Tag Archives: Harry Crews

Paradise As the Confluence of Uniontown, Pennsylvania and the Ramayana Monkey Chant

Photograph by Jose Padua
That evening, after dinner, we were listening to the Ramayana Monkey Chant. Performed out in the open on the island of Bali by several dancers and about hundred shirtless men chanting “chak ke-chak ke-chak ke-chak,” it’s more properly called tari kecak. Although it’s been repurposed, reproduced, decontextualized, made a tourist attraction. and on and on by the west, it is still a powerful piece of music. My daughter Maggie, who was nine at the time, was dancing to it while my son Julien, who was two and still yet to talk, waved his arms. My wife Heather and I swayed to a beat created solely by human voices as we stood by the dining room table at our house in Front Royal, Virginia. The tari kecak, of course, was my choice for after dinner music because it takes not just me but all of us far, far away.

Maggie and Julien, on hearing it for the first time that night, were hooked. Heather, being married to me, first heard it a long time ago. It was one those things I had have her listen to soon after we got together sixteen years earlier. Just as I had to have her watch Im Lauf der Zeit (aka Kings of the Road), Wim Wenders’s beautiful, plotless three hour film. And then had to have her read Harry Crews’s Feast of Snakes. These are, yes, some of the more pleasant things I’ve put her through.

In this photograph, Maggie, after listening to the Ramayana Monkey Chant, has cloaked herself with a blanket as a way of concluding her own Monkey Chant dance, while Julien’s eyes are focused on the men performing the music. Behind them, only partially visible, is our framed print of the Remedios Varo painting titled “Exploración de las Fuentes del Río Orinoco,” which translates as “Exploring the Springs of the Orinoco River.” Remedios Varo, at least to my eyes, looked a little like the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, though perhaps it’s only a similarity in attitude and not a physical resemblance. Me, I’ve been told I bear a resemblance to Mexican painter Diego Rivera, though perhaps this is more a physical likeness, since he was rather portly and, although not balding, had an almost freakishly high forehead—like me.

The next day, after dinner, we were driving on Route 40 west, the gas gauge of our car slightly below empty, trying to get to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where we hoped there would be a gas station. Suddenly we were going uphill, and the sign above the dark road said, “Steep Grade Next Three Miles” and “Hazardous Mountain Road.”

We’d just left after the first evening of Heather’s family reunion, which that year was in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. Family reunions are one of the first things Heather had me experience soon after we got together. It was, for me, something completely new. Heather’s family reunions bring together a group of around forty to fifty people (Heather’s immediate family alone includes a group of eight brothers and sisters). With most of my relatives being in the Philippines or far on the west coast, I had never experienced a family event of this size. I got used to them, though. And just like Heather, Maggie, and Julien had no choice but to learn to appreciate my musical, cinematic, and literary tastes, I had no choice but to learn to appreciate massive family get-togethers.

At the reunion, I’d spent most of the day running after Julien—since family reunions are rarely ever baby proofed—and eating. There is, in Heather’s family, a wide range of political views. Still, I was pretty sure that I was usually the only wild-eyed socialist in the room, which meant that most of the time I’d try to stay calm and silent. Back then, anyway. Nowadays, I don’t think I’d be able to stay at all quiet, but then it’s been years since Heather’s family has had a big reunion.

When I saw the sign above the road warning of the upcoming steep mountain road, I looked at the empty gas gauge and yelled… well, one can imagine the words I screamed, though Heather, Maggie, and Julien didn’t have to. At any rate, we were leaving the realm of surrealism and ascending towards the heights of its real world opposite, whatever that was. We climbed and climbed as the gas gauge seemed to sink even lower, but somehow we made it to the top. Then, just as quickly, we were going downhill, and I put the car in neutral, hoping that might save a little gas. At the bottom of the hill, we saw an exit for Uniontown’s business district. When we got there, everything was closed. One gas station, then the next: closed.

Finally, I pulled over so we didn’t end up stuck in the middle of one of downtown Uniontown’s streets (not that there was anyone driving by). We called AAA to see if they could get us some gas, but we couldn’t explain exactly where we were. We were on some road in Uniontown, but there was no sign. We gave them the name of a nearby landmark—we were down the block from a church–but they couldn’t locate it.

At last I saw, appearing out of the dark, a woman walking down the road towards us. I thought, what the hell, let’s ask her. Maybe there’s a gas station nearby that she’s knows about that’s open. Heather opened the back door and called out to her.

“Oh yeah,” the woman said. “Just go down to that light, take a right, and it will be on your left.”

“Is it within a couple of miles?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said, “it’s just around the corner.” Then she added, “It’s a bad neighborhood, though. You should just get your gas and go.”

Bad neighborhoods, however, were the least of my worries. I’d lived in places people thought were bad neighborhoods. I just wanted to get back to our motel and rest. I thought she might then ask us for a ride, but she started moving on. We thanked her, then drove down the road. The open gas station was right where she said it would be. When I got out of the car, I started hearing the music again, in my head. The Ramayana Monkey Chant. Tari kecak: “chak ke-chak ke-chak ke-chak, “chak ke-chak ke-chak ke-chak…” It was a beautiful night again.

I filled the tank, got some milk for Julien (that was why we were driving around to begin with), then went back to our motel, The Lodge at Chalk Hill. Old, out of date, and desolate, it was the cheapest motel we could find when we looked on the internet. One comment we saw about the place on some hotel search website sealed the deal for us: “It’s owned by foreigners, but they were nice.”

So we decided that yes, we would stay here. And let the owners know that we don’t think they’re foreigners. We think they’re Americans. And we don’t care if they’re nice.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Ten Sonnets for Electric Motherfuckers: The Second Decad (Prelude to Acid Motherfuckers United until the End of Time)

Photograph by Jose Padua
These Boots Were Made for Acid

Some velvet morning when I’m an electric motherfucker.
Some velvet morning when I’ve spent my whole life without
ever having watched ET. Some velvet morning when I’ve
spoiled the tailgate party by being so high on antidepressants
that I don’t give a fuck about who wins or loses but how
enormously I’ve killed everyone else’s enormous high.
Some velvet morning when my brain is filled with visions
of roadkill and dark swamps at midnight when it’s daylight
savings time. And I am the apparition of America made great
more than four hundred years ago. I am fetal acid syndrome
in the downward facing dog position. Some call me Feliciano
Balastiqui, some call me Bobbie Gentry when I am really Nancy
Sinatra. Flowers growing on a hill, dragonflies, daffodils, and
dumbass turds, all because of the virus that was going round.

What Thou Lovest Well Remains High

You must remember Nancy Ly, the loveliest girl in seventh grade?
When she smiled the sixties melted away into seventies dominoes,
toppling over into communism, threatening coach, corner store,
Karen from corporate, because what thou lovest well remains, the
rest is napalm: there’s nothing more American than having the
chance to kill and taking it, nothing more dead than someone made
dead by America (unzip your pants and whip out your freedom);
when you piss in the wind you’re the greatest pisser in the history
of the world (when you piss, all other countries hold out their
hands). And the war in Vietnam ended and another war began:
war is in the heart, piss is in your veins, the scent of burning meat
wafts through the air like glory, morning glory, and the widows
are so young and beautiful, and the widowers rub their hands
together as if cold, their hearing diminished, the memories fading.

Introducing Lucille Alvarado Paquin

I missed so many parties in the 80s being so straight laced, you know.
Lots of coke and shit and disco on the sound system all night. I had
a boyfriend then, his name was Vince, I’d say Vince let’s do something
and he’d say I know what you wanna do, Baby. He was wrong, like
predatory lending. I had a car, it was brown, I had a scar, it was pink.
I got this tattoo in ’91 in San Francisco. I was a divorcée, hanging out
with Ted from Flipper. He was cool but too intense so you knew better
than to ever think of marrying him. I got a job. Moved up the corporate
ladder. Bought a condo in the Mission. You know the deal. Life. It’s the
only thing worth living for. I got a bigger place now, with a parking space
that’s just for me. I go to the gym, work out like a fucking hurricane
that’s been downsized to a tropical storm. Then I get back to work. You
know what it’s like. You’re my friend. I feel like I’ve known you all my life.
And that one day, like Aeneas said, it will please us to remember even this.

Introducing Fruit of the Loom Billy

When I was a boombox blasting tunes at the gazebo and
you were a package of frozen Jimmy Dean sausages, I’d wait
until the last Merle Haggard tune I had on cassette finished
playing, until you were all soft and defrosted and started
smelling less like ice and more like ground pork to take you
home, put the frying pan on the gas flame stove, then dropping
you in there, sizzling out that sweet burnt meat smoke, making
my lips quiver, my tongue moisten like my long gone old lady.
She was never fond of Ray Bolger, never learned to wait out
a traffic jam with cigarettes and southern junkyard style, but
man could she put those sausages away, crack eggs until all
hostilities ceased. We lived our lives out, there in Florida, improving
as well as we could, loving up every last link, using up the oil,
frying on up to the day our frozen faces turned to soft frowns.

Poetry Is Metaphor for the Whole World, Motherfucker

Poetry is the diaspora of the soul’s elements, set adrift
by empire and exploitation, capitalism’s gravity, oppression’s
guardian angels, its memes and its tropes drifting from flower
and tree like pollen and weed, covering poetry with layers
of allergen, making us sneeze or even shit the moment
a beautiful truth takes aim for frontal lobes, turning memory
into a warehouse of logo and product placement. The poet
gives sanctuary to the refugees, gives them shelter until
they’re ready to go out into the world again as poems, until
some reader for some establishment lit mag throws them in the trash
or clicks delete with a smirk and sends the poet an email saying,
“we are honored you sent your poems to us,” or some bullshit line
like that, “although we won’t be using any of them, we hope you find
a place for them elsewhere, motherfucker”—or words to that effect.

Feliciano Balastiqui in Apocalypse for Upper Class Concepts of Time

And in 1982 I was punk rock Stephen Dedalus
or was I punk rock Leopold Bloom, either plump
everyman or hard core artist with involuntary grunts
and twitches, a wannabe funk pioneer playing bass
like Bootsy or a government worker for the department
of one way streets. No, this is neither celebratory poem
nor congratulatory panegyric full of happy cultural
references to people who inspire you, or simple good
examples; I am neither cheerleader nor prophet of doom
and lost elections, but a reminder to fight fire with shit,
which fuels the fire and makes the flames go higher
burning up the institution, filling up a fascist’s nose with
a big fat stink. Do you smell that? I love the smell of shit
in the morning. It smells like [shrug] revolution, motherfucker.

Introducing Bob Dobalina, Karen from Corporate’s Husband

Karen call the cops, there’s a man blasting Wu Tang Clan from
his mini-van, his kids look like two junior socialists and his white
wife has obviously been indoctrinated by liberal professors and
doesn’t know the danger she’s in and how good Americans will start
to suffer even more. Karen, call the cops, he’s waiting by the curb
reading Colson Whitehead’s least popular book, I can smell him from
here, he’s wearing Pakistani musk, furrowing his frou frou eyebrows
as he finishes the second chapter like a dude who’s never watched
Fox News. Oh Karen my Karen, the way you move reminds me of the
dancers at Hanna’s on Savannah, makes me think dirty words like carburetor
and diesel fumes, or Harry Crews around the time of Feast of Snakes,
so come on hop on my choo choo, ride my great big straight to the lower
peninsula. We’ll drop a bomb on the commies, we’ll host a massive
tailgate tequila party, so wake up, Karen, wake up or we’re all through.

A Mild Philippic Delivered by Godzilla on the Occasion of America’s Pandemic

For I have forsaken all boats and sailing ships, persisted in my
efforts to walk treacherous paths toward America in this its summer
of sustained disease, for I am devoted among all monsters in my
distaste for the lumpen bourgeoisie, their wicker chairs and their
sentimental black velvet portraits displayed on living room walls.
For I appear upon the horizon amidst furious storms, full of fury
and indiscretion in my actions against the agency of colonizers
and other usurpers of nature’s crown, power passed on from one
generation to the next through primogeniture. So, cease ye your
jollifications, I am here, with my fire and big teeth. Take me to your
leader. Take me to your knowledge management specialist so I
might know all your history and understand mine even more. Then
bring me, in all its disgusting privilege and heretofore untempered
glory, like a burger on a paper plate, bring me the head of Bob Dobalina.

A Minimalist Wind for a Minimalist Sailboat

What difference would it have made if the seventy-six hundred island
kingdom were named after Philip II of Macedon, instead of Philip II
of Spain. Would indigenous people have escaped slaughter, would there
be no Rodrigo Roa Duterte death squads today hunting down suspected
drug dealers and other manufactured bad guys, and would my people be
allowed to get high in peace? Would a philippic would still be a philippic,
Philip Seymour Hoffman dead, and Philip Glass’s magnum opus Godzilla
on the Beach
begin “One, two, three, four, five, Godzilla arrived on the
beach holding his giant boombox playing Steely Dan’s ‘Hey Nineteen,’
twenty, twenty-one” and all the way up to seven thousand six hundred
something? When I lost my job we moved out to the country where a
woman smiled at me because she thought I looked like Cheech Marin
in his younger years and I thought, Man, she must be fucking high.

Like Caine in Kung Fu

Wednesday morning in our rented house, with my wife and daughter
out for a bike ride, my nine-year old son in the living room, I’m in
the shower with the door open when I hear a voice from down the hall
saying “Dad?” and I say, “Yes, I’ll be out in a minute,” because sometimes
he needs assurance that someone is there just as I treasure the comfort
of knowing I am here, still, in this world, where in a movie Val Kilmer
played Philip II who ruled over Macedon until his assassination in 336 BC,
and Samuel L. Jackson played hitman Jules Winnfield in the 1994 film
Pulp Fiction. When I finish my shower and get dressed, I join my son
in the living room, happy that I am neither king nor hired gun, but am simply
a father and husband, walking the earth, living for a time in rented rooms
under a sky that sometimes storms and sometimes shines over lovers and
thieves, murderers and learners, and the trees, mountains, and rivers that
flow everyday and endlessly, giving back what they owe to the sea.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua