Category Archives: Washington DC

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

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For All the Past and Coming Years of Sound and Friendship

Photograph by Jose Padua
I didn’t become aware of Prince until around the time of his third album, Dirty Mind, when I’d see this poster of guy with a kerchief around his neck, a flashy sport coat over his bare chest, and skimpy black briefs hanging in the window of Melody Records at Dupont Circle. I’d be on my way home from my first full time job after graduating from college, waiting for the bus outside the record store after getting off the subway. It was 1980 and I was a messenger at the Library of Congress, delivering requests for information by hand to various departments within the Congressional Research Service, while the guy in the poster, obviously, had a much more exciting job than I did.

But it was all fine with me. On paydays, I’d go into the store before hopping on the bus. At the time I was listening mostly to avant garde jazz, and after completing my mission of hunting down every record Albert Ayler had made in his lifetime, I was perhaps looking for some change of pace. The guy in the poster, of course, was Prince, and at first I had no idea what he was all about. I’d read about him here and there—stuff about him being the next big thing—and I was intrigued. But it wasn’t until someone brought Dirty Mind home—I don’t remember if it was me or one of my brothers—that I heard any of it. What I do remember, though, is hearing the opening of the song “Dirty Mind” for the first time—how the drums and keyboards led to that voice. I didn’t think it was a great voice, at first. I mean, Philip Bailey, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and on and on—I probably could have thought of a dozen falsettos I liked more off the top of my head. But as I listened I saw how Prince got his voice to say everything he wanted it to say, and what he was saying wasn’t like anything else that was around at the time, because what he was saying was both dirty and sweet, hard-boiled and romantic, light and profound.

From that first time hearing him, I was hooked. From then on, Prince’s music was a part of my life, though his wasn’t the only music I needed. There was still the avant garde jazz I was big on—the previously mentioned Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, and so forth; there was punk and “new wave” like Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, Wire; there was the Ramayana Monkey Chant and all sorts of music that to me was essential. I understood that not everyone was into this wide variety of sounds, and that was cool. I could hang with people who didn’t get Sun Ra, I could drink at the Tune Inn on Capitol Hill with Patsy Cline playing over and over on the juke box for the hundredth time, I could attend a prim and proper recital of Mozart and enjoy both the music and the scene, but if you didn’t like Prince I was immediately suspicious of you. And whenever I heard someone say something along the lines of, “I don’t think Prince is all that great,” I’d make my way to the other end of the bar, find someone else to talk to at the party, or just leave to get away from the ugliness.

Still, this isn’t to say that I always moved down to the other end of the bar. I probably spent a little too much time, especially when I was young, hanging out with people I didn’t quite click with, people who I felt safe with but who didn’t inspire me. But after a while I did move on. I started hanging out less with a crowd that only listened to Top 40 radio or classic rock and who didn’t care much about poetry or foreign films and modern art and a million other things. I started hanging out more with those friends from college who would actually party to Ornette Coleman’s music, Talking Heads, and Prince of course. They were a little bit crazier than my other friends, but then I was a little crazier than my other friends as well, and becoming less crazy was, for me, neither option nor choice.

Over the years I made new friends, lost touch with old ones, got pissed at good friends, laughed uncomfortably with bad friends, made up with real friends, and fell completely out with others because sometimes it’s just so hard to even say anything. There were people whom I missed like the next sip of bourbon, and people who were just stomach aches and head aches and sore throats and pink eye. As for me, I was, by turns, a saint, an asshole, a pillar of strength, a pompous jerk, the wittiest person in the room, the dullest clown in a travelling circus of the damned. There were things that I could have done better, things that I did do better, tasks that I performed spectacularly, and tasks at which I was completely lost but did anyway, because, Jesus, sometimes it was just nice to do something/anything whether I was good at it or bad at it. That I continue to have good days and bad days proves that I am alive.

Not long after he died, I played Prince’s Dirty Mind album again. And again. Then I listened to For You and the eponymously titled Prince album again, because in 1980 that’s what I did—I went back to those earlier records. After one more go at Dirty Mind I listened to Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day. I went on like that for a while—working, writing, doing the things I usually did by myself and with my family during the course of the day, all while reliving the progression and evolution of sound, from the late 70s to the present time, through the music of Prince.

I imagine that, during the course of those days, I was bopping my head up and down a little more, tapping my feet more than I usually did when I sat at the computer and wrote. And, I imagine, that with the help of this music, I felt a little more becalmed and content than my obsessive compulsive mind—with its unending flash of words and images and emotions—usually allowed me. Because in my more panicked moments, I look at life as an all too rapid process, the basis of which is solely biological and thus entirely lacking in the sort of essential qualities needed to form any manner of philosophical much less spiritual approach to existence. It’s when my thought processes slow down that they regain any kind of warmth in this regard, and I start to believe again that moments, years, even entire millenniums have direction and meaning. Oddly enough, it’s music that can slow me down like this.

One night, in the middle of all that, I took a photograph of my daughter Maggie and my son Julien playing in the back yard. My wife Heather was late getting in from town and by the time we were done eating dinner it was already starting to get dark. Still, we kept on going, bouncing this big red ball and a smaller blue and white ball back and forth between the four of us. In the photograph I took, Maggie is holding the red ball and laughing while Julien is holding the smaller one and looking serious because when you’re younger, like him, you feel like you have to work that much harder to keep up with everyone. At my age, much of the time, I still feel like that. Then I get caught up.

And so I watch as the years go by, taking into consideration the varying levels of light and dark, warmth and cold, speed and its opposite. While some parents may see money, career, and marriage as the most significant indicators of the brightness of a child’s future, I rarely think along those lines. And while they’re good to have, there are other things that are more basic and more important. Which is why, on a beautiful night, when the sun has gone down and the air begins to cool, what I wish for my children before anything else is a future full of sound and friendship. And the ability to move through the years like a falsetto that says everything that can possibly be said, and in so doing aspires toward grace.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Self-Portrait in the Form of a Chalk Outline on the Concrete Belly of America

Photograph by Jose Padua
Jose Padua is a dish best served cold with onions,
mushrooms and tomatoes in a light broth and
accompanied by a rich lager with subtle aftertones of lemon.
Jose Padua is Arnold Swartzenegger’s imagined tumor
in Kindergarten Cop right when his headache is
at its most painful and the students are ready to revolt.
Jose Padua is the citizen who doesn’t look like a citizen,
the American who doesn’t look like an American, the
human being who doesn’t look like a human being except
in the looming darkness between the last of the previews
and the beginning of the feature film, that precious time
when the prospect of being entertained puts us all
on what the industry calls “a level playing field.”
Jose Padua is a plastic container of air freshener
shaped like a cone that’s run out whatever makes
the almost but not quite pleasant smell that makes
a bathroom smell like a bathroom and not something
that’s been manufactured in an unusually clean factory
in Wisconsin (not that anything is made in America anymore
besides debt, predatory lending, and opportunities
for fatuous demagogues to gain political capital).
Jose Padua is the alley in the neighborhood
he grew up in where all the drunks would stop to pee
and which all the young professionals who were moving
into the neighborhood would complain about because
My god, this is the nation’s capital they would moan
and christ he would pee there too in wet protest of
gentrifiers, scenesters, and financial speculators
because it was his home before it was theirs.
Jose Padua reads fancy books with fancy poems
and fancy stories and fancy essays and the fancy people
who write these fancy poems and fancy stories and
fancy essays totally ignore him except for a few
who’ll nod and say, “Hey, how’s it going, I haven’t
seen you in a long time? Have you bought my new book?”
and Jose Padua will respond by asking, “Hey, can you
lend me a condominium in a rough but upcoming part
of town? Can you spend hours staring at your multi-colored
aquarium fish? Are you the slow, lonesome journey
to a swiftly revolving oblivion?” as everyone whose spirits
had been momentarily lifted feels a dull ache in their knees,
and the thickness of the air that surrounds them makes them
think that time has stopped and been replaced by two or three
hit TV shows from the 90s that no one wants to watch anymore.
Jose Padua walks softly on delicate red rose petals through
the new renaissance he’s creating in his head—you should
take the time to pause and praise his creation; Jose Padua
swims through the ether with neither fear nor loathing
while making elegant strokes on the shifting surface of
popular trends—behold his cultural criticism whenever
you gaze at the nighttime sky and feel like you’re about
to sneeze. This—right here, right now, right off—is what
his lone bright soul contains. This is his vision of what
is crass and obscene and what you need to do about it.
This is his gift to you.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And the Green Card Moon Shines Brightly Over the Beautiful Black Ocean

Photo of Margarita S. Padua
That weekend started off with another encounter with the woman who always tailgates me when I’m trying to stay somewhat close to the school zone speed limit. I’d just dropped off my son Julien when she turned onto the road behind me from the main parking lot. Looking into the rearview mirror, I could see her cold blue eyes staring straight ahead in furious contempt. She followed a few feet behind me for half a minute. Then, when there was a break in the oncoming traffic, she stepped on the gas and zoomed around me. She got all of three, maybe four car lengths ahead of me before she had to slow down again because she was now behind another car that was more or less obeying the speed limit. Still, she had probably shaved an entire half second off her commute, which meant that by going around me she was that much closer to completing her role in making America great again.

Later that day, when we were all home again, I noticed that my daughter Maggie had been carrying around my friend Liz Hand’s novel, Waking the Moon. It’s about the supernatural happenings involving a group of friends who met at college and includes a character based on me. Although the character is much cooler than I was, it still felt odd to have Maggie seeing me this way. This isn’t to say that the real me she sees everyday isn’t odd enough already, it’s just that there’s something about books and real literature that makes you look at the world that much more closely, and I imagined that Maggie, after reading Waking the Moon, was looking at me that much more critically. I just hoped that when she was done with it she still considered the non-book version of me odd and weird enough to take seriously.

After dinner, Heather and Maggie talked again about a paper Maggie did for school on refugees. That’s when Julien asked me to show him my collection of vinyl records in our hall library. One by one, I pulled out the albums of recordings he’d only seen in CD form: Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Les Stances a Sophie, Ornette Coleman’s Friends and Neighbors. The full size LPs of all of these impressed him, but what really made his eyes light up was when I pulled out Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Blacknuss LP. At the time, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was what he asked to hear more than anything else. “Wow,” he said, and he reached out to hold the album himself. When he’s a little older, I thought, I can show him how to use the turntable— just like a couple of years ago when I showed Maggie how to use it to play the Velvet Underground albums she found in my record collection.

That night, we were in Richmond, Virginia, taking another break from the small town life. I was always astounded, whenever we visited a real city, how much more comfortable it was for me. Even in a southern city like Richmond there was so much more of a mix than in our small town. And though there were still people there in Richmond like the guy with the shaved head and yellow Tea Party sticker on his leather jacket—he made a point of staring at me as he walked past us at the pizza joint where we had dinner—most of the time I felt like I didn’t need to explain anything to anyone there. I was an American there in Richmond, and I could be as odd as I needed to be, at least some of the time.

Twenty-three years ago that night, I was in Georgetown Hospital in DC, spending the night in the reclining chair next to my Mom’s hospital bed. In the morning she had another heart attack, and then, that afternoon, she died. She was born in the Philippines in 1925, and although she was always Pinay, or a Filipina, she was also, by the time she died, an American. If she were alive today, and wanted to make one last visit to the Philippines then come back to America, she’d do it. Yeah, one way or as many ways as you can dream of, she’d do it. Because she had two homes—the country where she was born, and the country she worked hard to make her home.

I remember the day when my Mom got her green card. She was happy, she was relieved—I could hear the actual sigh she let loose when she found out. It meant our lives here were more secure. It didn’t mean we were what everyone here would call Americans, but it meant we could keep on trying. It meant that we had a chance.

This poem was written in celebration of my mother and the color green, and all the powers she and it had, both together and separately.

Green Card

Once she made
her way
to the States
in the early 50s,
my mother
never made it
back to the
country where she
was born,
which in the eyes
of some
didn’t make
her an American,
but which to us,
her children,
made her
as American
as she needed
to be.

-Jose Padua

To My Father on What According to Evidence-Based Assumptions Would Have Been His 102nd Birthday

Cosme Padua
You’re not here to see this.
A president you would
have called a son of a gun,
not knowing the harsher, more
colorful, more beautifully
profane curses we have
in the English language.
You discovered the way
people speak here when
you came to America
from the Philippines
on the boat.
You learned how
to speak in America
while standing up
every day and walking,
lifting, getting, doing
the hundreds of things
they call work.
And when you spoke English
you spoke it
with an accent,
of course,
because unlike what
any all-American,
born-and-bred
sons of guns thought,
this is exactly
what made
the language
yours.

-Jose Padua

Those Years That Went Down

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when
I’m walking
in the old neighborhood with
my wife, my daughter, my son
and we pass by
all the sharp corners
and tight spaces
where daytime drunks
still gather,
no longer hidden by
the ornament
of night,
I remember
those years that
went down
like whiskey
and the beauty
of the B-side of
a hit single,
played over and over
on the juke box
in my favorite dive bar
until everyone
gets really annoyed,
lays down their mugs
their tumblers
their heavy shot glassess—
those sacred, precise
instruments of drinking–
as the smoky air
begins to feel liquid.
So glad
I made it out
into the open air,
so grateful
for solid blue
sky.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Days and Nights in the City Where I First Opened My Eyes

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother worked nights at home, daytime too,
in the house, at the sewing machine, making dresses
for women who could afford to have dresses made
for them. We bought our clothes at the store, though
sometimes she would sew something special for us–
a vest, a Barong Tagalog made out of sheer white
fabric which I never wore because I thought it would
make me look even less American than I already did
with what the kids at school sometimes called my
Chinese Checkers eyes. I liked jeans and tee shirts,
sneakers, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and
I’d never think of playing The Reycard Duet with
Tony Maiquez and his Ukelele Gang singing
“Oh! Baby” which was wild and raw and—though
I didn’t know the word for it at the time—badass.
My father took care of the ambassador’s residence,
made sure water ran through every pipe, and lights
went on in every big, fancy bedroom and in the
grand dining room where every piece of furniture
was hand-carved with ivory inlays and where the
long narrow halls were big enough for us to live in.
At nights he served drinks and appetizers to the class
of people who could drink strong drinks and
eat gourmet meals, hoping each night for good tips
and maybe good leftovers which he could bring
home to us—strawberries in custard in a miniature
pie shell, flaky black and white pastries that came in
layers that fell apart like the times as we bit into them,
staying up a little later than we were supposed to,
waiting for our treats, but mostly for him, which
was when my mom would turn the sewing machine
off for the night and come into the fluorescent light
of the kitchen, where we’d sit, the sweet taste on
our tongues interrupting every stray question and
tidy answer, our eyes getting heavier, happy, content
with long tiring days ending in long bright nights.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Blood and Guts in High School, the Neighborhood, My Country, and the World

Jose Padua, early to mid 70s
Somehow I kept forgetting how my
high school friend sitting behind me
in the back while I rode shotgun in
my other friend’s car thought it would
be funny to take a length of rope that
was on the floor next to him then reach up
with it, throw it around my neck, and pull
like in that scene in the Godfather when
Luca Brasi meets his early end. Maybe
he was mad that I was up front and he
wasn’t, maybe he was mad I got into school
on a scholarship and he didn’t, and he was
the guy who out of the blue one afternoon
said there was nothing I could ever do that
would make me “look like a human being.”
So I reached around behind me, grabbed
his arm and yanked it, pushed the rope
away from my neck and said “what the
fuck is wrong with you?” because I was
young and wanted to think the best of
people and things and still trusted any-
one my school, my neighborhood, my
country, and the world said was my friend.

-Jose Padua

Days of Being Wild

Photograph by Jose Padua
Grade school was one
humiliation after another.
Shitting my pants in first grade
because asking permission
to go to the bathroom
was petrifying horror.
Kids calling me
“Chinese Checkers” in fourth grade
because they didn’t know
any slurs for Filipinos like me,
pushing me to the playground pavement,
then laughing at my Tourette’s tics,
telling me that at the end of eighth grade
I’ll be screaming for my diploma
like a freaking baby.
Now I’m this badass poet.
Say the wrong thing to me
and I’ll fuck up your syntax
with a stray adverb,
write a metaphor that makes
you shit your own pants
like you’re a freaking baby–
yes I used that phrase again
because badass poets
can do that shit.
Because even on the page
revenge is sweet, sweet victory,
and in the late middle
of my mortal days on earth
I am still wild in the heart
as my imperfections lead me ever boldly
up this beautiful, steep hill.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Signs of Life

Photograph by Jose Padua
The Biograph Theater in DC, where I first saw
Casablanca on something other than a TV screen;
Joe Cocker and Leon Russell in Mad Dogs & Englishman,
a rock documentary I saw when I was still too young
to attend a live show what with all the pot smoking
and hippie kids dancing without their shirts; and
Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary while the outraged devout
camped outside the lobby, protesting the film’s supposed
blasphemy, has been a CVS drugstore for over two decades
now, a place where you can buy shaving cream, Slim Jims,
toilet paper, ibuprofen, and all the other tools, necessary or
optional, for living in the 21st Century. But where are those
images, the words, sounds and songs that I also need?
The airplane in black and white and mist that’s about
to lift Ingrid Bergman up and off to a safer place;
Joe Cocker singing and Leon Russell playing “Delta Lady”
with English accent and Oklahoma twang; the irreverent
challenge of taking the divine back down to earth with
allegory. There is a way of living, here, in that moment
that takes you away from whatever commerce brought us
together. That allows you to forget the body while being
of the body, seated, your eyes open, glancing away from
the screen and across the dark auditorium to catch, partly
by accident and partly by intent, the unforgettable sight of
a face, in the crowd, illuminated as much by sound as by light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua