Category Archives: The South

Notes on a Day When I Contemplated the Possibility of Making a Living Playing Free Jazz

Photograph by Jose Padua
What I thought I’d remember most about that day was being in the store and seeing a guy with his girlfriend and the guy was wearing a tee shirt that said “All Guns Matter” and I wished he were walking closer so he could see me giving him a dirty look or shaking my head at him, though I know that with some people the less communication that goes on between me and them the better.

That day, my wife Heather had a meeting in Winchester and, as usual, we all went to Winchester with here. When the meeting was over, Heather, our daughter Maggie, our son Julien, and I drove up Route 11, north of town, on one of those stretches of highway where the decaying buildings and shady businesses from another era have me re-evaluating my concept of time. It’s one of my favorite things to do here in the valley, and although we didn’t go by Piggy’s Club, just past the state line in West Virginia—I usually like to drive at least that far up the road—we did stop at Clearbrook Park. There, Julien ran around on the playground, with Heather, Maggie, and I keeping up with him the best we could. When Julien was tired out, we got back in the car.

One of the new questions Julien has been asking lately is, “When did Ornette Coleman die?”—Ornette Coleman being the great jazz musician and composer who died in 2015—and that’s what he asked when we started to drive down Route 11 from Clearbrook Park. But instead of asking me to play Ornette Coleman on the car stereo after asking the question, Julien asked me to play Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Then, when Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s take on “I Say a Little Prayer” started playing, Julien abruptly said, “Rahsaan Roland Kirk pays the bills.”

There wasn’t much any of us could do by way of responding to the statement other than to nod in agreement—not because we knew anything about how Rahsaan Roland Kirk did with his finances but because to say that “Rahsaan Roland Kirk pays the bills” is to talk about so much more than money, so much more than bills and expenses, so much more than survival. This isn’t to say we don’t need to work in order to survive, but that the purpose of work goes beyond that and involves things that can never be paid for and will never be listed above the total on a bill.

With Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing on the stereo, Heather, Maggie, Julien, and I drove south on Route 11, back through Winchester, and on down our stretch of the northern Shenandoah Valley toward home. As we drove, the sun started going down—so we took our time and paid attention, listening for that sound the sun makes when it hits the horizon, and welcoming the darker shades of light as they rose higher and higher in the sky like red oak, blue mountains, and clouds.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua


A Story for the Mist and the Fog and the Rain, but Most of All, a Story for Us

Photograph by Jose Padua
We were somewhere around Frederick, Maryland when Abdullah Ibrahim’s “African Sun” came on the car stereo. It had been raining mightily since we left Front Royal, and now, near Frederick, it was raining so heavily that if I were so inclined I might say it was raining in biblical proportions. But, as I am not so inclined, I prefer to say that it was raining like a motherfucker. And that the song “African Sun” then started playing on the stereo.

Whenever I hear “African Sun” and the rolling notes of Abdullah Ibrahim’s piano, I swear I can see the sun coming up, swear that my skin is warming from the arrival of the sun’s bright heat. Abdullah Ibrahim’s “African Sun,” I thought, was going to clear out the rain. Was going to make the sun shine. I sped up slightly, certain that in another minute we’d be under clear blue skies and the soothing yellow of late-in-the-day sunlight. I turned the music up a notch. Sat up a little taller in my seat, the better to see the light. I waited, and I waited.

And it kept fucking raining. Kept raining on into the early dark of night. Raining and I was getting tired of driving, tired of the rain, and most of all, tired of driving in the fucking rain.

So I tried to think of the sort of things that would give me energy. I thought about when we left Front Royal, and my wife Heather was in the convenience store getting coffees for us. Thought about earlier in the afternoon when our daughter Maggie announced that she wanted to learn French, the reason being that she had just watched Truffaut’s The 400 Blows again.

I first saw Truffaut’s The 400 Blows when I was around fourteen, and it changed the way I looked at the world, changed the way I thought about film and art in general. I’d first shown Maggie this classic film of the French Nouvelle Vague about five years earlier. Back then, she liked it, but this time, she said, she absolutely loved it, and, what’s more, because of it, she now wanted to learn French. That, as far as I was concerned, was a big deal, and gave me a big lift for the start of this trip. But then there was this rain.

Still, it was beautiful going through Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia—we always take this longer but slower route whenever we go to see Heather’s family in central Pennsylvania for the holidays. That late afternoon/early evening, the whole town and the entire river there was covered in a thick white mist. It didn’t feel like Virginia or West Virginia or anything so every-day for us, and it didn’t feel like winter turned either miraculously or horribly into spring anymore, it felt like… I don’t know, but it felt like something—something I couldn’t quite name.

Just when we’d left our house that day, our neighbor Mary brought over some presents for Maggie and our son Julien. For Maggie, it was a nice angel doll (Maggie wasn’t so much in to dolls anymore and she’d never been into angels, but she liked it anyway), and for Julien she got a little brown teddy bear, and he liked his bears back then. Mary looked at Julien, saw how he was smiling as he looked at the brown teddy bear and asked him, “What are you going to name him?” That’s when silence fell upon us all. Fell upon us like… something.

Julien looked at the teddy bear for a moment, then said, “Nobody.”

“Oh?” Mary said.

“Yes,” Julien said again, “Nobody”—the name of his new brown teddy bear was Nobody. It wasn’t what Mary was expecting, but she thought it was cool anyway. As for Heather, Maggie, and I, we remembered back when Maggie was around three and declined to give her big rag doll a name. This led to the big rag doll’s being called The Doll Who Cannot Be Named. That Julien called his new bear “Nobody” warmed Heather’s and Maggie’s and my own heart. I mean, even now, a couple of years later, when I’m thinking of the word nobody I’m thinking of something that warms my heart, thinking of something that fills my sometimes congested lungs with crisp, fresh air. It doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but for us it’s a word that helps make us feel even more like family.

When we finally made it through the dark and the rain to our hotel in Central Pennsylvania, Maggie got out of the car and asked me, “Did you remember to bring my black Punk bag?” Maggie has a shiny black bag that says PUNK on one side and nothing, I think, on the other side (though maybe it says PUNK on the other side as well, I’ll have to check.)

“What?” I asked, and I remembered that I hadn’t remembered, which led me to ask once again, “What?”—with the word what meaning that Maggie had no clothes for the trip, other than what she was wearing.

So, first we ate dinner at the Hotel Hershey. I had the Chianti Braised Oxtail with Spinach and Crispy Carrots—I probably hadn’t eaten oxtail since the last time some thirty or so years ago when my Mom made the Filipino dish kare-kare. And after dinner we found a K-Mart on Jonestown Road (“Take a left on Kool-Aid Lane,” I said, and nobody laughed, except for me, which more often than not is enough. I’m happy even when I’m the only one who likes my bad joke.)

While Heather and Maggie were inside the K-Mart looking for clothes, I took a photograph of Julien as he and I waited outside the K-Mart. Of course, it wasn’t long before he wanted to go in as well. We hadn’t been in a K-Mart in a long time—not since the one we had in Front Royal closed down several years ago. This photograph of me was taken two years later. I was trying to take a photograph of the road outside the hotel where we’re staying this year, but there was an extra layer of plexiglass covering the window for some reason, and this layer of plexiglass picked up my reflection, making this photograph a self-portrait.

This year, the big song was Doug Hream Blunt’s “Fly Guy.” Julien kept insisted we play it again and again and again. And we did, quite a few times. The landscape we were driving past—the river at Harper’s Ferry, the hills that hide the Civil War battlefields of Gettysburg from view on the highway—went by more swiftly listening to Doug Hream Blunt. And they went by even more swiftly when my friend Casey Scott’s song “True North” rose up from the random mix on the car stereo. Maybe it’s because we were travelling north. Or maybe it’s because it’s such a beautiful song. Or maybe it’s because the world is moving in ways we ultimately fail to understand until we see it through our art, because in addition to the facts there is an essence that requires we approach it in order to truly live.

Two years ago, as Julien and I walked through the aisles of the K-Mart, I thought how there are, in the world, people who—though they be few in number—envy us our style and taste in clothing. People, even fewer still, who begrudge us our advantage in perspicacity as well as our precision and skill in sometimes employing metaphor to sometimes great effect. Which is to say, sometimes we get there and sometimes we don’t. Or maybe I’m just speaking of myself.

Walking through the aisles with Julien, I saw that they had their Adam Levine line of cool, sophisticated men’s clothes, and a Nicki Minaj collection of hot styles for women, and this collection, and that collection. It all looked so strange and horrible to me.

When Julien and I found where Heather and Maggie were, I said to Heather, “I don’t want any names on my clothes. Hell, I don’t even like wearing things with words like Fruit of the Loom on them. If I wanted there to be words on my clothes, I’d use my words. My Words.” And Heather nodded, meaning that she understood. Meaning that, yes, this is why we are who we are. This is why we are family.

-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

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

-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

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

Reflections on Shade and Tone as Day Turns to Night in the Valley

Photograph by Jose Padua
We were heading up Route 11 just north of Winchester—me, my wife and my kids—when we found ourselves crossing into West Virginia. Now, there are places where when you see the sign saying Welcome to West Virginia: Wild and Wonderful, things look pretty nice. Usually that’s during the day, when the sun highlights all the green that seems to be approaching you from the distance. This time, though, it was nearly dusk, at that point when the only thing you can see clearly is the landscape that’s close to you. It’s also when, for better or worse, that landscape and whatever buildings and signs and moving objects it includes are bathed in a beautiful yet unflattering light.

That’s when we came across Piggy’s Club—a restaurant, bar, and nightclub with a big sign out front to let you know that you could stay or get your “COLD BEER TO GO.” In the bright sunlight it might have seemed like a fair enough place to get something to eat, and in my drinking days it might have even seemed a reasonable enough place to have a few beers. It was, after all, Saturday night—and on a Saturday night, say, thirty years ago, Piggy’s might have even looked like an oasis of sorts. But then again, maybe not.

In my less hopeful moments, my mind tends to be overrun by feelings of powerlessness and insignificance. Other times I feel fully prepared for whatever form of Apocalypse might lie ahead. On this night, I felt somewhere between these two extremes—which meant that although I was a little nervous about where I might be taking us, I continued to take us there. All I knew for sure was that on this night Piggy’s gravel parking lot was a decent enough place for us to pull over.

Driving slowly to avoid potholes and any other hidden booby traps in Piggy’s parking lot, I turned the car back toward the highway. When I saw that the road was clear, I headed back in the other direction, in search of a place where we might want to spend some time. As fog settled over the valley and a slow drizzle started coming down, that’s what we did. And as the skies turned completely dark, what was once unflattered became beautiful once again, and we drove through it until we found a place where we wanted to be.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua


Photograph by Jose Padua
Back in the familiar wilderness
of tattoo parlors and auto parts
stores, the cheap motels where
there’s always a vacancy, the streets
so dry and sunny you can almost feel
the dirt and grime with your eyes
when you blink, and the teenagers
with their stained shirts and the random
fucks and shits and blow jobs that spill
from their mouths as a substitute for
speech. It’s the quiet boredom of the
normal, non-existential, nothingness
that kills them, that kills me. The boy
who’s the scared misfit with a lisp
and gawking eyes when he talks to us,
when he asks us questions, turns down
the corners of his mouth, squints his eyes
even in the shade and says nothing as he
looks to the ground in an effort to fit in
with the fucks and shits and blow jobs.
This is not bravery nor is it cowardice,
this is neither infamy nor avarice, but
might there be a word for it other than
survival? A sense of accomplishment,
more and other, than that of being alive?
So I look at them looking at me, wide-eyed
like first rides on a roller coaster, thirsty
like summer afternoons with no prospects,
their arms by their sides, their hands empty;
because what tears us down creates us,
and what we tear down creates the stones
we throw, each morning, into the dirty
winding river, ready to shine, ready
to walk the jagged, gravel road home.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Self-Portrait as a Being of Sound and Motion on the Northern Edge of the Southern States

Driving to Winchester
the other day
Stravinsky’s Symphonies
of Wind Instruments

comes on the stereo
as we head west
into the sunset
on 66 ready
for the curve at the end
of the highway that
changes our direction
and sends us North.
Yesterday on West Main Street
in Front Royal
heading back to my house
I hear Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s
“Gueule d’amour” and
I roll down the window
an inch to let just
the right amount of cold
inside so I can breathe
and feel the air
move around me like
a spirit drinking whisky
when I haven’t had
a drop to drink.
Today on Route 11 South
of Harrisonburg it’s
Al Green singing
“Loving You”
from The Belle Album
as we ride up and down
the hills in the early winter’s
late afternoon light
past farmland that’s dry
and bare between seasons.
And each time I am
entranced, bedazzled, amazed
by music I’ve heard
hundreds of times,
and comforted
to know that as
we travel through
the various frequencies
of light and dark
there is a pure constant sound
stirring within me
whether I am rising
or falling
heading east or west
and that whether I am
dust or flesh
I will be here
standing on the continents
spinning on this Earth
and moving through the universe
at great speed.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua