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Jose Padua to Guest at Spoken World Online June 15th–Monday’s Theme: Growing Pains

SpokenWord Paris

JP_Self-Portrait_IMG_20190726_152900_658Jose Padua’s first full length book, A Short History of Monsters, was chosen by former poet laureate Billy Collins as the winner of the 2019 Miller Williams Poetry Prize and is now out from the University of Arkansas Press. His poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in publications such as BombSalon.comBeloit Poetry JournalExquisite CorpseAnother Chicago MagazineUnbearablesCrimes of the Beats, Up is Up, but So Is Down: New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992, and others. He has written features and reviews for SalonThe WeeklingsNYPress, Washington City Paper, the Brooklyn Rail, and the New York Times, and has read his work at Lollapalooza, CBGBs, the Knitting Factory, the Public Theater, the Living Theater, the Nuyorican Poets’ Café, the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and many other venues. He was a…

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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

Michael Simms: The Very American Poetry of Jose Padua

What are poets for in destitute times? — Hölderlin . Every poem is a subversive act. In an age when our senses are benumbed by competing media screaming for our attention, the radical quietis…

Read the full post at Vox Populi:

Source: Michael Simms: The Very American Poetry of Jose Padua

American Sadness

Photograph by Jose Padua
Of all the sadness in the world
there is nothing that can compare
with American sadness. When
America is sad the whole world
weeps. Whenever one American
is sad, at least two non-Americans
somewhere else in the world consider
the possibility of ending it all. When
a hundred Americans are sad, wars
are fought in faraway lands for
the great purpose of making these
hundred Americans happy again.
When a million Americans are sad,
every flag in America droops, then
slides an inch and then another inch
down the flag pole and nothing can
stop this descent until bold, confident
smiles return to these Americans’ faces.
American sadness, let’s make it clear,
is exceptional. Unlike what you may
have heard, it doesn’t always talk
softly, but it always carries a big stick
because no one is sad the way an
American is sad. No one drags his feet
through the dullness of a day, or
walks with her eyes looking downward
quite as sadly as an American who
feels sad because America is losing
a battle, coming in second, or washing
ashore with empty pockets and bad breath.
American sadness, of course, is the greatest
sadness in the world—do not look it
in the eye unless your intention is
to make amends. Do not settle for a
knowing grin, or a sliding into place
of the proper order of thought or things.
Work hard, do your best, and fight
whenever a fist is called for, or a bomb
needs to be dropped upon a civilian population
whose greatest misfortune is not being American.
But above all, keep American sadness at bay
like a ship that wrecks off shore through
instability or from fault of navigation.
Let’s remember to keep America happy.
Let’s keep America entertained.

-Jose Padua

Photograph taken in Alligator, North Carolina by Jose Padua

The Beginning of My Marathon of Past Lives

I was just on the computer, when my young son Julien came by. He said he wanted to see the video of me when I was younger, so I showed him this. I’d shown it to him once about a year ago. He didn’t seem to realize, back then, that it was me in the video. Today, though, he looked back and forth—from the screen then to me. Then he smiled. Which means that he’s reached that stage where he realizes there was a time before him. And that, like all the other people out there in the world, I have a past.

-Jose Padua

Video directed by Joel Blumsack


Poetry is
giving the
finger to
the biggest
guy in the
room just
to see
what happens.

-Jose Padua

Going Up the Country


Standing outside the church in Orange, Virginia, where the funeral for his first wife was just held, my godfather advised me that, “Life. You can never be sure about life. But death. You can be sure about death.” Even though I was only about twelve years old at the time—and even though he spoke them in the most solemn tones imaginable, pausing at all the right places for maximum dramatic effect—I knew that these words of his were far from the most profound I’d ever hear in my life. In fact, I knew that what he’d just said was as useless as a pile of horseshit to a city boy.

Which was what I was, a city boy. A city boy, who for the first time had gone out to where his friends would go whenever they said they were going “to the country” for the weekend. That “the country” had an actual name—Orange, Virginia—I didn’t know until that day. But what I did already know, or at any rate what I felt, was that my godfather, even though he was some sort of respected figure in our corner of the Philippine community in DC, was as far as I could tell something of a flake, at best. And at worst, maybe even a phony.

What did I know? I was twelve years old. But what I saw didn’t impress me. He was maybe sixty years old, a Filipino man in possession of a certain measure of elegance, a man whose attention to each detail of his movements seemed to clash with the rough demeanor of his white, American wife. She was loud, he was soft-spoken. She was fat, he was thin. She was from the country, he was from another country. All that was beside the point, because what I noticed above all and what bothered me was his apparent lack of affection for her.

She was a drunk. I’d hear stories from my parents about how she’d be gone at night for hours, then would come back beaten and bruised from wherever it was she went. It was after one of these episodes when she came home and passed out, and by the time my godfather finally checked on her she was cold and still. Hers was the first funeral I ever attended. Hers was the first dead body I ever saw. And going out to Orange, Virginia for the funeral with my Dad was the first time I ever went out into the country—or at least it the first time I remember going out like that, far from the big city, to the sort of place where, forty years later, I’m now living.


And the thing was, I kind of liked her. Her name was Tammie. She was a coarse, unrefined, double-wide sort of woman with a big raspy laugh who never failed to look you in the eyes, while my godfather always seemed to be looking somewhere else and wishing he were somewhere else and with someone else. I certainly liked Tammie more than I liked my godfather, who was never the sort of person I’d turn to for advice, guidance, and all those other tools for living a godfather was supposed to be able to provide. And even though Tammie was no beauty at that point, I could tell by her eyes, by her cheeks, and by those stray moments when she’d hold her chin up high as if everyone looked like shit next to her, that she was once stunning.

And I could tell because the daughter Tammie and my godfather had, the daughter who was the mother of the earliest friends I remember, had the most beautiful eyes. Small, shy, and quiet, she was framed more like her father than her mother, but one thing she got from Tammie were those eyes, eyes that even when they were looking off into the distance made you think she was actually looking at you. That daughter’s marriage also broke up, and I wondered if the fifties, when my friends and I were born, was just some hot and heavy time when everything was loose up until that moment when someone got pregnant, after which it was time to get down to the business of raising the child. A business some of them weren’t prepared for or were reluctant to get into. Of course, then, their choices were more limited, in a lot of ways. Or at any rate, a choice was a lot harder to come by.

Then, one night last summer, as Heather, Maggie, Julien and I were heading down to Main Street where Maggie’s voice and piano teacher would be performing outdoors at the Gazebo, Maggie noticed something on the side of the front porch steps. And what she saw were two big leopard slugs, and the leopard slugs were doing it. Seeing two creatures in the act isn’t all that unusual a thing, but leopard slugs are a different matter altogether. These slugs are all hermaphrodites, and when two slugs get together they lick each other for awhile, after which a long and slimy white penis emerges from each slug, then together they intertwine; after sperm is exchanged, each slug can go off and lay its eggs. That’s when things are going nicely. Sometimes, though, they have difficulty separating. That’s when one or sometimes both slugs will chew off the other’s penis.

As Heather, Maggie, and I were watching this take place of the side of our front steps, Maggie kept saying, “Oh my God!” She was grossed out and didn’t understand what the slugs were doing, but at the same time she couldn’t stop watching them.

When the slugs were done, we finally started moving down the sidewalk. Maggie kept asking, “What were they doing? What were they doing?”

I briefly considered saying, “Life. You can never be sure about life…,” except I’d adapt it to the situation at hand: “But making babies. You can be sure about making babies.” That, I realized almost immediately, would be just as lame as what I’d been told forty years earlier. Because after a life lived together, even if it didn’t turn out the way he’d wanted it to, there had to be something better to say. Something to say to me, his godchild. Something to pass on to the younger generation.

As it was, neither Heather nor I were quite ready to explain to Maggie what the slugs were doing. To say that sometimes, whether it’s people or animals, things get kind of weird and messy and unpleasant. “It’s kind of a grown up thing,” Heather finally explained. Then we continued walking down the street.

As we got closer, we wondered why we still couldn’t hear the music from the Gazebo, then wondered if the show had been cancelled, or brought indoors because of the possibility of thunderstorms. But we kept on walking.

This photograph shows Maggie, in silhouette, standing on the corner at the point where we started to hear the music.

-Jose Padua

Brief Moments at the Oasis


On the way to pick Maggie up from her weaving class, I slowed down on Chester St as the car ahead of me suddenly slowed down as if the driver were about to turn—though he didn’t use his signal—onto the parking lot behind the Gazebo. But instead of turning he drove past the entrance to the parking lot and toward the curb. Thinking he was just going to double park, I started moving around him when he suddenly started pulling out into the middle of the street. Again, I stopped my car. When, after a moment, he didn’t move, I started moving ahead. That was when he suddenly started backing up into the entrance to the parking lot, then stopped again. I drove all the way to the left to get around him and looked out the passenger side window. He was this grimy, forty or so year old guy with a bushy moustache who to me looked like a strung-out, small town version of Freebo, the bushy haired, bushy mustached session musician who played bass for Bonnie Raitt for much of the 70s.

I’d always thought Freebo was cool. He looked like the fun guy in the band, the guy who knew how to party and get wild without being scary. That he was also one of the musicians in the band during the “Black Death” skit Richard Pryor did during the brief run of his 1977 TV show made Freebo seem even cooler to me. This was the skit where Pryor, dressed in a P-Funk inspired costume, fronts a heavy metal band which brings the crowd to a frenzy before actually gunning them down. It was the skit that I watched with my mother who, when it was over, said approvingly that it “was far out.” It was also a skit that would be hard to pull off nowadays.

As for the small town Freebo I encountered, he wasn’t cool. I don’t know if he was drunk or just inconsiderate, but when I looked over to him he didn’t say something like “Sorry, couldn’t make up my mind where I wanted to go” or even “Go ahead around me.” No, what he said, drawn out by his pancake-tongued, southern drawl, was “Fuuuuuuckkkk Yooooooouuuuu.”

That wasn’t surprising. Small towns do have a lot of warm, pleasant people, but they’ve also got more than their share of people who, whether they’re racists or just small-minded clowns who think they’re protecting their small town turf by being belligerent to anyone they think is an “outsider,” are total assholes. Anyone painting some pleasant picture of small town America as some quaint, beautiful, totally welcoming world is tripping like the Summer of Love never ended.

But what was surprising was what I did after my small town Freebo said, “Fuck you” to me. Or rather, what was surprising was what I didn’t do. And what I didn’t do was answer him with my own barrage of Fuck Yous or Go To Hells. No, I didn’t reply at all—I just looked at him the way I’d look at something that was far in the distance even though his car was just a foot away from mine. I just looked at him and drove off.

Now, it wasn’t because I had Julien in his car seat behind me that kept me quiet. Time after time on the road, I’ve let loose with fabulous angry curses, even with Maggie and Julien in the car, and just a couple of weeks ago, I remember, I was freaking out about nearly everything. And the fact is, I don’t really know what kept me calm. But what I began to wonder was that if somehow a sense of contentment was something that could blindside you just like all the bad things. That a sense of distance from whatever disturbs you can sneak up on you like a breeze from off the ocean, and that wisdom and the sense of perspective it brings move toward you in subtle, and beautiful ways.

Or maybe I just wasn’t fucking awake enough to yell back at that country motherfucker. I’d woken up half an hour earlier from taking a nap with Julien (my insomnia the previous night had allowed only about two hours of sleep) and I was still moving kind of slow. My brain was probably moving pretty damn slow, too.

This photograph of Maggie and Heather was taken a few years ago on the sand outside the Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach, Delaware. This spot, distant enough from the noise coming from the bar and back deck of the Rusty Rudder, always seems to fill me with a sense of contentment. And it fills me with this in ways that are subtle and beautiful.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In the Valley of the Shadow of Glenn Beck’s Hemorrhoids

For me, life is a series of obsessions. Some I take on only to discard at some point. Others I keep while, like a polygamist of obsessions, I find more—of different shapes and sizes—to add to the group. So, in addition to my actual family, I have, in my mind, a parallel family of obsessions. It was one of these obsessions—my obsession with the name “Front Royal”—that brought us to this town and took us away from the city life that suited us so well for so many years. It was a move that took a lot of effort and, above all, energy. And what gave me the energy to come here and drag Heather and Maggie along was that obsession. For a number of years now—with my days of heavy drinking behind me—alcohol has been replaced by obsession as my primary fuel. Indeed, obsessions aren’t just something I have: for me, obsessions are everything.

Lately, what I’ve been obsessed with is America—the country and the concept. I’ve been writing poem after poem about America, about what I see in it and what I don’t see, what I love about it and what I hate about it. I’m obsessed with its long stretches of highway that take you from city to suburb to country, then on into mountains and desert and, finally, out to the ocean on the other side of the continent. And, I’m obsessed with being on that road—I’d be perfectly happy spending years going from town to town, and hotel to hotel, with Heather and Maggie. I love being on the road and, I must say, I love being on the road even more now since we moved to the valley.

I can’t say that I’ve never had a sad moment on the road, but there’s something about that motion, that sensation that you’re floating over the asphalt like some entity that’s half flesh and blood and half ghost—that helps make the bad things seem, if not insignificant, then at least small enough so that hiding them in the back of your mind is a lot easier. As for those ugly Hummers you see or cars with bumper stickers like “I’ll Keep My Freedom, My Guns, and My Money, and You Can Keep the Change”—well, I can slow down, or speed up so that I stay a comfortable and safe distance from them. A distance that will decrease the chances of me giving in to another of my obsessions: giving people the finger.

Getting away from these things that make me want to stretch my arm, make a tight fist, then extend my middle finger isn’t easy to do when I’m home—home being not my house where I feel fine, but the town I live in. A town which, because I live here, I’m supposed to call home.

That’s another reason why I’m obsessed with being on the road now. When I’m on the road, I’m a tourist: I don’t need to feel at home. Or, at any rate, when I’m on the road, I’m not missing anything if I don’t feel like I belong. Because when I’m home I think, for some strange, fucked up reason, that I’m supposed to feel like I belong there.

I have felt at home before, such as in my old Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in DC—but that was where I grew up. The things that annoyed people who were new to the neighborhood like the drunks peeing in the alley behind the house—shit, even I did that myself sometimes—never bothered me. I also felt at home when I lived in New York City. Home, even when I’d walk in the door of my apartment building on Avenue B to see some junkie shooting up in the foyer in front of the mailboxes. Home, even when the middle-aged couple down the hall would have an argument and yell at each other for half an hour, after which he would finally stomp off and she would sing that old Olivia Newton-John song, “Come On Over.” She’d sing it, in Spanish, while sitting in the hallway all forlorn, her voice getting louder and louder as she cleared the smoker’s phlegm from her lungs. Then she’d pace back and forth, still singing, her voice going even more horribly off key than when she started.

I hated that song when it was sung pitch perfect, by Olivia herself, and I hated it even more after hearing my neighbor sing it. But, despite her horrible voice, and the actual physical pain it caused, I still felt that I was home. And that I belonged there.

After being here in Front Royal for over two years, I still don’t feel that way. I know, I seem to keep saying that over and over, but that’s another one of my obsessions—my obsession with the concept of home and that moment of revelation when, after being in some new place for a little while, you nod and say to yourself Yeah, this is where I belong. It sure as hell hasn’t happened to me yet here in the valley.

Of course it’s hard to get that homey feeling when not a day goes by when I don’t get that look from someone. And I don’t even mean that gawking where-the-fuck-are-you-from stare I get from time to time from people to whom I seem like a lizard being who just fell to earth from another planet. I mean that quick look that takes an extra split second more than just a casual glance. It’s that glance I get from people who all of sudden seem to think they’ve got a job with Homeland Security and are excited that, with me, they may have just spotted one of those evil-doing invaders—or some illegal alien who’s going to take his job away from him and move next door and spoil the complexion of his neighborhood.

Then there are those looks that aren’t quite as long, but still last longer than they should. Sometimes it’s a person behind the counter of some business here—a person who will look at me and, believing that I’m some kind of outsider who doesn’t belong here (or maybe anywhere else in America), never look at me in the eye again throughout the entire transaction. Usually that person will ask me for my ID, even though he or she hasn’t bothered asking for the ID of the people in line before me who used a bank card to pay. But the thing they don’t realize when they ask for my ID is that, after they look at my ID, they have to look at me again to see if there’s a match. And, if their intent is just to avoid looking at me—to avoid seeing invaders like me—then they’ve lost. So when they look up from my ID and back at me is when I give them my scary make-them-pee-in-their-pants face. It is, in certain ways, more effective than saying “Go fuck yourself”—except that I never know for sure if I’ve made someone pee in his or her pants, whereas when I say “Go fuck yourself” I get that warm and fuzzy but palpable feeling that goes along with that phrase.

When they’re not afraid or suspicious of me, then they want to laugh or belittle me—or, at any rate, make me something so far removed from reality that I can’t possibly pose a threat anymore. Recently, during a ghost tour of downtown Front Royal, one of the tour guides told me that I reminded him of the mystical amulet seller in The Golden Child, an Eddie Murphy vehicle from more than twenty years ago. I wasn’t that offended—my first unspoken reaction being Of all the movies of the last twenty years , you remember that fucking movie?—but again, I was being singled out as the other, the alien, the exotic being.

Still, I would have to say that reminding him of the amulet seller was better than reminding him, for example, of Mickey Rooney’s idiotic bucktoothed portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Or Gedde Watanabe’s portrayal of the clueless, just-off-the-boat Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles. (Looking back on that role years later, Watanabe admitted that he was a bit naïve in gleefully presenting this offensively stereotypical character.) And, if the tour guide had said I reminded him not of the amulet seller, but of the actor who played that role, Victor Wong, that would have been a different thing altogether.

Before he started acting, Victor Wong was a painter, a poet, a photographer, a journalist. He’d studied painting under Mark Rothko, was portrayed as “Arthur Ma” in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur, was a part of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters crowd, and was even a TV reporter. Far from being some exotic other, Victor Wong was an American. Born in San Francisco in 1927, he died in 2001, the day after attacks on September 11th.

For some people, though, that’s not enough to give him consideration as a real American—after all, his last name was Wong. As Glenn Beck recently commented about Barack Obama, “You don’t take the name Barack to identify with America.” For Beck and other like-minded goons, American names have a European, preferably Anglo-Saxon origin. Obviously, with my name being Jose Padua, I could never be a real American, at least not in Beck’s world.

Which brings me to another obsession—my obsession with how there’s no difference between what comes out of Glenn Beck’s mouth and the gas that escapes to the free world through his hemorrhoid-besieged anus. (“I had surgery on my ass,” Beck explained while talking about the procedure performed on his hemorrhoids during his old show on Headline News back in 2008.) I think about Glenn Beck’s ass a lot—even more than I think about the hate-filled drivel he tries to pass off as social commentary.

You know how they say that when you’re speaking in front of a crowd of people, it helps calm your nerves if you imagine that the entire audience is naked? Well, back in 2008 I did the first full poetry reading I’d done in years. I felt rusty and I was, I must day, a little nervous. But as soon as I got up before that crowd of people at the bookstore in Winchester, I started thinking about Glenn Beck and his hemorrhoids and how difficult it must have been for him sometimes to sit and do a show when his ass was in so much pain. Then I began to read a poem—the first poem I’d read in public in a long time—and when I was done I looked up at the audience to see them looking at me and applauding, waiting on my next words.

Sometimes my obsessions make it hard for me. Sometimes, they get things done.

And what it always comes back to is this: my obsessions clash with theirs. Their obsessions include guns, god, taxes, illegal immigrants—a set of obsessions that goes along with a vision of America as homogenous Homeland. My great obsession is that I’m an American, too, but here, in the valley, I don’t really feel like it—and I worry that as the years go by this valley isn’t shrinking but expanding.

-Jose Padua