Category Archives: Photography

The Sight of my Neighbor Limping

Photograph by Jose Padua
The sight of my neighbor limping to his front door
in the dim, late-evening light, walking from his truck,
down the driveway to the sidewalk, then toward the
front steps of his house, his bad arm nearly dragging
from his shoulder behind his back like some name
he can’t remember—an old friend from back in the day
when he lived closer to the city with plenty to do and
places to go—reminds me of how little I know of his story.
Just that his wife has a hard time staying sober long enough
so the cops don’t have to drag her away to jail. Just an idea
that when the liquor has left the blood that flows beneath
one’s skin, the cold, gray walls of a jail cell must look
like the hardest substance on Earth. Which is to say
that it’s so much easier for me to imagine being her
than being him, so much easier to think about things
done wrong than things lost. And he takes his good arm
and stretches it straight in front of him as he turns to pull
his front door shut in time to sit in front of the television
to watch the Sunday night game. His wife is coming
home again at the end of the month when it’ll be more
than halfway through the third quarter season’s rush
toward winter. Time to crank up the wood stove, send
rough blue smoke from the chimney toward the sky.
Time to feel the tips of all one’s fingers, celebrate the motions
that make it easy to believe it’s easy being alive. Comfort
is the warmth and stillness of sitting near the heart of
a hundred year old, small town house. Comfort is the moment
after work when there’s nothing that needs to be moved.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. This poem was first published at Vox Populi.

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A Short History of Monsters and Everything Else that Gives Substance to the Dream

Photograph by Jose Padua
In certain ways the thirty-year old guy with the man-bun
and beard wearing a neatly fitting tee shirt on a summer day
is just as much of an asshole as the drunk guy with the
Confederate flag and gun who ends up shooting himself
in the leg thinking he’s defending America from the next
great invasion, each deluded by the pressure and trends
within their respective peer groups, except it’s unlikely
that the hipster with the man-bun is ever going to shoot
anyone or consciously exercise his political will for the
purpose of oppressing anyone who doesn’t look like him,
while the only person the good ole guy with the gun is
going to save is a man wearing a three piece suit who worries
less about his sagging balls than the possibility that his profits
might one day sag along with them. And so the system
as it now exists continues to flourish like influenza and
seasonal allergies, depending on the time of year, and
its structures are firmly in place to the benefit of the
idle rich and in deference to the perverse dreaming
of the dwindling numbers of the upwardly mobile as
they trash and burn their merry way to their new luxury
condominiums decorated in beautiful pastel colors.
When I’m not dreaming in black and white my dreams
are the color of monsters, of the scary characters in fairy tales
the way they were originally written, full of sadness and
distress and cold, bitter endings. But every day I wake up,
every day I open my eyes and feel alive. Every day I consider
the effect of wind and falling rain on white marble monuments,
and wonder how the colors of the ancient world might be
best applied in the creation of new civilizations, new names.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. Although this poem shares a title with the book that’s coming out in the spring, it’s not part of that collection.

In Contemplation of the Failure of Empires

Photograph by Jose Padua
In contemplation of the coming
of the starry night we listen
for the sound of late summer
cicadas, feel on our skin the
electric static of the waning day’s
last light, wait for a sign while
standing like flowers amidst damp
grass, a word to transform us
from beggars into suns and
planets, red maple and slippery
elm. Our half closed eyes, our
half numb flesh, are filled again
like cups on a table in expectation
of the feast. Ready once again
for brilliance; ready for everything
in the world that’s dim, dark,
shady and beautiful; ready for
the city that moves us like a river,
the landscape that anchors us like
these low mountains; ready for
colored leaves falling on the blue ridge.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Another Friday Night Lost in My Head vs. the Collected Songs of the Filipino Genius

Photograph by Jose Padua
Tonight while doing the dishes
I wrote a song in my head
the guitar part came first
some jangly chords played
to a bold steady beat
going on for several bars
like a night out on the town
in the damp heat
of an infinite summer
and then I heard the voice
wailing midnight wisdom
in my inner ear singing
words that moved like
wheels burning on
the dark pasty asphalt
something about the way
they tumble about
the way I tumble about
the way you tumble
through it all and
never stop and the song
kept going on
in my head even
after I was finished
doing the dishes
even after I was finished
bagging up the trash
taking it out to the curb
wiping my feet on the porch
and by the time I was walking
back in the front door
I was still hearing the song
and as great as it was
I started to get
a little tired of it
weary of the melody
as beautiful as it was
and the beat which
didn’t make me want to
move with it as much
as when it first started
its renaissance of rhythm
dwindling into something
like the fall of an empire
when the people have
heard enough of everything
that’s real and want nothing
more than something
that’s easy to believe
a song that goes baby baby
over and over again
baby just show me
what you’ve got
.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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

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