Category Archives: Shenandoah Valley

Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River

Photograph by Jose Padua
On a Saturday morning with the
TV off and all the usual means of
communicating with the outside
world down, my five-year-old son
declares, “If I close my eyes I can
see Godzilla,” which is yet another
observation and message from today’s
youth which rather than giving me
pause lifts me and through fluid logic
gives me concrete reason to believe
that in the future I will still be wearing
dark shades.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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How Does It Feel to Be Loved and All the Other Questions I’ve Ever Wanted to Ask the Armed Cheerleaders of the Corporate State as an Act of Defiance


That night one year ago, after dinner, I was in the dining room talking to my wife Heather when our thirteen-year-old daughter Maggie came in to ask me for help with the stereo. I followed her to the parlor, which for the last few years is where I keep my home office, and which, for simply practical purposes, is where our full stereo system is. What Maggie specifically needed assistance with was the turntable, the cover of which was tilted open. I bent down and pressed a few buttons on the receiver and made sure it was set to “phono,” then stood back up to lift the tonearm over an LP she’d already placed down on the platter. I hadn’t brought my reading glasses with me to the parlor, so I couldn’t tell what record she’d been trying to play; and I carefully laid the tonearm down on the black vinyl, anxious to find out.

I heard a split second of guitar, then the voice of Lou Reed going, “Well, I’m beginning to see the light,” which meant that what Maggie had been trying to play was the second side of the Velvet Underground’s third album.

“OK, thanks, Dad,” Maggie said quickly. She was obviously trying to get me to move along so she could be alone with the music of the Velvet Underground and before I could express any overly-gushing approval of her listening choices. She’d heard all that before and she knew—yeah, how cool I thought it was that she was listening to music like the Velvet Underground instead of the usual crap that’s marketed to teenagers (and I also saw that she’d pulled Big Star’s Radio City off the shelf to play next). So I went back to the dining room, where Heather and I had mostly likely been discussing the coming horrors of the United States of Trump.

The following afternoon, while waiting in the car with my six-year old son Julien for Maggie’s school bus to get back to town, I had the stereo on. Julien had been looking at a book he’d brought home from his school’s library when he stopped to listen to the music that was playing.

“Who’s that?” he asked. “Is that someone who died?”

Ever since hearing a few weeks earlier that Leonard Cohen died, Julien had been obsessed with the people who are no longer with us.

“No,” I said, “This person is still alive.”

“Play something by someone who died,” Julien said. I clicked the tab to play the next song on the random mix.

“Oh,” I said. “This person singing now is someone who died.”

“Who is it?”

“Her name was Lizzy Mercier Descloux.”

He’d heard Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s music before, but it had been a while. Also, I imagined that the last time Julien had heard “Mais où Sont Passées Les Gazelles?”, it didn’t matter to him whether or not Lizzy Mercier Descloux was still with us. Knowing she was gone, Julien must have sensed something in addition to the beauty of the song. I know, even now, a year later he’s probably still too young to really understand; but on that afternoon I gathered that what he was sensing for perhaps the first time was history. And that the main thing separating the present from the historical past was death.

I don’t recall the exact moment when I found out about death, but I’m pretty sure that when I found out I was around Julien’s age—and that when I found out I was obsessed with it. What’s more, with my OCD, it’s an obsession that never diminishes. As it is, not a day goes by when I don’t think about it. What’s more, with my sixtieth birthday coming in a few weeks—and, with a few of my friends having died in the last couple of years—the days seem to be going by rather quickly. But maybe that’s because of all the energy I spend trying not to think about it—making up poems and stories in my head to distract me, to stand as works of defiance and rebellion. And then I think about it anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s an obsession I manage to live with. That I’m also able to think what are sometimes incredibly beautiful thoughts is a gift that, I think, is made possible by all the darker places my mind travels.

It was five years ago on this day that my father died. Julien still asks about it every now and then, and about my mother as well, who he never got to meet.

“Did your Mom and Dad die?” he’ll ask.

“Yes,” I’ll say, sorrowfully. “Do you remember Lolo, though?” (Lolo being the Filipino term for grandfather.)

“Yes,” he’ll say. “I was small.” And then he’ll ask, “Who else died?”

If Julien is anything like me, which I gather he is, the question of who else died should soon evolve into something like, Who else was once alive and shone upon us with their bright light? Or something along those lines—both he and Maggie, I’m sure, will develop their own ways of expressing their defiance against everything that is banal and malevolent. They may use words, or they may use sound or sight more, or perhaps a combination of things. But whatever the case, I see them making works of beauty.

With every passing year, I think less of my father as being gone and more for what he was when he was alive, a man of many years and miles, an immigrant of color to this country, a worker who worked in small but steady ways to build a world.

This day is for him, and all of those like him who take more pleasure in creating rather than in destroying, who create a path through restlessness and confusion, making space where there once was none, who shine upon their surroundings with a great but subtle gleaming. And woe unto anyone who attempts to diminish that shine.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of Cosme Padua was taken somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley around 1950.

With the Morning Moon Shining Down Upon Me through These Thick Walls

Photograph by Jose Padua
This morning I pounded
a nail into the wall
using a book
by Franz Kafka.
The nail went in easily
but like a bad translation
of German into English
the sound of book
hitting nail
created a tone
somewhat different from
that of hammer hitting nail.
I sat down,
glanced at the calender
hanging halfway up
the dining room wall,
and decided it wasn’t
high enough
as I slowly drank my
morning coffee
and felt a considerable
but insignificant ache
in my bones.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Notes on the Crepuscular Effects of the Music of Thelonious Monk on the Noise of White Supremacy

Photgraph by Jose Padua
This afternoon waiting
for his big sister
to get out
from school
my six year old son
asks me to play
“Ruby, My Dear”
over and over again
and because it’s
the music of Thelonious Monk
I don’t hesitate or try
to persuade him
that it’s time to listen
to something else.
Sometimes it takes
the revelatory light
of an entire summer’s
day to sustain you.
Other times even
the little glimmers
of late autumn light
are more than
enough to take you
where you need
to go.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Possibility of Creating More Beauty and Less Trash

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was the music of Franz Liszt that had me turning to my daughter Maggie in Armstrong Concert Hall at Shenandoah University that day and mouthing the words, “Holy Fuck!” She mouthed back an exasperated, “Dad!” then we turned back toward the stage, where Nikolay Khozyainov, the Russian pianist, was playing Liszt’s Transcendental Étude, S. 139, No. 4 as if someone were squeezing his balls and wasn’t going to let go until he was done creating the best performance ever of this difficult piece.

Khozyainov had started off the concert with Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob.XVI:49, and both Maggie and I were going “Wow,” but as well as he played Haydn, nothing prepared us for the way he took the music of Franz Liszt and, as good as it already was, made it seem like the best shit ever written. I mean Jesus! Khozyainov went on to do Liszt’s Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata from Années de pèlerinage II, S . 161, then on to close his main program with Schumann’s Arabesque, op. 18 and Fantasy in C Major, op. 17. Whether the music was loud or soft, fast or slow, Khozyainov played it all like he was the most insane motherfucker in the universe.

Of course, when he was done everyone in the audience applauded until it seemed like our hands would start to bleed. He came back out, and then again and again, doing three encores, the last of which was a punked up medley of tunes from Bizet’s Carmen during which he ran his fast fingers sick as fuck up and down the piano. I’d been hoping that maybe he’d pull Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1 out of his hat for a final encore, but his punk rock Bizet made me forget about that.

And I must say, that even though I love jazz, from Sidney Bechet to Sun Ra, and beautiful raw rock and roll shit like the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, and then everything from P-Funk to throat singers like Tanya Tagaq to the did-the-record-get-stuck modern symphonic music of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, there’s nothing like classical music from the Romantic era to make me think, Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck everything he believes, fuck everything he thinks he knows. I mean, there’s so much in the world that’s beautiful and we have to deal with his ugly shit and the massive stench he keeps building up with it and then be civil and polite and respectful about it? Fuck that.

That evening, when Maggie and I got home, I looked up some of the music Nikolay Khozyainov performed and played it for my wife Heather and our five-year old, Julien. They didn’t quite put it this way, but they looked at me and nodded as if to say, “Yeah, this shit is fucking good, motherfucker.” Then we ate dinner.

Late that night, when everyone was asleep, I looked to see if there was any footage of Nikolay Khozyainov playing Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1, and there was–after all, it’s one of those incredibly challenging and beautiful pieces which any badass classical pianist has to try at some point and Khozyainov is definitely a badass. So I listened to it, and Jesus, his Chopin was the fucking shit.

Still, I think the great Argentine pianist Martha Argerich’s take on Chopin was a little better. But then again, is there anything anyone can do that Martha Argerich can’t do better? Hell, back when she smoked cigarettes she smoked cigarettes better than anyone else. There are pictures of her doing it. You can look them up.

-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

On the Road with Tom Jones to All the Usual Places

Photograph by Jose Padua

In some of the best scenes I’m on the road,
heading toward a purple and orange sunset
during our rice and canned tuna for dinner days
in the 60s, on a night when supper was something else.
The radio is on and in between tunes I don’t mind
the asshole a.m. DJ with the used car salesman’s voice—
I even think he’s cool, though I know enough not to ever
trust anyone like that. I’m at an age when everything is
slow, from every boring trip to the store to two sweet minutes
of Tom Jones singing “It’s Not Unusual.” With the voice,
the horns, the beat, I’m singing along with my lips and
keeping time with my memory. Decades later, my daughter,
when she’s three, will say that listening to Tom Jones,
“makes me feel like I have pink hair.” She almost blushes
to say so. This is the movie of my life, the one that gets shown
after midnight, when everyone is sleeping and I can’t. When
my mind prowls the landscape like a fast car changing lanes.

-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

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

Walking to Prospect Hill and Back on These Still Slow Days of Spring

Photograph by Jose Padua
Although my wife takes her walks
up the road to Prospect Hill Cemetery
I stay down on the straight and flat
gray sidewalk of Main Street. There’s
something about the steep hill that’s
too formidable, reminds me of long
lasting pain, and the green and stone
of the graves and the grief that surrounds
every plot and space fills me more with
sadness than peace on early mornings
when my blood has yet to waken me.
She heads up the hill while I ease up
like a slow day off from work and turn
the corner on High Street back toward
our house, then sit on the front porch
to wait. I’m two decades past those
days when I could walk for hours and
hours and hardly feel an ache or trace
of sweat on my brow under cool spring
skies, but what’s astonishing is this:
the way young birds emerge from
oddly speckled eggs, how stars appear
where there once was only mist and
heavy space, and the disappearance
of time during what’s now the light labor
of waiting for my wife to come down
from the hill and the Earth to spin,
our days growing warmer, our nights
shorter as we cross paths with every-
thing that lives and breathes or flies.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua