Tag Archives: history

New Year’s Resolutions Written While Listening to Albert Ayler’s ‘Truth Is Marching In’

Photograph by Jose Padua
This coming year I will try to take everything
personally and cultivate lengthier states of
hysteria in the course of my day to day living.
I will do everything in my power to gain more
weight, to feel the blood rushing through my veins
upon hearing of the latest absurdity, upon being
at the receiving end of a significant snub or slight,
upon peeing on my shoes when I go to the bathroom
and am in too much of a hurry to watch what
I am doing not that I ever do that anyhow.
I will write a hit song that’s total bullshit.
I will sit on my ass completely still until some-
thing starts to feel sore or I start to bleed inside.
I will learn what it means to be proactive.
I will drive around my small town until I am lost
or am so bored and tired I have no choice but
to park and take a nap, whichever comes first.
I will drown whatever sorrows I may have by
drinking glass after glass of cold water and
pretend that it is fine wine from the south
of France. I will drink fine wine from the south
of France and pretend I am the late Bob Ross,
painting my latest masterpiece that includes
a landscape of green trees, blue birds, and
clouds, so many beautiful clouds. I will walk
along these streets, I will think about the books
that could be filled with stories about the things
that happened here, and I will believe in nothing.
Not the things that happen only on television,
not the useless distractions that take me away
from the history of mountains and trees and
the steady power of slow-moving rivers;
not the world of diamonds and hard gold
because above all else I am a human, walking
on solid ground under multi-colored skies through
an atmosphere riding its planet through space,
born with a powerful yearning to breathe.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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A Slightly Hard-Boiled History of my Life as it Moves Slowly away from Cities

Jose Padua and Heather Davis in Chicago
It was the summer of 1996. I’d just gotten the money from my discrimination settlement, so Heather and I celebrated by meeting in the great city of Chicago when her two week residency at Ragdale artist’s colony, about thirty miles north, was finishing up. We stayed at the old Ambassador East hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast district. It was a much fancier place than the motel where we’d stayed a couple of months earlier.

That motel was near Harrisburg, PA, where we’d gone to attend a wedding. Heather had booked it from DC by phone, and when we got to Harrisburg, it wasn’t all that hard to find because it had an easily recognizable landmark right in front of it—a graveyard. When the motel owner took us to our room, he sprayed Lysol in the air before letting us enter. Looking out for our health and safety, he was killing germs and freshening up the place. We thanked him, then looked over to the bed, which sagged so deeply in the middle that if it could hold water it would make a decent sized kiddie pool.

While we were in Chicago we did a lot of the usual tourist things. First was the elevator ride to the top of the Hancock building and to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor where we took big gulps of our mixed drinks, looked out of the floor to ceiling windows, then had to catch our breath because you can’t look out of a window that high without imagining that you’re about to fall. Well, anyone with any kind of imagination. We also went uptown to the Green Mill, which where the poetry slam first got big.

It was at a poetry slam in DC at the old 15 Minutes Club where Heather and I first crossed paths in January of 1994. I was onstage, drunk, reading poetry, having just gotten back to DC after leaving New York. Having failed at my practical ways of making money, I was now reduced to impractical ways, which was why I ventured to do a slam, the winner of which received thirty or forty tax-free dollars. It was here at the 15 Minutes Club where I got to know a good number of poets—Silvana Straw, Jeffrey McDaniel, Joel Dias-Porter, Kenny Carroll, Brian Gilmore, Andy Fenwick. Twenty years later, some of us had a reunion reading at the Dance Place. Of course, a lot of things happened during that time in between.

A few years after Heather and I got together, I pretty much stopped writing. I’d quit drinking to an insane degree, quit smoking, worked a couple of straight, full-time jobs, and even, at various times, had an active membership at a gym. I was, in other words, being content, and trying to remain healthy—two things which, at the time, poetry did not help me achieve.

By the time Maggie was born in 2003, Heather wasn’t writing all that much either, but it was then that we decided we should get serious about writing again. We wanted to leave something for them other than fucking money, which was all gone by then anyway. Something with real substance but which can’t be so easily taken away or spent. Yeah, we wanted to leave a legacy of words from which they might draw whenever the need came around. Or whenever they needed inspiration.

Heather published her first book of poems, The Lost Tribe of Us–which won the Main Street Rag poetry prize–in 2007. That was when, after eight or nine years when I hardly did a thing, and after moving here to the Shenandoah Valley, I started writing every day again. I’ve probably written around four or five hundred poems and short essays since then. Somehow, after the crazy years of drinking and chain smoking, poetry became something that helped me survive. Maybe it was all along—it just that before Heather and then Maggie and Julien came along, survival kind of bored me. Because for a lot of us, when we were young, survival wasn’t the most compelling of subjects. Indeed, if it were a class in school, it’s the class I would have skipped the most, and then gone off to pursue other interests.

This photograph of Heather and me was taken by the man who waited on us at the Pump Room, the restaurant that was on the ground floor of the Ambassador East in Chicago. It was one of those fancy restaurants with pictures of celebrities lining the walls and entrees that cost something like thirty/forty dollars, which was way more than either of us had ever paid for a meal. Even though I’d just gotten that nice chunk of money from my legal settlement, we weren’t about to pay that much, so we made our visit to the Pump Room during breakfast for a much more moderately priced meal. From there, it was off to O’Hare for a flight back to DC. Then, in a couple of years, we got married, then had kids, then moved farther and farther away from the city.

The city was what I knew best. Whether it was DC, where I grew up, New York, where I lived for a number of years, or even a place like Chicago, which I only visited—a city was what I knew and what I understood. Now, after living outside of them for these years, I’m not so sure. And I’m not so sure that it’s a bad thing. But that’s a function of time. And sometimes, I think that the greatest function–and greatest benefit of time, along with aging–is to take one away from what one knows best.

As for illustration of time’s inescapable function of aging, I can look at this picture. One immediate but trivial thought that comes to mind is that we’re not quite as pretty as we were so many years ago. But then, as I’ve said before, Fuck Pretty. Because we’re fucking beautiful. Pretty is for kids—at least until they learn that pretty is mostly a load of bullshit. That pretty is OK if it happens, but it’s nothing worth pursuing. Of course, some kids never learn that, do they?

-Jose Padua

First published in Vox Populi. The photograph of Jose Padua and Heather Davis was taken in Chicago in 1996.

A Brief History from the Point of View of Our Captors

Photograph by Jose Padua
When they were savages
they had minds
full of rivers and mountains
that could plant bold ideas
like seeds and speech.
We, in the meantime,
hunted for heads down by the river,
wearing our enemy’s bones
like good luck charms in our pockets.
We were once savages, too,
but when we were savages
we were the chosen savages.
Savages with a mission
who created clean, beautiful histories
and elegant architecture.
Savages with wealth and philosophy
and a slow but practical process.
Which is why we say it’s time.
Eat with us or be eaten.
And rejoice for the bright, shining
days ahead.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Slow Glittering of Far-Flung Diamonds

Photograph by Jose Padua
I almost bought a $98 chicken this morning.
I know the first question some friends will ask
is why I’m still eating meat, especially when it’s
probably coming from the processing plant
down in Edinburg, Virginia, but it was plump
and cool in the refrigerated bins at the grocery store,
and I was not quite awake. I brought five other
items with me to the checkout line, and when
the clerk said “$108” I pulled out my wallet,
and took out my bank card before saying,
“What?” It was payday, when the biggest chunks
of money go out not without a thought but
with less regret and trepidation, but I didn’t
recall ever spending that much money that
early in the morning, which gave me pause.
The clerk was either just young or not
quite awake either or both, but she didn’t
think anything was odd about five items and
a chicken adding up to over a hundred bucks
and asked a manager to come over to help.
That’s when we discovered the $98 chicken,
and the guy behind me in line said, “That
must be one damn good chicken,” and I said,
“And at this price it better not be just good,
but give me superpowers as well.” And
though the guy laughed, I suddenly felt bad,
because there were so many days behind me,
so much dark history in the world, so many
times when I could have made a difference
and I chose this moment to wish for superpowers.
And I remembered when I was five I used to say
to my Mom that when I grew up I would buy her
a Rolls Royce, a diamond ring, a castle. Now
that I’m older, I would much rather cook her
a meal that she’d eat, then say “sarap”—which
means ‘good’ and ‘delicious’—and I’d tell her
how I almost paid a hundred dollars for a chicken.
And I’d take her for a drive, in our dirty, beat-up
car to show her the time, here in the mountains,
in the early evening, when the fragile sunlight
peeking out between the trees is like
the slow glittering of far-flung diamonds.

–Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Real History Is Never Made

Photograph by Jose Padua
Real history is never made by those
with the incredible machines, but by
those with the beautiful words. The first
moon walk would be nothing if there
were no one to say “one small step
for man, one giant leap for mankind,”
even though we sometimes have trouble
remembering the exact words. The well-
oiled machine of our nation wouldn’t have
felt so new if Lincoln had said it was
begun eighty-seven year ago by some
white guys, instead of declaring, “Four
score and seven years ago, our fathers,
brought forth on this continent, etc, etc.”
A war epic would be a just another
long film with explosions and Martin Sheen,
and the Philippines standing in for Vietnam,
without the words “I love the smell of napalm
in the morning.” Machines you can make
with numbers and tests and prototypes.
There’s no use in trying to write a prototype
for the sonnet you want to write, you
simply have to try to write it. Poetry
has no smell, you have to feel that victory,
that loss, the language. It can wrap around
you like a bandage, it can pierce your
heart like a knife. And close the skin you breach.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua