Category Archives: New York

Miller Williams Poetry Prize 2019


I am happy and honored to announce that my manuscript, A Short History of Monsters, has been chosen by Billy Collins as the winner of the 2019 Miller Williams Poetry Prize. Here is a link to a story regarding the prize by Jaime Adame for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/jul/20/poetry-winner-seeks-humor-amid-the-pain-1/

-Jose Padua

Advertisements

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

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

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

Those Years That Went Down

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when
I’m walking
in the old neighborhood with
my wife, my daughter, my son
and we pass by
all the sharp corners
and tight spaces
where daytime drunks
still gather,
no longer hidden by
the ornament
of night,
I remember
those years that
went down
like whiskey
and the beauty
of the B-side of
a hit single,
played over and over
on the juke box
in my favorite dive bar
until everyone
gets really annoyed,
lays down their mugs
their tumblers
their heavy shot glassess—
those sacred, precise
instruments of drinking–
as the smoky air
begins to feel liquid.
So glad
I made it out
into the open air,
so grateful
for solid blue
sky.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For the City and These Long Decades Spent Wandering

Photograph by Jose Padua
After dinner one evening my six year old son declares
“Trump is a barbarian” from out of nowhere or anywhere
I can immediately recall not that speaking the truth ever
requires a prompt, instance, or specific rules of condition
with truth being, like clear air, blue water, or green earth,
its own reason for being. Later my daughter, or as my
son says, his big sister, asks for help in using the almost
thirty-year old turntable on my twenty-five year old stereo
so she can listen to a song from Neil Young’s forty-three
year old LP, On the Beach, in beautiful, black analog sound,
and I have to think about it, have to figure it out because
I don’t use it that often myself though once I started thinking
it all came back like an after-midnight walk down Broadway
through the widening space of a New York City summer
which despite being many drinks, a few decades, and several
presidents ago is not the sort of thing one forgets. And what
lifts me from weariness and dread are the small things, not
the grand recollections and gestures but the brief but glowing
movements, the laying down of a hand on a table, the darting
of the eyes while reading a book. The history of the world
is the history of your outrage versus mine, your fist against
my tongue, my speech against your fist, because what is
mine will always be mine and forever forged into my blood
like the taste of my true love’s lips. This doesn’t mean
I won’t offer you food when you’re hungry and doesn’t
mean we can’t walk forward and change tenses, but your
sad story will need a new way of being told and recognize
that we are now walking through flooded streets and that
all the buildings that once towered over us have collapsed.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Reflections Inspired by the Space Between the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store and the Walmart Supercenter and by the Sky That Rises High Above Us All

Photograph by Jose Padua
On that Saturday night I accidentally took a double dose of my medications. I was sitting at my computer, ready to do some work, and as I usually do, I stopped to take my pills. This time, though, I immediately forgot that I had done so (I do, from time to time, have short term memory issues that have nothing to do with my occasional bouts of transient global amnesia) and one minute later I took them again. When it happened, I wasn’t sure, and I thought, “Wait, did I already take these a minute ago?” It wasn’t until a few hours later when—unable to decide whether I was wide awake and wired or incredibly drowsy and ready to collapse—that I figured out for sure that I had taken a double dose.

I went upstairs and sat in bed, waiting to see if I started to feel really bad and ready to wake up Heather if I did. After a while, the more tense feeling started to subside, and I began to simply feel sleepy. As I considered how perhaps it’s time for me to get one of those pill boxes with which I can sort my medications by the day of the week, I fell asleep. Waking up late in the morning, I felt a little shaky and a little bit out-of-it. It reminded me of the way I’d feel back in my drinking days when I’d wake up on a Sunday afternoon with a bad hangover.

Sometimes that hangover would last for days. I remember one time in New York, after a massive drinking session, running into Mike Buscemi somewhere on Avenue A. Mike had been around at one point during my drinking session, and now, two days later, was kind of surprised to see me up and about. I gather that he thought I was in such bad shape the last time he saw me that it might be a long time before I was out in public again, but there I was.

“Are you OK?” he asked. My head still felt like a cumulus cloud—slow, puffy, and out of reach. But it was nice to be out on the streets of the city, talking to someone.

“I’m still a little out of it,” I said. “But I think I’m starting to get back to normal.” And he gave me that well, hang in there look, which was exactly what I needed so I could enter the real world again.

When I went downstairs the morning after my overdose, I saw that Heather, Maggie, and Julien were out in the back yard. I told Heather what I’d done with my meds the previous night, then sat down as they kicked a soccer ball around. I had that cloudy feeling, and sitting down while watching them move around was exactly what I needed to get my mind, and then my body, moving again.

Later that day, we all made our way out of the house. There was something we needed at the Target store up in Crooked Run just north of town. Afterwards, since it was late and we were all tired, we went to the Cracker Barrel across the road. The hostess sat us at a table by the window. We rarely ever get seated by the window, so it felt like a treat to me, sitting there in the early evening at that point when the descending sun is beginning to turn the clouds yellow and orange. All through dinner, I probably looked at the sky more than I looked at my food. And though I was distracted from the pleasures of my meal—I was quite hungry by then—I didn’t mind it at all.

When we were done, we drove off from the Cracker Barrel to see the sky hovering over the slender road between the Lowe’s Home Improvement store and the Walmart Supercenter. I had to stop and gaze at it for a few moments. Then we drove on—away from Lowe’s, away from Walmart—as I started to feel less and less like a cloud, and more like something that can never be called normal but which nevertheless feels quite fine.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Black

Photograph by Jose Padua
I don’t like to wear hats, but sometimes,
when I lived in New York, and it was cold
enough, I’d wear a beret. It was black, of course,

because if it isn’t black it isn’t really a beret.
Most of the clothes I wore in New York were
black, though it was hard to tell because that

rich deep shade was usually faded from being
washed and worn too many times—I didn’t know
the art of wearing one’s clothes gently, I never

mastered that because usually I was the one being
mastered. Mastered by some woman who wore
black better than me, mastered by my inability

to find just the right amount of work, mastered
by the middle class and those things you need
to buy, mastered by my apartment when the

bathtub backed up and the water that rose
from the drain was black. One time I sat
in my apartment listening to the stereo and

imagining that when Nina Simone sang
“Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”
that she was singing it for me. Or that when

Rahsaan Roland Kirk played “Never Can Say
Goodbye” from his album Blacknuss I wasn’t
in my apartment but in the audience, watching,

listening, traveling the lost years through time.
And when I stepped outside with that music
in my head, I put on my beret hoping it would keep

the music there longer. As if music were the key
to everything from the color of clouds to the
brightness of the early morning’s light. As if

on a dark winter night all the shelter I’d need
to keep my significant sound and light secure in
the cold winter air was the power of the color black.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Half-Life

Photograph by Jose Padua
This is my autobiography
at mid-life, assuming that
at 51 years of age I will
live another 51 years and
die at 102. That’s not very
likely, but I wasn’t ready
to write this at 30, and
with the way I was living
then I wouldn’t have made it
to 60, meaning that at 30
it was too late to discuss
the middle of my life as
it was happening because
the middle was already
long gone. Somehow
I survived. Now I have
a heart condition that’s
under control, but which
in more severe cases can
kill a man or a woman
as quickly as the villain
in a gory, stupid, horror
film; I also have what’s called
chronic obstructive pulmo-
nary disease, which means
I can’t run a marathon
or hold my breath without
turning purple at least half
a minute before everyone
else. I have Tourette Syn-
drome, which makes it so
people don’t even need to
know me to know that
there’s something wrong
with me, taking away my
ability to make a smooth,
natural progression from
eccentric to weird. Still,
my existence seems to
surprise some people
who would rather not
see me even though
I have been here for
over half a century,
not tall, not very strong,
but with a significance
that refuses to be denied.
Indeed, where would I
be if I couldn’t shock
you into submission?
If I couldn’t gain
strength from your
frailty, your quest for
meaning, addiction,
obligation? So I stand
here now, apart from
most of the world, an
odd, almost alien being.
Who can say with con-
fidence that I, in my
distance, am not
speaking for you?

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. The poem, from about eight years ago, is presented here for the first time. The photograph was taken yesterday.

Joy and Comfort

Photograph by Jose Padua
Whenever I see the word Joy
stitched into the bright red
cloth of the Christmas towel
hanging in the bathroom
what I hear in my head
isn’t “Joy to the World,”
a song I learned to play
on guitar by listening to
John Fahey’s version
when I was fourteen,
but “Joy,” a song sung by
Teddy Pendergrass in
1988 when I was 30
years old. For a few years
I could sort of play guitar
like John Fahey, sort of
re-create his sting and
drone when I plucked the steel
strings but my voice could
never come close to the smoky
sweetness of Teddy Pendergrass.
And in the several years after
I turned 31 I took the train
back from New York
to DC then back again
every year at Christmas,
coming home and going
back again like a sentimental
song in a major key that
sounds so much sadder
than you think it should.
I went back to the Lower
East Side where “crackhead”
wasn’t another word for an
asshole or a loser and was
only used when you were
talking about your friend
who was addicted to crack,
and art was created by
the people for the people
and product was what was
left on the floor and swept
into the trash or flushed
down the toilet once we
thought we’d made sense
of everything. Sometimes
we were wrong. Now I live
in a small town away from
the big city and I rarely
ever take the train or even
the bus and I’m rarely ever
away from home. Now joy
is like a bird on a sidewalk
somewhere off Main Street,
flapping its wings briefly
before deciding there’s no
hurry, no reason to rush or
leave the warm, calm comfort
of the middle of things.
John Fahey died in 2001,
Teddy Pendergrass in 2010,
and whenever I hear their
music in my head or in
the world I am reminded
of days gone by, and I turn
away from the bright red
of the cloth that hangs
against the deep green of
the bathroom wall and walk
out into the shadowing yellow
and slow, lowering blue of
this beautiful, young morning.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua