Tag Archives: language

On the Purpose of These Stories and the Effort We Put into Them

Photograph by Jose Padua
If I were the war on drugs
would I look upon you with great suspicion
when you step on the subway train
on your way to work in the morning;
would I eye you sideways
when you sit in the coffee shop drinking coffee,
in the fast food restaurant easting fast food,
dining out cheap like me,
unhealthily like me,
watching your pennies like morning rain,
wondering about the next paycheck, next job,
next night out amidst the city lights,
or just an early evening at home doing nothing
but listening closely as the children play
their sweet simple games?
If I were the war on terror
would I listen to AM talk radio
while I’m driving to the store with my family
then tell everyone to be quiet
when the on-air discussion moves on
to how America got into this mess to begin with
and what, as real Americans,
are we willing to do to get out of it?
Sometimes at the grocery store you look at me,
your eyes almost bulging
like warm blood beneath the surface of pale thin skin
when I’m standing across from you
at the open face freezer
deciding which cut of meat to buy
because I’m a carnivore like you,
or trying to find sweet corn,
a fresh loaf of bread,
and a treat for the kids
even though I know they’ll be
wild with kinetic and other forms of energy
and acting as if they’re never going to go to bed again
as long as there’s bright color
and high pitched sound in the revolving world
that surrounds them.
You, in the meantime,
wonder what medications I may be on,
ask yourself do I look a person who shoots smack,
drops acid like it’s the 60s,
or who perhaps comes here
from a faraway country your country is at war with
and who if I were to open my mouth
could only speak in some language
you can’t possibly comprehend?
If I recall my history correctly,
terror came first,
then war, then drugs,
and seeing there was no one to challenge drugs,
war declared itself an abuser of drugs as did terror
with harsh words and something
that looked like a menacing sneer.
Nowadays, drugs are everywhere
and so is war and famine and poverty and greed
and the fear of growing so old
as to be unfit to play one’s part
in all the wars and terror to come.
Because oh where
would war and terror be without us,
where would drugs be if we weren’t here to take them,
where would terror be if no one were afraid.
If we were simply sitting peacefully
at sturdy wooden tables
in the rough sunlight of early evening,
telling each other stories,
remembering the days
when we’d hold fire in our hands,
all for the purpose
of bringing color to the darkness
on these long, cold nights.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Spirit That Moves Us

Photograph by Jose Padua
My favorite thing to say in German
is “meine Rundfunkapparat ist kaput”
while in English my favorite phrase
is “I love you” which I say all the time to
my wife and kids.
Sometimes I wonder if as I age
I may begin to mix things up
and say “I love you” to the stranger
to whom I’m demonstrating
one of three sentences
I know in German
while telling my wife and kids
“mein Rundfunkapparat ist kaputt”
meaning “my radio is broken”
when they go to bed
or go off for the day
to do the things they need to do.
Already my daughter has learned
from me that you can bid a person farewell
by saying, “Mutter wir haben post,”
meaning, “Mother we have mail.”
She knows these words are wrong and have
nothing to do with farewells or so-longs
or even see-you-laters
and that most people say “Goodbye”
but she loves to say the only words in German
that she knows as do I.
Perhaps one day my son,
will say “I love you”
during a discussion of Newton’s First Law
upon realizing these words
are the shortest distance toward
an understanding of basic physics,
and “schönes Wetter heute”
(nice weather today)
down in the valley,
when it’s four in the morning
and everyone else is asleep and
he feels that finally,
after long, slow years of doubt and indecision,
progress is being made.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On Reaching Into My Pocket For What Keeps Me Alive

Photograph by Jose Padua
Forty years ago during Easter Sunday dinner
when our family friend advises us during
a discussion of the state of things, “Never
trust the police,” I look at his white skin,
his short brown hair, and his clean, tucked-in
shirt and remind myself that this isn’t some
former hippie or some other wild pot-smoking
radical type leftover from the 60s but an attorney
who as long as we’ve know him has had
a respectable job and who now lives out
in the distant suburbs far from my city
neighborhood with his tall, broad-shouldered
wife and their young son. I was old enough then
to know that I wanted to become a writer
and when he heard this he said that the most
important thing for me was to have experience
and he mentioned a few other things but never
once did he mention school. And as I grew up
I came to understand that there are a lot
of people who have an easier time than me
speaking to cops and that there are a lot of people
who have a much harder time, and that even
though there are times when the cops can be
of help, that I need to make sure I really need
them before I call them because speaking
a common language doesn’t mean there
will be always communication between us
which is why I make sure they can always
see my hands when I’m getting a traffic ticket
or walking by them on their beat. And I
understand that by saying, “Don’t shoot, I’m
just reaching into my pocket for a book of
poems,” I could either be explaining what helps me
stay alive or else speaking my last words.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. First published at Vox Populi.

Growing Up in Public

Photograph by Jose Padua
In the eighth grade I’m reading
aloud to the class as we do every
week and this time it’s a story
about organized crime in America
and when I get to the nickname
of a mobster—Little Pussy
I say the name aloud and try
to continue reading but I can’t
stop laughing and even Sister
Conrad is laughing and it
occurs to me that Sister Conrad
is thinking of pussy as in pussy
cat
while I’m thinking of
something entirely different.
Several years pass and I grow up
to become a young man, so earnest
in many ways, so serious like
the sins that used to scare me
in parochial school, and I realize
that Sister Conrad may have
been thinking of the same pussy
I was thinking of when I was
an eighth grade boy, and I pause
to look at the sky and the trees
that punctuate the rows of buildings
downtown in this great city where
I live, and marvel at all the beautiful
ways there are to love language.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Idea of Order Near the Exit to the Interstate

Photograph by Jose Padua

This morning when I got to my
local big chain coffee house I
ordered a breakfast sandwich
and the woman behind the counter
asked me my name and I said “Jose”
and she grimaced and said “huh?”
and I said it again louder, clearer,
prouder and sat down at a table to wait.
A few minutes later another person
behind the counter starts saying
“House. House. House!” and I realize
he’s trying to say my name, and
I pick up my sandwich, look at the
wrapper on which the word “Hose”
is written instead of “Jose” meaning
that the English-speaking person
behind the counter couldn’t even read
or say the English word “Hose” correctly,
and as I sat down to eat my sandwich
I thought about the long, slow day
ahead of me and all the beautiful
ways I fail to be more American.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Biography of these Hours as Told through Random Actions and Movements

Photograph by Jose Padua
If Time were a foreign language
how long would it take me to master it?
To use it to ask simple questions from
other speakers of Time? Could I ever
discuss history and politics by driving
a truck down the interstate and flashing
the headlights on and off while watching
for the way other trucks change lanes,
which would indicate whether or not
they believed that history was cyclical
in nature and that a politics without
corruption was possible in our lifetime?
Could I ever write a poem with a shovel,
an elegy for lost loved ones that people
would be so moved by they’d memorize
the way I dug up the dirt, laid down
the seedling, then filled in the ground again,
stomping it with my foot, before shaking
the leftover earth from the shovel? If I
could express my love of life by leaving
the house more often, I would, walking
in these hard new shoes to Main Street,
greeting friends with the scraping of my
heels on the sidewalk, and looking up
to the sky or sideways at a brick wall
as a way of telling them I can stay longer
or that it’s time for me to go home. Some
days I feel like telling the world everything,
walking up the stairs making as little noise
as possible, stepping lightly on rasping wood,
and using just the slightest touch on the railing
to tell my story as I balance myself on my words.

-Jose Padua

The photograph was taken at the 2015 Apple Blossom festival in Winchester, Virginia by Jose Padua.

On the Abandonment of Previous Policies for Communicating with Those in Charge

Photograph by Jose Padua
I’ve never smacked my son’s hand to keep him
from reaching for the pot of boiling water. I
grab his hand and hold him calmly instead. I’ve
never sent my daughter to bed without supper
for random acts of disrespect. I don’t speak the
language of violence and deprivation to them.
If they happen to begin a conversation using
that language I don’t use it to answer them back
because that’s not how I wish to continue the
discussion and because whenever possible I try
to speak the language of peace. But when it comes
to the slumlords, the corporate con men, and those
pale supremacists of the hierarchy in power, violence
is the only language they understand. A brick through
the window is simply an effective way to communicate
with the disappearers of men and women and all the
other hoarders of privilege and intolerance, because
broken windows are like the speaking of so much
broken English—an attempt at telling those for whom
the subtleties of poetry and language are lost
exactly what the fuck is going on. And because
sometimes simple obedience is like a carton of milk
that expired a month ago and is still for sale at
the corner store. Don’t buy it, don’t drink it. Just
translate it into language they can understand.

-Jose Padua

Photograph of the Baltimore skyline by Jose Padua