Tag Archives: America

On the Slow Decline of the Ugly

Photograph by Jose Padua
We called them ugly stickers.
Like baseball cards or football cards,
they came in packs of bubblegum
except for me they were
a lot more interesting—
no batting averages for
the last four seasons, no total
touchdowns or yards per carry,
just an illustration
of an ugly monster of a creature
with a name like Bob, George, or Jill.
Joe, which was my nickname at home
was the closest the ugly stickers got
to my actual name, Jose,
and was a big green blob with
lopsided eyes, hideous lizard skin
and I think one leg
sticking out of its side—
I liked it a lot, and I liked it when
I was young and quiet
long before I learned
to like my real name,
because in America
you sometimes had to face
all the ugliness outside of you
before you could appreciate
the sort of off-center, off-color
full-of-blood beauty
that stands on its feet
or foot or whatever
it was born with
and demands its
moments of clarity.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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The Wall and What Surrounds It

Photograph by Jose Padua
I’m thinking that someone else
has probably already written a poem
about building a wall
around Donald Trump’s penis
so I’m going to write about
the leaves this fall;
the gentle turning of their colors
from bright and deep green
to light and sometimes
even fiery red and orange.
From tones and shades that blend in
almost invisibly
with the American landscape
to those that stand out
boldly among the old ways,
speaking other languages,
bringing new dance moves,
new flavors and scents
and ways of organizing time.
I’m thinking about
the muddy waters
of this winding river turning
bright blue in the slight bend
and chill of twilight,
turning the purple mountains
into beautiful black silhouettes
that will make it easier
for the rest of us
to reach great heights
Dizzy and tired,
we’ll walk boldly
though with slow, steady feet,
balancing ourselves like flying acrobats,
demanding our strange names be heard
and holding out
the dry, cracked skin
of our large hands.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Head Over Heels

jp_june1982_edit
At the doctor’s office in Charlottesville, Virginia
to investigate the possible reasons
for my ten-month-old son’s large head,
the doctor measures my own
and informs me that my head size
is off the curve, off the charts,
and when I offer “freakish”
as a way of describing it
he doesn’t say yes but he doesn’t say no
and he looks at me calmly eye to eye,
mano a mano, and without a word
he answers my question,
which reaffirms my initial impression
that he is smart, informed,
and on top of his area of medical expertise—
a good doctor whose feet
are planted firmly on Virginia ground.
He explains that he has a special interest in big heads
because they run in his family—
his father, the elder neurosurgeon,
has a massive head, a trait which he himself,
unfortunately, did not inherit,
which he says is why as a doctor he must use
every bit of his smaller-sized brain,
and it’s why I feel better now,
after days and weeks and years of feeling tense,
knowing that my son’s head size is character,
maybe even personality, not disabling pathology,
and that in this one measurable way
I am ahead of nearly everyone else in the world.
And my wife, my daughter, my big-headed son
and I leave the hospital to eat lunch
at the downtown mall where my wife, my daughter
and I order sandwiches which we will insert
bite by bite into the biggest opening in our heads,
and then we’ll drive nearly two hours back north,
and walk into our big house
where I’ll step into the living room
and lie back on the sofa
so I can relieve myself, momentarily,
of the incredible burden of standing,
walking, running tall,
in an America that is shrinking
in so many ways,
and lay down my huge head.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of the author was taken in 1982 from a balcony near the top of the Library of Congress.

The National Anthem

Photograph by Jose Padua
I am writing this because my world is
being made uninhabitable by assholes.
I am standing still on a manhole cover
that’s about to explode upward as the
shoreline moves closer to my feet. I
land in a city a hundred and forty miles
away and brush the ash from my shoulders,
exhale the smoke that accompanied my rising,
then after a half hour spent coughing breathe
new air into my lungs. I am walking into
a restaurant where everyone is armed
but me. They are watching the game on
TV. I eat my meal and kill time by pretending
to watch the game with them when I don’t care
about games and I don’t care about TV.
I overhear the wealthy family man whose
inspirational holiday pep talk about the playthings
he brings into his swinger’s bedroom is
“you gotta treat them like pieces of meat.”
I see a woman dressed like a mobile crucifixion
scene stand up and scream when the home team
scores. When she sees me she reaches for her Glock.
I have been drinking so much coffee and need
to pee so badly that I am now faster than any
gun. So I fly away from the red, white, and blue.
Over rows of beer mugs and plates of greasy
chicken wings, I float toward the fading light
of the western world’s flaming sunset, ready
to score my first touchdown as I consider the
ways I might make America great once again.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Portrait of America in Plastic Surgery Procedures

Photograph by Jose Padua
This is my portrait of America in plastic surgery procedures:
a new nose for George Washington.
America, behold his new nose!
The Grand Canyon, too deep—
who can understand its great perspective these days?
Rock and stone are too slow;
actions need to start right away.
Let’s add a fucking car chase ride over the edge and back
as scary as a Texas heart attack.
Alabama, you have a fat ass.
Let me fix that for you now.
Minnesota, your tits are starting to sag.
Do you think a Midwestern cowboy
will want to look at that,
do you think he’ll want to grab that sag, you hag?
Instinct tells us that variations on the infinite are finite.
Science tells us that the number of days in one’s youth is limited.
So bend up instead of down, America.
William Howard Taft can now touch his toes.
Ronald Reagan will lose the wrinkles
around his eyes and make the rich even richer—
that’s right, the money still goes to the biggest assholes.
A face tightened like plastic will last
just as long as plastic and will inherit the earth
along with all the profits.
A face peeled like an apple will grapple
with enemy combatants who seek
to destroy the land of your birthday suit,
America, one nation under a plastic surgeon’s knife.
America, state your rights, bleach your teeth,
bleach your mind and your anus
will have no choice but to follow.
America, as the bible belt expands
the wrinkles run from east to west
though we have tried to keep them from spreading
by tweeting as often as we can.
The plastic surgeon is our pied piper.
He can’t keep up, he’s not getting it all done.
He hasn’t rested in over two hundred years.
But today, he puts down his knife; he looks down upon us,
he takes a sharp-focus picture;
then takes the time to consider the great skill he wields
with his slightly wrinkled fingers.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Brief Reflection on the Passage of Time As Seen Through an Old Burn Mark on My Skin

Photograph by Jose Padua
More than twenty years later I still have
the slight trace of a brown burn mark
on my left forearm from when I was
at the stove in my lower east side apartment
holding with a fork in my right hand
the pork chop I got on sale at Key Foods
on the corner of Avenue A and Fourth
and which slipped off the tines into the hot oil
that splattered all over my lowered arm.
I cursed and screamed and kicked
the television that was on the floor
next to the oven and I began to feel better
then kicked the television again
because it was a good way to focus
on something other than the pain I was feeling
and besides the television was already broken,
I just hadn’t bothered to take it down to the curb
or wherever it was you were supposed leave
your useless old machines in New York City.
After the burn and the pain came several seasons
when all I had was the radio and nothing
to watch The Tonight Show with or the news
or sports which I was starting to lose interest in anyway,
and whenever I needed to see what the weather
was like I looked out the window,
opened it a crack to feel the air that came in,
which always made me want to open it all the way
and stick my head out and maybe sometimes
go ahead and take the fast way down to the street,
and I listened to the radio during the first war
in the Persian Gulf and during the uprising in LA
after a gang of cops tried to bash Rodney King’s head in,
listening to the stories and hearing the sounds
of wars and riots and listening for but never hearing
the easy silence that surrounded whoever
was in charge saying who should be shot,
who should be hung or electrocuted
or else made to work until his or her fingers started to bleed;
and I had to imagine what everything looked like,
picturing in my mind who was hurt and who was killed,
pondering what would be left when it was all over
and feeling something less like confidence
and more like despair that anything could ever change
here in America or anyplace America touched.
And whenever I look at the brown burn on my arm
I think about both evil dictator and elder statesman;
I think about the guys who carry the guns
and for whom the law is like an insurance policy
they carry in their wallets ready to flash
whenever somebody needs to be reminded that
the laws were written to protect not us but them.
I think of all the immortal conflicts they bring
upon us, each of them feeding their great hunger
in nearly the same way I feed my own
but on an epic scale while rarely ever getting burned
during the long, slow process of living.
And I am reminded that too often in life
it’s the person who’s the biggest asshole who wins,
pushing aside what’s left of our bones to clear his way
from the unbearable heat of a dangerous summer
and all the other seasons of discord and urgency
to the comfort of everything that’s not beautiful but cool,
falling asleep in front of the giant TV screen,
snoring loudly then breathing deeply,
unable to be moved.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Walking the Bridge with My Young Daughter in the Late American Spring

Photograph by Jose Padua
If we were walking over the Brooklyn Bridge,
the voice I’d be hearing might be Lena Horne’s,
but we’re walking over the Key Bridge
from Virginia into DC so the voice is probably
Marvin Gaye’s and the song “What’s Going On,”
and with the water below us and boats floating
like slow footsteps toward the distance,
I’m thinking about motion and flight,
and though we aren’t flying we’re high,
and we’re not really walking over the bridge
as I told my daughter we’re walking on the bridge
because if we could walk through the bridge
as she mentioned we’d be able to walk
through traffic, too, and save time and be
fine and be fast and be pretty much invincible,
but we can’t and we aren’t, so we’re on the
bridge and walking to the other side and I’m
holding my daughter’s hand all the way
hearing one song or another over the sound
of traffic, the clamor of cities, and other conflicts
and we’re stepping lightly, interrupting the noise
and pledging our allegiance to nothing but the
warm air until our feet are on solid ground again.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Off the Exit to the Interstate

Photograph by Jose Padua
Just off the exit
from the Interstate,
the man with the red, white,
and blue American
flag painted on the wall
of his garage has the words
Love These Colors or
Leave This Country
printed beneath it
in big bold letters,
and when he sees me
drive past he nods
at me so slowly
I can’t tell if it’s
more greeting or threat,
and because in twenty-first century
America I must consider
how a single movement
or motion can
mean two completely
different things
depending on who’s
doing the perceiving,
I nod back briefly and
quickly so as not to be misinterpreted
or misconstrued and
continue down the road
thinking only
about the colors
of the things in this world I
truly love.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by 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

A Portrait of America on Acid

Photograph by Jose Padua
It’s 2015 and everyone’s on acid.
That old guy with the straw hat and
cane who used to scream his way to
Main Street doesn’t drink anymore.
The one-armed cab driver who drove
into the attorney’s blue storefront office
doesn’t do coke nowadays, and the meth
addicts, well, they’re still doing meth,
but like everyone else, they’re doing acid,
too. Teenage Mothers on Acid is no longer
just a good name for a punk band, it’s a
good name for a non-profit organization.
And it’s not just here, it’s everywhere in
America. California nuns in black are
spending hours and hours listening to
the colors in their stained glass chapels,
Wisconsin cheese makers are staring down
vats of milk until they’re positive they’ve
separated them into curds and whey with
just the power of the acid in their eyes.
All the living ex-presidents are feeling
like world leaders again, ready to use
wah-wah pedals on our brains. Yeah,
get this: George W. Bush, totally fucked up,
tripping in Texas; Jimmy Carter, lusting
after LSD in Georgia and not just in his heart;
George Herbert Walker Bush vomiting
rainbows, psychedelic rainbows; and Bill
Clinton, singing, “Oh Oh Oh it’s my dick”
to as many of this year’s college graduates
as he can reach. Everyone named Doug,
everyone named Alicia, every farmer’s son
and every asshole with an MBA is now tripping;
all our thoughts are in the oven, rising, browning,
getting baked. In the stripes of the American flag
I see a truck with no wheels filled with food
that will never be eaten. Its stars drift and spin
and flicker as the food dissolves into fluorescent
light and the truck begins to move, illuminating
the streets for at least the next mile or two.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua