Category Archives: Memoir

Another Yellow Moon

Photograph by Jose Padua
I used to do it
all the time
and I was even
fairly good at it
but now with
my sometimes aching
fingers and diminished
ability regarding rhythm
I play about twice a year
and tonight I picked up
my daughter’s acoustic guitar
because my own
is all out of tune
and hidden behind
old books and older LPs
and after looking everywhere
for one of her guitar picks
and not finding where
she stashes them
I sat in the dining room
held the guitar in my hands
and looked around until
I found next to my spot
on the dining room table
an expired AARP membership card
which I put between my fingers
then tried to figure out
the chords to the old
Tom Waits tune
“Downtown Train”
and like a subway
stuck on the tracks
somewhere in Brooklyn
I didn’t get anywhere close to it
which isn’t to say
this is only reason
I’m writing
this poem.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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Self-Portrait with Flashbacks in the Purple Bathroom of the Lavender Farm in Milton, Delaware

Photograph by Jose Padua
I remember the days of
cigarettes and whippets
a pack of Marlboro Reds
in a box you’d buy
after you pulled the
whipped cream can from
the store shelf when no
one was looking suck
the nitrous out of it put
it back down slide the
glass door shut then
go to the counter with
your cigarettes trying
not to laugh while you
paid then letting it loose
like dropping a handful
of spare change once you
got out the door and laughing
at the night sky walking back
to your neighborhood fast
or slow like a glass door
with smudges or the arrival
of the Queen of Sheba it
was hard to tell sometimes.
Some people did the hard
stuff but you were always
sensible about this and
measured it almost with
precision and a clear eye
on the future except one
time a friend said his heart
stopped from too much nitrous
but he/they/someone got it
going again and he’s living
in Canada now or Wisconsin
being some kind of life coach
or whatever they call that
professional self-help situation
when there’s someone with
a certificate doing the
unwieldy lifting for you.
And me I’m living the calm
life now in small town
conservative America thinking
beautiful socialist thoughts like
wild mist coming off dry ice
in the late Pleistocene or in
the evening quiet of the living
room loving both my family
and the way the rug ends
and the wood floor begins
when I walk toward the hall
on my way to the stairs when
its time to go to bed thinking
how every molecule within me
that has survived and is alive
moves in exquisite time like
an orchestra of oboes, bassoons,
horns, trumpets, timpani, strings,
and takes up space like brass in
pocket on a day coming out
of a store all shiny when there
really was nothing I needed to buy.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Routine Evaluation of My Accomplishments at a Late Stage in the Middle Part of My Career

Photograph by Jose Padua
Because of a mix tape I played for what
must have been a couple of decades, I can’t
hear Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover”
without expecting to hear T.S. Monk’s
“Bon Bon Vie (Gimme the Good Life)”
right after it. There were train rides when
I was so weary I’d fall asleep in minutes,
days when I was so sad flowers lacked
both scent and color. Meanwhile, weeks
were lost like socks with holes in them
and days recalled like harmful products
except there was no store where I could
take them back, no class action lawsuit
for squandered opportunities and essential
connections missed. These years of love
have sustained me far beyond anything
I ever could have imagined; a dusting to
an inch of snow overnight on cold asphalt
resulting in a two hour delay is all part
of the good life. A red light long enough
for me to take a picture of blue sky over
grey pavement is like a shot glass from
a roadside gift shop, another memory that
never diminishes. I admit I didn’t always
know this, just as I understand that there
are gaps in my resume that will never be
explained, and disturbances in my sleep
which, like having to go to the bathroom
at 4am, only briefly interrupt the dream.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

That Point Where the Rivers Meet and All Our Noble Angry Efforts

Photo by Jose Padua
We were half a mile away from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, descending Route 340 into those lower depths where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac, when my seven year old son Julien asked from the back seat, “Is Donald Trump a douchebag?” It was one of those questions to which an average parent might respond by scolding or, at the very least, by recommending a change in diction. Heather and I, however, aren’t those parents. Which isn’t to say we didn’t answer swiftly and firmly.

“Yes,” we said right away. And then, in case Julien needed further affirmation, we said it again: “Yes.” And, “he is a douchebag.” Not that we thought Julien wasn’t clear about it, but sometimes, for the sake of what’s good in the world, one will repeat things. Like Molly Bloom, at the end of James Joyce’s Ulysses, repeatedly saying “Yes.” There is, of course, a measure of poetry in this.

As it was, this was a nice change from the previous day when, driving to pick up our daughter Maggie and Julien from school, I noticed a bumper sticker on the car ahead of me. On it were the words, “Real Men Aren’t Afraid to Show It,” and what these words were printed above was the Confederate Flag. The first thoughts that came to mind were, “How can you even begin to have a discussion with someone who expresses this so proudly and so publicly?” And then came the usual string of imprecations directed toward the driver of the vehicle bearing this sentiment. The imprecations are, certainly, a different kind of poetry. But they are poetry nonetheless.

That afternoon, we continued past Harper’s Ferry on up to the outskirts of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Heather’s parents’ house. We stepped in for a while, then Heather and I left Maggie and Julien with Heather’s mom and her sister Kara, and took Heather’s dad Gary with us. We drove into town where the writer George Saunders was doing a reading at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore. In this photograph, taken at the bookstore that evening, the look on George Saunders’s face is the same look I had on my face when I saw the “Real Men Aren’t Afraid to Show It”/Confederate Flag bumper sticker—the difference between George Saunders and me being that while he was about to tell a funny, illuminating story, I was about to shout obscenities toward the driver of the car in front of me. I gather that this isn’t the only area where George Saunders comes out way ahead of me, but it’s a start.

After the reading, we went back to Heather’s parents’ house. Julien got to spend some time playing with his two year old cousin Lochlan, while Maggie spent half the time hanging out with her grandmother and the other half of the time reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I was more than halfway through college when I read Crime and Punishment, while Maggie is just fourteen years old. Which means that, like George Saunders, she’s way ahead of me—but that’s fine with me. In fact, that she’s ahead of where I was at her age pleases me to a level higher than Elon Musk could ever imagine. That because of this she has opportunities I never had pleases me even more.

The other night, Julien said “newspaper, newspaper” in his sleep. I wondered what it was he was dreaming about. Just as I wonder about the spinning of the earth, and the ways we might measure our movements against those of the universe and all those objects that are faster, stronger, bolder than we are. And, I wonder about the ways I might illuminate the smallest details to the point where everything is significant and nothing can ever be lost.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For the Sun, the Moon, and Everyone, and Everything

Photograph by Jose Padua
Those days when I was socially awkward weren’t
that long ago. After reading James Joyce’s “The Dead”
on my own in high school and feeling illuminated,
lifted, and sad all at once, there was nothing like
asking a girl to the prom for making me feel like
another ordinary asshole or some such shit. I would
have preferred to write a poem and have the girl
accept me or reject me on literary grounds rather
than on my personality or lack thereof; rather than
on my looks or my poor sense of style, but as I would
say years later when I was more likely to say these
things, oh what the fuck? Nowadays, because I’m
a poet I’m expected to be a little odd in some respects.
If I don’t at least twitch a little bit when I’m giving
a reading, or stare at someone as if I’m beholding the
entrance to oblivion, people start to feel a little ripped
off. Nowadays if I write someone a poem it’s flattering
rather than creepy, because poetry is my art and my art
is what’s expected of me, most of the time. So I dedicate
this poem to everyone in the world—to the sun and the
moon and everyone and everything. This doesn’t mean
I am asking anyone to dance, or for anyone’s phone
number or whatever it is people ask for these days. And
this doesn’t mean my feelings have changed, or that my
view of human existence is any more or any less cynical.
But the earth is spinning at around a thousand miles per
hour, and the universe, after how many billions of years,
is still expanding, and this morning I am drinking coffee,
tasting what to me seems the perfect combination of bitter
and sweet, earth and sky. I am astounded once again, by
the beauty of it all, and stirred to the point of giddiness
by that which is both lovely and strange.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Self-Portrait in the Form of Comments by White Supremacists on Me and My Work

Photograph by Jose Padua
The colossal ego of this “Jose Padua” cockroach is astounding.
He could go to some third world country, where he could walk
around and look like an unkempt, brooding asshole and no one
would pay any attention to him. A whiny attention whore. His
hurt feelings, his discomfort belies his own racism. The problem
I am afraid is that this butt-hurt breeder, who managed to take
a dump in the genetic punch bowl by impregnating some poor
delusional white woman with his discount-human sperm, knows
that he has the entire system behind him. He knows that he can
count on the system to publish his butt-hurt anti-white ramblings.
Stay out of my country, Jose Padua. Nobody owes you anything.
His wife’s a race traitor and he’s a wannabe white who’s pissy
because he knows he’ll never be accepted by whites. This seething,
jealous, angry anti-white non-white, Jose Padua. Fuck this garbage
and his sense of self-entitlement. What’s the matter, Jose? Weren’t
your own people good enough for you? I no longer smile at illegals.
I look them in the eye, and I’m not smiling—oh, they hate that. Though
my gut tells me you are correct. I doubt “Jose Padua” exists at all.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

To the Ruling Class and All the Fearful Acolytes of Its Pale Supremacy

Photograph by Jose Padua
There was the waitress who at the end
of my dinner with my wife, my young
daughter, my son, asked if I needed a
separate check. The gift shop owner
who asked my wife if she needed help
and then asked me, not thinking we were
there together even though we walked in
at the same time. The heavy numbers of
citizen heroes, patriots, professionals,
pillars of the community and such
who considered me a stranger, harasser,
servant of dictators, interloper, purveyor
of lies and dangerous ideologies
rather than husband, father, brother,
friend, celebrator, griever, loser,
earner, fellow walker of beautiful
streets in small, discreet towns; listener
to the daily buzz and warm hum of
big cities; viewer of sunsets, rivers,
and mountains; and lover of—and
sometimes to—the deep blue hush
of evening before all motion comes
to rest. To them I present just
this—my presence here, an aching
middle aged step, an appetite not
so much for knowledge but for
any manners of delight knowledge
may lead to. And whatever attempts
at grace I may make, I make not
for profit or glory, not that I am
averse to the possibilities of such,
nor to god or country or any entity
whose existence I am unsure of,
but for the simple purpose of beholding
the wideness of its reach, of feeling
the sweetly subtle strength of a great
and rarely spoken language.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Further Reflections on Sound, Image, and Time as Imprisoned and Then Released by Memory


We were getting close to Leesburg, Virginia on a Monday when the Rahsaan Roland Kirk song that was playing on the car stereo ended. Right away, my son Julien (who was almost six years old then) asked me to play it again. Now, there are some musical requests of his that I’ll turn down, like when he asks me to play The Smith’s “Sheila Take a Bow” over and over. It’s a song I love, but I don’t usually want to hear it more than once a day. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, though, is another matter, and when Julien asked me to play “Say a Little Prayer” again, I reached right over to press the button that would put it on again.

The night before, we were on Rixeyville Road on the way to Culpeper, Virginia to drop my daughter Maggie’s friend Lillie back at her house when the Gus van Sant/William Burroughs tune “Millions of Images” came on. In the year or so it’s been in the mix of songs I have on the car stereo, my wife Heather and I have come to the realization that there’s something comforting about the sound of William Burroughs’s voice. Whether we were lost on some country road in Virginia or central Pennsylvania, or making our way through the streets of Philadelphia to get to an Iggy Pop concert on time, the voice of William Burroughs helped to calm us down. I realize not everyone finds his voice soothing—and (as I’ve noted previously) that not every family listens to him together the way we do, but I guess we’re not like everybody else.

That week, like Julien, Maggie was back in school. For fun, Maggie had been taking Nirvana songs and figuring out how to play them on piano. She also worked on learning Ryuichi Sakamoto’s theme song for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. As for what she was working on with the guitar, I couldn’t keep up, but I recall hearing licks from The Kinks at the time, and during dinner one evening she said she had a Kendrick Lamar tune stuck in her head, so I imagine that that was appearing in the mix, too.

That week, I went to my primary care physician to get a referral for a neurologist. I kept having these brief episodes of transient global amnesia where my short term memory goes kaput for a few hours. It was nothing like six years ago when, shortly after my Dad died, I went an entire day without being able to remember anything for more than a few minutes. At any rate, after the initial shock, I wasn’t really worried about it. I think when you’ve got a million images bouncing through your head all the time, it’s not unusual for them to get stuck once in a while. It’s like when there’s a speck of dirt or a scratch on an LP and that sharp diamond stylus, tracing the groove on the vinyl surface, gets jammed and plays the same phrase over and over. You just have to give it a little nudge, or else gently lift the tonearm and plop it back down past the dirt or the scratch. Soon, the music is playing again, and the images, along with the soundtrack that accompanies them, are flowing smoothly again.

On the way back from Leesburg, the car stereo was playing Jackie McLean and Ornette Coleman doing “Old Gospel.” It’s one of those tunes where Ornette is playing the trumpet, an instrument he wasn’t at all proficient on. I know some people may disagree, but I think he gets it done anyway. Because in art there ain’t no single way to get shit done, and no single place you need to get to. Art is where you create your own destiny. Art is what, late at night when no one is looking, makes the goons in charge shit in their pants.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Silent Tongues in the House of the Rising Sun

Photgraph by Jose Padua
My ten-year old daughter was playing
House of the Rising Sun
on the piano in the hall
when she suddenly let loose
with some improvised right
and left hand jabs that to me
sounded just like Cecil Taylor
at his jagged, poetic best,
and I started thinking that twenty years ago
what had just happened was something
I never would have imagined
much less dreamed of
after a clear New York night
of twenty-twenty sound and vision
(twenty drinks, twenty cigarettes),
but what’s even more beautiful
is that tonight in my small sleepy town
I can look up to the sky and see
a deep blue silence surrounding
a half, nearly see-through moon
that like the taste of sugar
from a salt-rimmed glass
leaves room for those great leaps of faith
that let the imagination
grow.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For All the Past and Coming Years of Sound and Friendship

Photograph by Jose Padua
I didn’t become aware of Prince until around the time of his third album, Dirty Mind, when I’d see this poster of guy with a kerchief around his neck, a flashy sport coat over his bare chest, and skimpy black briefs hanging in the window of Melody Records at Dupont Circle. I’d be on my way home from my first full time job after graduating from college, waiting for the bus outside the record store after getting off the subway. It was 1980 and I was a messenger at the Library of Congress, delivering requests for information by hand to various departments within the Congressional Research Service, while the guy in the poster, obviously, had a much more exciting job than I did.

But it was all fine with me. On paydays, I’d go into the store before hopping on the bus. At the time I was listening mostly to avant garde jazz, and after completing my mission of hunting down every record Albert Ayler had made in his lifetime, I was perhaps looking for some change of pace. The guy in the poster, of course, was Prince, and at first I had no idea what he was all about. I’d read about him here and there—stuff about him being the next big thing—and I was intrigued. But it wasn’t until someone brought Dirty Mind home—I don’t remember if it was me or one of my brothers—that I heard any of it. What I do remember, though, is hearing the opening of the song “Dirty Mind” for the first time—how the drums and keyboards led to that voice. I didn’t think it was a great voice, at first. I mean, Philip Bailey, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and on and on—I probably could have thought of a dozen falsettos I liked more off the top of my head. But as I listened I saw how Prince got his voice to say everything he wanted it to say, and what he was saying wasn’t like anything else that was around at the time, because what he was saying was both dirty and sweet, hard-boiled and romantic, light and profound.

From that first time hearing him, I was hooked. From then on, Prince’s music was a part of my life, though his wasn’t the only music I needed. There was still the avant garde jazz I was big on—the previously mentioned Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, and so forth; there was punk and “new wave” like Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, Wire; there was the Ramayana Monkey Chant and all sorts of music that to me was essential. I understood that not everyone was into this wide variety of sounds, and that was cool. I could hang with people who didn’t get Sun Ra, I could drink at the Tune Inn on Capitol Hill with Patsy Cline playing over and over on the juke box for the hundredth time, I could attend a prim and proper recital of Mozart and enjoy both the music and the scene, but if you didn’t like Prince I was immediately suspicious of you. And whenever I heard someone say something along the lines of, “I don’t think Prince is all that great,” I’d make my way to the other end of the bar, find someone else to talk to at the party, or just leave to get away from the ugliness.

Still, this isn’t to say that I always moved down to the other end of the bar. I probably spent a little too much time, especially when I was young, hanging out with people I didn’t quite click with, people who I felt safe with but who didn’t inspire me. But after a while I did move on. I started hanging out less with a crowd that only listened to Top 40 radio or classic rock and who didn’t care much about poetry or foreign films and modern art and a million other things. I started hanging out more with those friends from college who would actually party to Ornette Coleman’s music, Talking Heads, and Prince of course. They were a little bit crazier than my other friends, but then I was a little crazier than my other friends as well, and becoming less crazy was, for me, neither option nor choice.

Over the years I made new friends, lost touch with old ones, got pissed at good friends, laughed uncomfortably with bad friends, made up with real friends, and fell completely out with others because sometimes it’s just so hard to even say anything. There were people whom I missed like the next sip of bourbon, and people who were just stomach aches and head aches and sore throats and pink eye. As for me, I was, by turns, a saint, an asshole, a pillar of strength, a pompous jerk, the wittiest person in the room, the dullest clown in a travelling circus of the damned. There were things that I could have done better, things that I did do better, tasks that I performed spectacularly, and tasks at which I was completely lost but did anyway, because, Jesus, sometimes it was just nice to do something/anything whether I was good at it or bad at it. That I continue to have good days and bad days proves that I am alive.

Not long after he died, I played Prince’s Dirty Mind album again. And again. Then I listened to For You and the eponymously titled Prince album again, because in 1980 that’s what I did—I went back to those earlier records. After one more go at Dirty Mind I listened to Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day. I went on like that for a while—working, writing, doing the things I usually did by myself and with my family during the course of the day, all while reliving the progression and evolution of sound, from the late 70s to the present time, through the music of Prince.

I imagine that, during the course of those days, I was bopping my head up and down a little more, tapping my feet more than I usually did when I sat at the computer and wrote. And, I imagine, that with the help of this music, I felt a little more becalmed and content than my obsessive compulsive mind—with its unending flash of words and images and emotions—usually allowed me. Because in my more panicked moments, I look at life as an all too rapid process, the basis of which is solely biological and thus entirely lacking in the sort of essential qualities needed to form any manner of philosophical much less spiritual approach to existence. It’s when my thought processes slow down that they regain any kind of warmth in this regard, and I start to believe again that moments, years, even entire millenniums have direction and meaning. Oddly enough, it’s music that can slow me down like this.

One night, in the middle of all that, I took a photograph of my daughter Maggie and my son Julien playing in the back yard. My wife Heather was late getting in from town and by the time we were done eating dinner it was already starting to get dark. Still, we kept on going, bouncing this big red ball and a smaller blue and white ball back and forth between the four of us. In the photograph I took, Maggie is holding the red ball and laughing while Julien is holding the smaller one and looking serious because when you’re younger, like him, you feel like you have to work that much harder to keep up with everyone. At my age, much of the time, I still feel like that. Then I get caught up.

And so I watch as the years go by, taking into consideration the varying levels of light and dark, warmth and cold, speed and its opposite. While some parents may see money, career, and marriage as the most significant indicators of the brightness of a child’s future, I rarely think along those lines. And while they’re good to have, there are other things that are more basic and more important. Which is why, on a beautiful night, when the sun has gone down and the air begins to cool, what I wish for my children before anything else is a future full of sound and friendship. And the ability to move through the years like a falsetto that says everything that can possibly be said, and in so doing aspires toward grace.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua