Category Archives: Poetry

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

Advertisements

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

America Is Killing My High

Photograph by Jose Padua
Like a sickness that gives you fever
and shakes, makes you cough, makes
your lungs hurt blowing smoke rings
into the sweet country air. Like a car
whose engine dies on the way to the
multi-plex the next town over where
there’s no bad seat for watching the
bad guys get shot full of holes. Like
the river when it floods and Main Street
fills up like a sewer and the water
destroys all my shit, all my memories.
Like a gun that doesn’t fire and just
goes “what” as in “what-the-fuck” and
won’t plug a hole in a home invader o
illegal alien or welfare terrorist or that guy
who looks like Jesus who I know, ‘cause
he ain’t no Jesus. Like a sky the color
of nightmares coming down at you,
bringing the earth to a halt, roaring at you
like a lion, your bones feeling colder
the closer it gets. Like when my shoes
won’t get me where I’m going when
I’m walking. Like there’s a black hole
in place of my feet and a blue mountain
standing tall in front of me, saying nothing,
doing nothing, because it’s a mountain.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Portrait of Donald Trump as Poet Transforming into a Creature from Out of a Francis Bacon Painting

Photograph by Jose Padua

Sometimes I feel like I’m several billion dollars
worth of tax free income but all you want to do
is kill my high. Like I’ve just had a
poetry reading in an elegant theater,
attended by three hundred people,
which for poetry is big, it’s huge, but
all this guy with a poetry blog publishes
is a blurry photo of some sad bar where
ten drunk guys are nursing their craft beers
while I stand alone in a corner reading
my magnificent poem about how great I am.
That’s not how it’s supposed to happen.
And that’s why I didn’t have some other poet
read his work at my inauguration because
I’m the only poet worth reading nowadays
and I was too busy to read my own poems
while being inaugurated as the forty-fifth
and best president ever that day so screw you.
It’s because of people like you that I’m
going to have to build a wall around
Rae Armantrout and make her pay for it.
I’m also going to build a wall around my
drug dealer because where the hell is my
cocaine? Where are the big league hookers
peeing on my ex-wives’ four-hundred dollar
shoes, where is my steak made from the
best American cows, oh there it is, it’s
over-cooked, it’s disgusting, but I love it.
Where is the symphony I paid you to write
for me, Philip Glass, the one called
Donald on His Amazing Beach, you say
you never made a deal with me, that’s a lie,
I’ll have you deported. I don’t care if you
were born here. I have very big hands. I’m
Donald Trump and your advice is over-rated,
your comfort none of my concern; your desires
are not my desires so do whatever I tell you
and pay attention to my beautiful words.
I’m Donald Trump and you’re an errand boy
sent by illegal aliens with marked disabilities,
get out of my American hotel. America, there’s
a thorn tree in the garden if you know just what
I mean; I’m going to send it back to China,
I’m going to finish eating my steak. America,
I am in my painted heaven where harps and lutes
adore me; I lie between the young bride and
bridegroom, I call this land from shore to lake
to shore my home. America, I live in my terrific
penthouse surrounded by strong walls
trimmed with gold as I walk on floors made
of lovely fluid and precious stone. America,
I live in the White House, which they
used to say really belonged to the people
or some shit like that but it’s mine, now;
be great and get over yourselves, be best
and put your hands in the air. So, here I am,
America, here I am. Feed me, America, feed me
cheeseburgers and Diet Coke on Sunday afternoon;
America, I’m really a lizard, feed me flies, feed me
crickets, feed me small frozen mice. America,
I’m thirsty, bring me water, just point the hose
down by my desk; I’ll lay down on the floor of
the oval office and absorb it through my skin.

-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

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

Because the Processes of Both Art and Living Are Filled with a Multitude of Disturbances and Other Possibilities

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes, like during the past few months when I’ve had plenty of paying work, I wonder how things would be if I just focused on that. If I tried to take on as much of the web work and editing as I can, and stopped writing all these poems, essays, and stories that don’t pay right away and much of time don’t ever pay anything, at least as far as money goes.

Soon after we moved to Front Royal, I began doing at least several hours of my own work every day. That doesn’t mean I’m at my desk or on the computer the entire time. Doing my own writing involves getting up to make a snack, going to the grocery store, taking the kids to school, picking them up from school, listening to my daughter Maggie play a Thelonious Monk song on the piano, building some Frank Lloyd Wright style house with my son Julien using stray Lego blocks, watching the evening news with my wife Heather when she gets home from the office. It’s a process that’s full of interruptions and for me, without the interruptions, there would be no process.

I recently read an essay by the poet Mary Oliver in which she maintained that she is “heedless of social obligations” and that her “loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late.” That’s all fine, I suppose. I’m oblivious in my own ways, too, socially awkward in even more ways, and unable to focus on things and people who don’t intrigue me. Again, that’s all fine but then she says, “There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done.” To which my reaction is a big Fuck You.

Frankly, any artist who tells you there’s only one way to make art is an asshole. This isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of great artists who are assholes—as well as some lesser ones. I know that I’m an asshole in my own way, just not that way. If your way of making art requires you shut out the world, fine. If going off to a writers colony will help you get that novel or book of poems done, fine. Me, I’d go crazy being in a place surrounded by nothing but other dedicated writers and artists. But that’s just my process. That’s why I’ve never considered going to a writers colony or retreat to get more work done, because I know that my process would mess with other people’s processes. And that peace and quiet would be no help whatsoever in getting my work done.

I’ve been keeping up this process of interruptions for nearly ten years now. Before this period though, the interruption went on for a rather long time, because in the eight years before we moved to Front Royal I didn’t write much of anything. Lately, too, there have been days when I haven’t written a damn thing—and, as with those eight years—I felt fine. Which had me wondering.

Then today, with Maggie and Julien back home after school, Julien was playing in the living room when he noticed a book on the table next to the sofa. “Can I look at this?” he asked.

“Sure,” I told him, and he picked it up. What he was now holding was Puñeta: Political Pilipinx Poetry, a small anthology edited by the formidable poet Eileen Tabios that included two of my poems, “Headhunters” and “Seven and Seven Is.”

Julien looked at it for a minute, then looked at me and said, “Great writing, Dad!” He hadn’t really read the poems, of course, but even so, it was the best compliment of the day. And, somehow, he remembered that I was in it—or at any rate, what he was able to read was my name on the cover and inside the book.

“Thanks, Julien!” I said. That’s when I remembered that we are kickers of stupid things, which comes from the punk song Julien improvised on New Year’s Eve last year. It goes, “I’m the kicker of stupid things, I’m the kicker of stupid things…” And on and on like that. It’s plain, simple, and to the point—and what it means is that he, Heather, Maggie, and I do not quit. It means Heather will keep working on her next book while attempting to make change in the physical world, Maggie will learn to play Chopin like Yuja Wang or to paint like Frida Kahlo before moving on to do work that is entirely her own, Julien will continue to be a creator of fierce ideas and wild progressions, and I will continue with my process, welcoming all interruptions, whether long, short, or somewhere in-between.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua