channel Sun Ra. That’s what you see in this photograph—Julien, at his toy keyboard in the evening on his second birthday, wearing a wild pair of sunglasses and gazing up at the heavens. It’s very much the sort of pose Sun Ra would strike in the midst of a performance. And just looking at this photograph, I start to hear the sounds. At first, it’s Sun Ra’s music. But then, it becomes something else—something for which Sun Ra laid the foundation and upon which Maggie and Julien will be building, using whatever art forms they see fit.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

To My Daughter on the Eve of Our First Trip Together to New York City

Photogrph by Jose Padua
As you know by now I spent a lot of time there
drunk in smoky dive bars. There were too many
of them on the way to the museums, bookstores,
record shops, movies, plays, work, or my apartment
and if I didn’t hit the bars on the way there I hit them
on the way back and sometimes both on the way
there and on the way back because life was beautiful
like that then though less so than it is now. Which
isn’t to say that there isn’t still war and catastrophe
in the world nowadays, because of course there still
is and maybe there’s even more, and this isn’t to say
that as you grow older you won’t be thinking often
of these things, because you will and you’ll most
likely be thinking of them more often than those
who only think of what they can buy and what
they can do for fun, which isn’t to say that you’ll
never buy anything or think about what you can
do for fun because you will. But what you buy
and what you do for fun won’t be the only things
you think about and they won’t be the only things
you work for when you work. And though I hope
you never reach the frequency and levels of
intoxication I once did, I do wish you to know
the joys of intoxication, but especially the
intoxication of remembering, not forgetting,
and the joy of those intricate and difficult thoughts
that float through imagined space like specks
of dust in a sliver of sunlight that pokes through
the dark air of a dive bar at happy hour. And as
for the reason why the world is more beautiful
today than it was then, it’s because you are here
to add to it and not take away from it, like the
dream that was waiting to be dreamt in the back
of my mind in those drunk days before your
mother and I ever met. Before we started dreaming
together and waking each morning with a few
new lines, a story, and tiny images that grew
and grew, then like this and the world and you,
they learned to change shape on their own.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Beauty of Revolution Is in the Blood That Flows from Heart to Brain to Finger

Photograph by Jose Padua
When my toddler son sprinkles salt on the kitchen
floor then attempts to lick it up I immediately
understand the experiment and the risk he knows
he’s taking and the knowledge he expects to be
gaining. He’s at an age where the way a room tastes
is just as important as its dimensions and the way
sunlight enters it and hits the walls and bends yellow
into green, or the way wood floors expand and contract
depending on the temperature and how the sound
it then makes depends on the moisture in the air
and whether it’s morning or evening and the cat
is upstairs or downstairs and it’s a school day or
the weekend in that time of year when the weather
is moody like a child in need of a meal, then rest.
He knows enough to say “macaroni and cheese”
when the waiter comes by at a restaurant, and to
look him in the eyes in recognition and out of respect
for the service he offers at a reasonable cost, yet
doesn’t let the slender measure of civilization that’s
in him prevent him from throwing a whole grain roll
to the ground in disgust as a way of saying that he
doesn’t want any bread and would rather play
at the table with his tiny toy trains until dinner comes.
This, of course, is the dilemma we face. How to retain
the inner passionate child while at the same time learning
to work with one’s fellow inhabitants of the globe and
atmosphere for the purpose of keeping our species
and as many others as possible alive in the face
of the spectacular failures of man’s highest aspirations
and the dominant oppressions of predatory capitalist society.
This is not a joke. This is not another iteration of the necessity
of art and dance and language in the face of a cheapening
of the senses by facile, popular entertainments whose
sole purpose is the fortification of the regressive hierarchy
and oligarchy, but then again it is. And the trick to survival
is to support real work, revere and uphold the practices
of true teachers and educators, and disgrace the purveyors
of idiocy and disable the perpetrators of greed and perpetual
misery masquerading as citizen, celebrity, or institution.
We throw salt to the floor, then size up the breadth
and width of the room through the taste on our tongues.
We throw the stale bread to the ground. We flex our hearts,
we rise with our minds, we lift our fingers with our blood,
and woe unto them who wish that we spill a single drop.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Watching Television with My Mother

Photograph by Jose Padua
Watching television with my Mom
sometimes it was professional wrestling
and she’d go one two THREE whenever
the bad guy heel got pinned by the babyface
hero. She always liked the babyfaces and
I usually liked the heels but whenever she
counted out loud like a wannabe referee
or a master dancer teaching her student
how to waltz, I was happy her guy won.
After her stroke it was hard for her to hit
the same rhythm though I could see it
on her face that seemed to say Go in place
of the numbers, Go as the means of instruction,
and ever since then that’s been what I prefer
to hear. Go instead of “it’s ten minutes
before we get home.” Beautiful instead of
“the temperature is 72 degrees.” Forever
instead of gone or absent or missing. And
when we walk we walk like heroes, here,
in the last sunlight before astronomical dusk,
because whoever moves on this illuminated
Earth by counting steps is lost to dust, and
we strive not to be moved by these dry winds.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Sitting in Limbo

Photograph by Jose Padua
Some days feel like
an old Jimmy Cliff
song, which shows my
age as opposed to my
convictions, everything
stretched to limits I forget
ever existed. Life is too
hard for art right now,
too sour for a novel
about grapes, too short
for a nonet of symphonies
or a particle of physics
representing order, much
less symmetry. But it’s
all like a carnival ride
where I slipped through
the gate without paying—
moving up and down the
rails, feeling that rush, that
swoon, for free. And even
when life is too hard the
art is there anyway, never
boring me, never dulling
me to sleep, never ceasing
to amaze me through these
itinerant hours spent as
if standing in line, then sitting
in my seat, waiting for
incredible dreams to begin.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Brief Meditation on All the Drinks That Made Their Way Down to My Gut

Photograph by Jose Padua
I remember it was Bobby Reilly
whose father owned the Irish bar
five blocks away who kneed me
in the stomach when I finally stopped
running around frantically on the
playground while the other kids in
fourth grade surrounded me chanting
“Chinese Checkers Chinese Checkers”
as a way I suppose of reminding me
where my people were from, and
though they got the continent right
they got the country wrong, not that
getting the facts straight is ever high
on the list of priorities of people at
any age who are trying to put you
in what they think is your proper
place. And though I grew up and
drank gloriously so many times and
sometimes at one beautiful noisy Irish
bar or another, I never went to the one
run by Bobby Reilly’s dad because
despite all the reasons I drank, drinking
to forget was never one of them, just as
the complete and easy healing of old
wounds was always a drunken tale
told for the benefit of the privileged.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In the Season of Blue Afternoons and Starry Starry Nights

Photograph by Jose Padua
It’s 1979 and I’m just out of college
and loving the landscape doing the
only kind of traveling I can afford
when the Greyhound bus stops along
the highway in Arizona and the man
with the uniform and gun walks down
the aisle, looks at my face, then asks
in that serious monotone voice that I
can hardly believe isn’t coming out
of the mouth of some science fiction
robot, “Do you have your papers?”
And I pause, because I’m wondering
if the rich kids went through something
similar when they did spring break in
Cancun, Jamaica, the Bahamas. Then
I look him in the eyes and say with
a slow, clear voice in an attempt
to demonstrate that I speak English
very well, “No, I don’t have any
papers, I’m an American citizen,”
and it’s then that I finally realize
that before a time of healing there
must come a time of great strife,
a period of tremendous noise and
the unceremonious toppling of
comfortable institutions, and that
for me, unlike the rich kids, the
other kids, the kids who had it
the easy way, love and travel would
always be acts of revolution during
which I’d better keep an eye out
for the color of uniforms.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Spaced Cowboy

Photograph by Jose Padua
In dreams I am holding a fistful
of sand, letting the grains fall
from my hand, my fist getting smaller
as the pile of sand at my feet grows
higher, lifting me closer to blue
skies, twinkling stars, and the slow
glowing of the moon, because in dreams
nothing is basic. Nothing moves so
simply as in a dream, our legs stranded
on the ground while our arms try
to break free, nothing is so bold
as speech where we say exactly
what we want to everyone we hate,
and nothing shines like
an old Sly Stone LP, spinning
on a turntable in someone’s
damp basement in the 70s
when we finally realized the 60s
were over.
In dreams there is no limit,
we do everything we can;
no beast is too great to be struck
by my fist, no height too grand to scale,
my voice rising like a yodel
or an ululating, even epiglottal
tantrum of art in my city-boy throat.
I shrink, I rise; the bright pebbles
hiss, they roar; and I realize
that you are my instrument.
That this is still my life.
That somewhere is a war
and an angel and a child,
throwing a ball up into
the hoop, hitting nothing but net.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua