Category Archives: Photography

On These Passing Hours of Butterflies and Dangerous Living


In my darker hours I like to imagine a knitting club
where no one is allowed to smile. I don’t knit, but
this is how my mind works: I think of tigers, consider
our struggle, raise my hand as if asking a question
when I’m not. We sit in a circle, our needles held
like dangerous weapons which at any moment may explode,
fire chunks of lead at suspicious looking strangers, or pierce
the flexed muscle and flesh of our club members. This
is why we don’t wear wool but instead cover ourselves
in body armor. As we knit we look at each other with eyes
like burning cigarettes, so determined to live our dreams.
If we had money we would speak of our investment portfolios,
but since we have none we remain silent. We are ice falling
from mountains, moons tearing away from old orbits.
When we have finished a scarf or a sweater, socks or
a tricolor dickey we do not declare “At last!” or “There,
I am done, look at this!” That wouldn’t be right, and
that’s not what this knitting circle is about. In the old days
we would run around the avenues and never take time
to plan our escape, never contemplate the next move
once we’d binded off our stitches. But the times have changed.
There are windows to be opened, fresh air to be let in.
And when the beautiful noises of the outside world
enter the confines of our inner space, we stretch our arms
and stand in the moment’s fleet gleamings, remembering
that we know how to dance. Our movements are fast as a
purl stitch, and we shine like metal in the late morning light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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If I Could Get High or Something

Photograph by Jose Padua
If I could get high
the way I used to,
I’d talk faster
than the speed of sound
to complete strangers,
tell them the deepest shit I know,
arcane knowledge,
incredible legends,
words from long lost texts,
stories only people
who are total insiders
would know or
even understand. Then,
when I’m done
and the people
have all gone home,
gone to sleep,
whatever,
I’ll make myself
a sandwich,
because when everything
has been said and done,
the only sensible thing
one can do
is to stop, eat, drink,
whatever,
and think about
the future
while staring straight ahead
into the distance.

-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

Party Invitation for the Age of Unnatural Disasters

Photograph by Jose Padua
If life were like
a perfume commercial
I’d be spending
even more time
than I already do
gazing pensively
into the distance
the top buttons
of my shirt undone
my lips parted slightly
as if I am about to
speak but can’t
because it takes
all the energy I have
all the ability
and precious mental space
just to breathe and
remember what the world
has done to us
and to consider
all the shit
that’s about to
happen.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

To the Trump Supporter Who Called Me and My Kids Dirtbags

Photograph by Jose Padua
Because I try to respond
to racism and ignorance
with something positive,
intelligent, and sophisticated,
and because I always
try to set a good example
for my children,
but mostly because my wife
managed to stop me
before I began exchanging
insults with you,
I said nothing back
to you, didn’t call you
an asshole, a loser,
a stupid dick or a fatuous twat,
didn’t give you the finger,
didn’t walk up to you
with intent to smack you,
but instead walked ahead
with my family at my side
like noble time travelers,
leaving you behind
on your park bench
outside the pawn shop
in the small town
we both live in,
in a vast country
some call America
and others call
home.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Water Music

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother and father never took us to
the ocean, we always stopped at the bay.
The waves were rarely fierce there, the
sand, I think, not nearly as fine. My mother
and father grew up on islands, which meant
they were never far from the water. I never
learned to swim, which means I stay away
from the deep end of the pool. I can’t speak
Tagalog, which means I can’t talk to my own
people in anything resembling a native tongue.
My mother and father were together for over
forty years, then my mother died; eighteen years
later it was my father. The things my mother
and father passed on to me aren’t always clear.
There are hours when everything is panic and
dread, followed by stray moments of slow moving
bliss or what some might call more simply and
plainly, like a line from the bullet-list version
of the American dream, a conventional sense
of security and well-being. Sometimes I think
I’ve learned how to breathe, how to stand tall
amidst indifference and everything that’s worse.
And whether it’s amongst trivial details or the
astute revelations of inspired suppositions,
I find that beneath the light-dimming clouds
of the burgeoning landscape, there are days
spent looking through fog and its bleak distance
to the ocean, nights of cacophonous sound and
grace, when I’m convinced I can learn how to swim.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Airplane

Photograph by Jose Padua
The problem isn’t so much finding the right day
to stop smoking, drinking, doing meth, sniffing glue,
practicing self-asphyxiation or any of the myriad
of vices available for human consumption or participation.
Once you get to that point it’s already too late,
you’ve already fucked up and wasted so many days,
months, and years that you’re never going to get back
and as we all know there’s nothing more precious than time,
nothing in such short supply unless you’re a member
of the non-working, non-caring upper class,
but even they eventually die, lose their sight
hearing and sometimes their minds.

I have a theory that goes, What if we picked
the right day to start smoking, drinking,
doing meth, sniffing glue, or practicing
self-asphyxiation? Like so many things,
it could be that it’s all a matter of timing,
and if we picked the right day to start
we’d be able to handle all our vices,
and we’d do them at just the right frequency,
the right strength, at the right times,
and with the right people.

None of this being ratted out to the cops
or buying from some dude who turns out
to be a narc; none of that sore gritty feeling
in your lungs, the waking up in the morning
with horrible people who love all the songs you hate,
or think all the books you love are boring
or worse don’t even read, and of course
none of that accidental and embarrassing
hanging of yourself in a hotel room,
hell no, when you were just trying
to have some goddamn fun.

I know this is just a theory and not all theories
reach the level of Einstein’s on relativity,
and there are so many theories that have been forgotten
because they don’t provide anything that’s useful,
but listen: I’m an artist, which means
I’m not aiming for practicality,
and I sure as hell am not working my ass off
to provide you with ways to decorate
your goddamn lifestyle, because I’m aiming, excuse me,
for the fucking stars.

Some nights I feel my heart, beating fast,
and I blink my eyes, so sore and dry,
and I’m tired and sleepy and drunk
because of all the things I’ve quit,
and I’m high on all the things I never try to do anymore,
each lost moment lifting my spirits
as my hair turns gray and
another wrinkle appears on my forehead.

I stretch my legs beneath me,
lay my hands gently on my lap,
and turn the volume all the way down
to prepare myself for landing
because this airplane has come
from a place far, far away
and I feel too alive to be measured,
too lifted to seek asylum,
too much like a seed to do
anything but grow.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Old Man and Other Bright and Beautiful Landscapes

Photograph by Jose Padua
I don’t remember if it was last week
or last year, or just some gray day
when I didn’t have the energy to climb
my way up a blue mountain when I
realized that the old man listening
to light music on the way to the store
to buy soft food that wouldn’t hurt
his aching teeth was me. That the stark
landscape of an evening sky hanging
over a slowly moving brown river as
dark birds flashed their wings before
disappearing into the lush mystery
of tall swaying trees was a memory
that came rushing to me from the quiet
solace of an early afternoon’s hour
of delicate half-sleep. Sometimes
I’d leave the city far behind me
whenever I marveled at the flat
air that seemed to hover like a deep
speaking voice on helium over
a freshly mowed and neatly trimmed
lawn. Sometimes I’d walk to the county line
like I was climbing the stairs to sweet heaven.
Last week one of my neighbors banged
on the window of a car driven into a
wall down our street until the glass broke
to reveal a man who’d been driving drunk
wearing nothing but his clean, white briefs.
I think chance is what takes you the farthest
on a long slow road under gloom of night
with the lights off in this damp place
people who aren’t from here call the middle
of nowhere. It’s where I grow old and wise
among both lilacs and weeds, lifting
my feet one at a time, dreaming of nothing
but these bright, bitter and beautiful things.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Where I’m From and the End of these Days of Smooth Skin

Photograph by Jose Padua
When the time is right—which means after
the leaves have begun to sprout into dark
budding leaves and the ocean currents
flow more warmly northward
like perfect storms from southern islands
and all my heart-beating, word-hammering
work is done— bury me in these United States
in a manner I see fit amongst my slightly brown,
light brown, and dark brown brothers and sisters
on solid ground as wide as a city
where there’s so many of us
that the powers that be start to quiver
and shake as if the deep mud upon which they stand
is collapsing with the quaking
of their great white earth.
Roll away the rubbish of stars and bars
on battle flags, their sentimental dreams
of stepping on our backs and spitting in our faces,
and all our years of working for them rather than for us,
and all the yessirs and thankyousirs
that ever passed our thirsty lips,
and every moment our heads were bowed
in prayer or fealty and allegiance
beneath the smooth skin of their hands.
Then rise the way lost land rises high to blue sky,
which bends down with the bursting of clouds
to wet kiss crumbled brick and fallen metal.
Rise with weeds and wild grasses
as if waking from centuries of deep sleep,
rise like voices when questions have been asked
and the answer is a bird with dark feathers
perched upon a statue commemorating
the perpetrators of heinous deeds.
And walk these streets, knowing
that what’s beyond every sharp corner,
behind every wooden door,
and under every leaky roof
is another insane notion
cultivated by the inventors of regret;
walk swiftly as if dancing between bamboo poles
while stringed instruments control the melody;
walk until you reach the smooth curve
and low hills of the highway heading out of town;
walk so that everyone knows where you’ve been
and where you’re going, weathering
both trouble and affection, the gravel roads
turning into dirt.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Days Run Away Like the Great B-Side of a Hit Single by Prince

Photograph by Jose Padua
I was sitting in the car with Julien while Heather went into the grocery store. It had been about a month since Prince had died, and while for the last month I had been playing the music of Prince almost non-stop—he’s one of a small number of people you can do that with and never get tired of it all—that day, I was taking a break. So it was a sunny, spring day with something other than Prince playing on the car stereo. Julien listened for a minute before asking, “Who’s that?”

“It’s Herbie Hancock,” I said. We were a few minutes into the “Chameleon” from the Head Hunters LP.

Julien paused then said, “I don’t like Herbie Hancock. Play Miles Davis.” Miles Davis was Julien’s favorite at the time. I don’t suppose there are too many five year olds whose favorite music is Miles Davis’s music, but there we were. The windows of the car were down, and a cool breeze came inside.

I tried to explain to Julien that Herbie Hancock played with Miles Davis, but he didn’t care and he refused to give Herbie Hancock’s music a chance. To make the wait easier, I went ahead and put on Miles Davis.

Back then, while my daughter Maggie was doing her homework, I’d hear her playing Public Image Limited (PiL) a lot. She had been listening to Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Kleenex/LiliPUT while she was studying, but then she added PiL to the mix. After that I’d always hear the voice of John Lydon going “This is not a love song/ This is not a love song” or “Anger is an energy/ Anger is an energy” as she did her algebra homework or worked on a brief essay she had to write.

That morning, right before we headed out to take them all to school, Maggie looked something up on her phone then she said, “I have the same birthday as the guitarist for PiL!”

“You mean Keith Levene?”

“Yes,” she said. “We have the same birthday!”

“Wow,” I said. And I remembered that she also shares a birthday with Hunter S. Thompson, but I didn’t mention it because I think it’s still a few years before she’s ready to read about things like the massive drug run that begins Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I also didn’t mention that I share a birthday with Jean Genet, because I didn’t think she was quite ready to read a book like Our Lady of the Flowers yet either. But, when she’s old enough, these great books will be among my recommended reading and can be added to the volumes of Baudelaire, Lucille Clifton, and Junot Diaz that she was already carrying around with her all the time.

For a couple of weeks, the question Julien had been asking most frequently was, “Who’s bad?”—with it being election season and with the death of Prince there were a lot of bad things in the air, making it a time for questions. (But then, when is it not a time for questions?) In the second of those two weeks, Julien began answering his own question. And when we all said, “I don’t know. Who’s bad?” Julien would then say, without the slightest pause of doubt, “Donald Trump’s bad.”

“Yes, he is bad,” we’d say.

A couple of days later, while we were having lunch at Blue Wing Frog over on Chester Street, Julien answered his own question about who was bad and added, “Donald Trump is a poopy head!” Then he stopped to think about it for a moment before asking, “Does he poop with his head?”

“Well, in a way he does,” we all said. Or words to that effect.

And later that day, it rained. Like on the B-side of an old Prince song—it rained and kept on raining. After having spent a few days not listening to Prince that week, he was back on the soundtrack, and  I was listening closely, hoping for more answers.

I took this photograph of Union Hall, which was part of a joint called Victoria’s Restaurant, when we left Blue Wing Frog that day. Union Hall and Victoria’s restaurant have been closed since February 2009, when it was discovered that its owner was a fugitive wanted on drug charges in Massachusetts. Union Hall had been one of the few places in Front Royal where you had music and dancing. The owner had been here, in our small Virginia town, for nearly two decades. He raised his kids here, had grandkids, and ran his restaurant and club for as long as he could. And then they took him away.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua