Category Archives: Poetry

Memo in the Form of a Sonnet to the White Supremacist Who Referred to My Wife as a Breeding Vessel for the Hispanic Invasion

Photograph by Heather Davis and Jose Padua
Despite my name being Jose I am
not Hispanic but Filipino, which means
that as far as you’re concerned my white wife
is not a breeding vessel for the Hispanic
invasion, but for the Asian invasion. Please
take note of this. Because the Asian invasion,
and all the other invasions you fear, are gaining
strength like tropical depressions, and as the days
go by your vessel will lose more and more
of its buoyancy, more of its ability
to breed. Which means, as far as my wife and I
are concerned, that there’s still hard, hard work
to be done. That, like a sturdy vessel riding
high upon the waves, we we will continue to float.

-Jose Padua

First published, in a slightly different version, at Vox Populi.

Sometimes When We Touch or Reflections Regarding the Ongoing Crisis

Photograph by Jose Padua
In this time of plague let us remember
that we’re all in this together.

That what unites us is stronger than what
divides us.

That we’ll make our way out of this in one piece,
stronger than before, wiser than we ever thought
possible.

Remember, anything that feels good
is trite, has been done, has been seen,
has been composed a billion times before.

There is no pleasure that doesn’t increase
the risk of disease.

There is no disease to which you’ll say no
because of the price.

If it feels good, you will pay for it.

This message has been brought to you
by your friends at Fill In the Blank.

We’re all bad.

We’re holding your mother
hostage in the basement.

Buy our useless and/or
dangerous product
or she gets it.

Thank you.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Writer at Work

Photograph by Jose Padua
Picking up a book to read in bed one night
when I couldn’t sleep I discovered that
Roland Barthes’ Mythologies kept me awake
even more than lying on my back staring
at the ceiling as flat as a fried plantain,
and when I put that down and picked up a book
of poetry by Billy Collins I found
that what woke me up the most was a line
in a poem called Invective that ends “I will
stare into the cold, unblinking eyes of cows,”
the significance of which was not lost on me
as I went farther and farther down the path
of the ravenous who never sleep, yet look
their prey straight in the eyes without cursing.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

These Rhymes Out to All the Nations

Photograph by Jose Padua
My sixteen year-old daughter shouts from downstairs,
“Mom? Mom!” and then again after getting no answer
shouts, “Mom? Mom? Mom!” which is when my nine-year
old son goes to the top of the stairs and shouts back, “She’s
on the phone” and waits a moment before adding, “Shut
the fuck up!” When he hears no further inquiry or attempt
at what he interprets as ill communication on the part of his
sister he says, “Thank you,” which I think goes to show how
sometimes it’s best to stay out of the way of your children’s
business, and that every day we stay alive is a reminder
that the universe is a thing of great natural beauty.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

High

Photograph by Jose Padua
My response to the current plague is to wake up
a little later each morning. The kids are home

from school and don’t need to go anywhere, don’t
need to learn anything, at least not right now.

Because what is there to learn during a crisis
except how to stay alive, keep your heart beating

like a disco song? I remember the 70s, remember
being so impressed by the beautiful color speed

came in. Those beautiful old days when my legs
could still take me to far places. I go to sleep

early now, lie down when I’m tired, don’t stay up late
writing poems and stories listening to Pharoah Sanders,

the New York Dolls, or Disco Tex and the Sexolettes.
Holy Christ was that a song, or was that a sign

that someone was glad to see me since the last manifestation
of apocalyptic ennui? I walk slowly down the stairs now

in deference to my arthritic knees, aware that my sense
of balance is something like a hit of acid, those long-ago

nights when I’d look at people without nodding
even more than when I wasn’t on acid, or mushrooms.

Oh what a feeling that was, oh what a way to feel
the non-ache and flexing muscle around my

Filipino-American or sometimes just American
young bones, and bones seem more important now,

like the bone-in pork at the grocery store, which I go to
wearing a mask, mittens, goggles, and galoshes

because I like that alliterative ambiance. I like the way
a man is a man and a woman is a woman and a they

is a they doing it so gloriously for theyselves
or I mean themselves, or whatever safe space selves.

I eat quickly now like a meal is a moment so easily
stolen from you, watching the evening news

while taking slow gulps from my glass of cold water,
so far from those days when we drank Schlitz

or Michelob and thought Coors was the ultimate beer
when nowadays we say, oh seriously, fuck Coors

and fuck beer. I want craft brew with a hint
of cardamom and orange peel, served in a mug

that bears the logo of my favorite non-profit organization.
Treat me like my name is Bill Murray and my middle name

is Fucking. Believe in me like my name is Don Corleone
and it’s the first half of The Godfather, before he got old. But

my name is Jose Padua and my pronouns are motherfucker,
motherfucker, and motherfucker’s. How did it end up like this

in these horse’s rear-end times? Why do I have to translate
for you my existential bewilderments? Why am I on the

bullet train back from New York when my friends are
riding coach, I guess I’m lucky that way. And I’m amazed

at how my son from such a young age made sure to describe
the precise thing he wanted like ice cold water or a cream

cheese sandwich, make sure not to cut it in half ‘cause that
sucks; how my daughter paints pictures of things the way

she sees them, stripped of the spectacle of corporate costume,
entrance music, and color scheme; how my wife stands so long

like a walk through a garden when it’s a house we live in and
not the open earth under a starry distant sky between river

and mountain. Right before the plague we packed up that
old house out in small town America. Half our neighbors

were crazed, the other half wholesome as the virgin breath
of infants; they made shelter from an atmosphere of rolling

coal and diesel fuel. I think it was Guy Debord who said
it’s so much easier for mainstream media to cover a brand

than a genuine human being. Either that or me in a dream
where I’m smart and lucid and have read every paragraph

Guy Debord ever wrote in the original French. My name
is Jose Padua, it’s just a name I’m saying again because

this is a time of modern plague and shit. It’s a time of
plague and they’re asking us to choose between

the lesser piece of shit and the worst piece of shit. Then
telling us that if we hold out for something better then

we’re a piece of shit, too. I remember humanity before
it became nothing more than an empty shell; then I remember

that humanity was always an empty shell. Every moment
the memory’s different. So we take the kids out back,

bounce the ball around or throw it in the alley away from
everyone else. Look up at the wires on telephone poles,

the loose strands that keep us connected to other faces
and ways of life. I hear a voice in the distance saying

something I can’t understand. And footsteps which
means to leave them some space, let them go on their

way like disarmed enemies. This is America 2020 and
I feel like I’m back on acid again. Staring at people,

my head still as a traffic signal. Blinking, flashing,
shining color as if to say, yeah, move on, and call me

motherfucker. And up above us it’s a cloudy sky. And
the birds are flying, they’re keeping their distance from

one another, making dark wide circles in the scraping air
as they fly so beautifully high, so beautifully high.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Union Square

Photograph by Jose Padua
I used to see him around Union Square or
sometimes a little further uptown or just
midtown like Herald Square but not right
in front of the thick glass door to Macy’s
because they’d make him move along, get
off their expensive piece of sidewalk, get
off their patch of Manhattan concrete lawn,
a late-middle-aged white man with one or
two kids in tow, playing his one greasy slide
riff, the only one he seemed to know, on
what looked like a home-made electric lap
guitar, his mad raised brows over the almost
pink gleam in his nearly crossed eyes ready
to crack like he’d invented a new form of
rock ‘n’ roll combined with either delta blues
or screeching city delivery truck brakes. Even
then, before I had kids, I thought about what
his kids thought, their crazy dad, his singular
song, with the only people putting money
in his cup looking as crazy as he did, with
the only people stopping to listen looking
like they had nothing better to do, with me
moving along as slow as a hangover headache
but still moving, still uncertain I had anything
more to offer the world than the power in
a single chord progression played with passion.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Bright Moments and Other Entries in the Discography of the Sky

Photograph by Jose Padua
Before we left the old family house in DC, where we spent that weekend, my seven-year old son Julien said, “Wait, I need my Rahsaan Roland Kirk CD.” Searching with Julien the day before, I’d found a few Rahsaan Roland Kirk CDs in the vast collection of LPs and CDs in the basement, and he didn’t want to go back to Front Royal without borrowing at least one of them.

Of the three I’d found—Rip, Rig and Panic; Simmer, Reduce, Garnish & Serve; and Bright Moments—Julien chose the last to borrow. As soon as we got in the car, he asked me to slip Bright Moments into the car stereo, and I did. Meanwhile, he called out the window to my brother Tony who was standing outside our car, “Make sure you have some Ornette Coleman records.” Which meant, I suppose, that he wanted to borrow some Ornette Coleman CDs next time we were in DC. And then we drove home, west on 66, listening to Bright Moments.

Earlier that weekend Julien was watching one of the Spiderman movies when his big sister Maggie switched the station to see what was going on with the Grammy Awards. Onstage at the time was Ed Sheeran singing that “I’m in love your body” song, and Julien immediately said, “I don’t like this stupid guy!”

Around that time, Maggie had been working on learning to play one of my favorite Ryuichi Sakamoto songs, “Bibo no Aozora” (Beauty of a Blue Sky). Sometimes, when Julien was with her in the hall where our piano was in our Front Royal house, she’d try to teach him the opening notes to Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear.” He wouldn’t get very far, but whenever he sat there with her at the piano, even if it was only for half a minute, he seemed intrigued by the possibilities.

The next day it was Valentine’s Day. On that day, twenty-one years earlier, Heather and I had gone to Planet Fred near Dupont Circle in DC. They had a martini special going on that night and a DJ was playing a mix that included things like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and, I think, Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade.” I don’t remember for sure if “Moonlight Serenade” was playing, but that’s what it felt like. Ever since that night we’ve been together, with the years going by fast like blue skies and each day opening up like the album cover of a double LP. Which was what Bright Moments was—a double LP. You opened up the cover and on each side was a sleeve with a separate LP. We’d only borrowed the CD, although the double LP was also at the house. That, we couldn’t play in the car, though. And today, Heather and I are celebrating twenty-four years together.

This photograph of Heather, Maggie, and Julien was taken earlier that month in 2017 in Clearbrook Park, north of Winchester, Virginia. It was one of many days when we went out without any real plan and no idea of what we were going to do. It was one of those blue sky days. It was a sane day in the middle of an insane age. All we knew was that as soon as we were finished doing one thing, we’d move on to do whatever we had to do next.

-Jose Padua

It Happened One Night

Photograph by Jose Padua
Not a day or week goes by
working late at night
downstairs in the dining room
of our hundred year
old house when I don’t
imagine that when I stand up
and go to the kitchen
for a glass of water
or after midnight snack
or into the living room
for the cushioned splendor
of our beat-up old sofa
to give my back a break from
the stiff wooden chair
I sit on when I write
that I’ll look up
and suddenly see
a ghost, a spirit, a misty
entity that will make me
gasp, then yell or shout,
waking up everyone
in the house,
and they’ll come down
the stairs to see me,
the color gone
from my cheeks,
my knees a little weak,
my hands trembling slightly
as if I’d just crossed paths
with the infinite,
or put too much jelly
on my toast.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Self-Portrait as the Confluence of Struggle and Popular Culture

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes I think of all the people in the world
I’d like to smack. Like our current, trashy, goon
of a president with all his stupid words and all
his stupid fucking hate. I think of all the people
helping him take the country back in time to the
age of stone and ruthless assholes and I’d like to
smack them too. I’d like to smack those border
patrol thugs in their drab uniforms grinning their
dumb grins, smashing up the food and supplies
left for refugees crossing into the American night
on foot through the desert; I’d like to smack anyone
who thinks we should build a wall between us and
Mexico, when the only walls we should be building
are for a room where we can throw all the hedge
fund managers and all the other financial advisors of
the apocalypse. But it’s not just these obviously evil
people I want to smack, I want to smack a lot of other
people too. People who are pretty much innocent but
who make things difficult in curious ways. I’d like to
smack all my friends who did a little too much cocaine
in the 80s, because half of them are still doing stupid
shit in their lives and the other half owe me money.
I’d like to smack my old friends who made it big and
now avoid me like a dog turd on the sidewalk during
a light afternoon rain. I’d like to smack Owen Wilson
for starring in the movie Behind Enemy Lines. My wife
and I saw it in the theater when it came out in 2001.
It wasn’t very good. I’d like to smack some guy, any
guy, named Maurice, because I don’t like the name
Maurice and I’m not impressed by whatever connection
he has to the pompatus of love. I’d like to smack the
poet who first wrote the lines “if it’s yellow let it mellow,
if it’s brown flush it down.” I know, it’s encouraging
people to save water but I hate that poem, so fuck it.
And OK, maybe I’m just jealous. I’d like to smack myself
sometimes, because sometimes I feel like I’m just so
fucking clever when I’m really not so fucking clever.
I hate it when I’m deceiving myself that way. And I’m
going to walk, like I’m a hundred feet tall, into a room
showing off my gas-powered, gold tooth grill, as fast as
I feel it but in slow, barely-perceived motion to the
crowd, sipping their drinks, speaking endlessly of the
intricate relations of superficial things. Because I am
now a planet, formed over vast lengths of time through
the accretion of stardust to dust, a cosmic smacking of
one object to another, a daisy chain of anger and reaction.
I bow down before no one. I have a pebble in my shoe.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

I Am a Small Guitar

Photograph by Jose Padua
I am a small guitar in a large room on a Saturday
sometime after four when the last lunch guest
has driven home, beating the rain, beating the
worst of the traffic, beating the rest of the weekend
in coming to a conclusion. I am a gravestone in
a beautiful cemetery, set firmly in the ground
two centuries ago and long before everyone who
is alive today was born, was lost, was estranged,
was made to remember mistakes and misjudgments
while trying to recall a cool morning’s warm colors
and the shade of damp leaves drying under an
early evening’s angle of light. I am three hundred
men and three hundred women or three million men
and three million women or one man and one woman
or no man and no woman and no thing and no thought
and no long or short way of getting from there to here,
just a path marked with stone or cleared of brush
that everyone has to take. I am a large country on
a small planet or a small ocean between large drifting
continents because the world is moving from then
to now and we are a gift that must always remember
to act like a gift, expecting night to follow day and
small rivers to run and swell their banks too many times
for anyone to count, too swiftly to never feel the
beautiful sorrow of dangerous hours. And I weep
and I work, I diminish and grow like muscle and bone
because I am a guitar, made of wood, metal, and wire,
and I shine even when I am still, even when I am cold.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua