Tag Archives: poem

For the City and These Long Decades Spent Wandering

Photograph by Jose Padua
After dinner one evening my six year old son declares
“Trump is a barbarian” from out of nowhere or anywhere
I can immediately recall not that speaking the truth ever
requires a prompt, instance, or specific rules of condition
with truth being, like clear air, blue water, or green earth,
its own reason for being. Later my daughter, or as my
son says, his big sister, asks for help in using the almost
thirty-year old turntable on my twenty-five year old stereo
so she can listen to a song from Neil Young’s forty-three
year old LP, On the Beach, in beautiful, black analog sound,
and I have to think about it, have to figure it out because
I don’t use it that often myself though once I started thinking
it all came back like an after-midnight walk down Broadway
through the widening space of a New York City summer
which despite being many drinks, a few decades, and several
presidents ago is not the sort of thing one forgets. And what
lifts me from weariness and dread are the small things, not
the grand recollections and gestures but the brief but glowing
movements, the laying down of a hand on a table, the darting
of the eyes while reading a book. The history of the world
is the history of your outrage versus mine, your fist against
my tongue, my speech against your fist, because what is
mine will always be mine and forever forged into my blood
like the taste of my true love’s lips. This doesn’t mean
I won’t offer you food when you’re hungry and doesn’t
mean we can’t walk forward and change tenses, but your
sad story will need a new way of being told and recognize
that we are now walking through flooded streets and that
all the buildings that once towered over us have collapsed.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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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

Party Invitation for the Age of Unnatural Disasters

Photograph by Jose Padua
If life were like
a perfume commercial
I’d be spending
even more time
than I already do
gazing pensively
into the distance
the top buttons
of my shirt undone
my lips parted slightly
as if I am about to
speak but can’t
because it takes
all the energy I have
all the ability
and precious mental space
just to breathe and
remember what the world
has done to us
and to consider
all the shit
that’s about to
happen.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

To the Trump Supporter Who Called Me and My Kids Dirtbags

Photograph by Jose Padua
Because I try to respond
to racism and ignorance
with something positive,
intelligent, and sophisticated,
and because I always
try to set a good example
for my children,
but mostly because my wife
managed to stop me
before I began exchanging
insults with you,
I said nothing back
to you, didn’t call you
an asshole, a loser,
a stupid dick or a fatuous twat,
didn’t give you the finger,
didn’t walk up to you
with intent to smack you,
but instead walked ahead
with my family at my side
like noble time travelers,
leaving you behind
on your park bench
outside the pawn shop
in the small town
we both live in,
in a vast country
some call America
and others call
home.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Water Music

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother and father never took us to
the ocean, we always stopped at the bay.
The waves were rarely fierce there, the
sand, I think, not nearly as fine. My mother
and father grew up on islands, which meant
they were never far from the water. I never
learned to swim, which means I stay away
from the deep end of the pool. I can’t speak
Tagalog, which means I can’t talk to my own
people in anything resembling a native tongue.
My mother and father were together for over
forty years, then my mother died; eighteen years
later it was my father. The things my mother
and father passed on to me aren’t always clear.
There are hours when everything is panic and
dread, followed by stray moments of slow moving
bliss or what some might call more simply and
plainly, like a line from the bullet-list version
of the American dream, a conventional sense
of security and well-being. Sometimes I think
I’ve learned how to breathe, how to stand tall
amidst indifference and everything that’s worse.
And whether it’s amongst trivial details or the
astute revelations of inspired suppositions,
I find that beneath the light-dimming clouds
of the burgeoning landscape, there are days
spent looking through fog and its bleak distance
to the ocean, nights of cacophonous sound and
grace, when I’m convinced I can learn how to swim.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Road with Tom Jones to All the Usual Places

Photograph by Jose Padua

In some of the best scenes I’m on the road,
heading toward a purple and orange sunset
during our rice and canned tuna for dinner days
in the 60s, on a night when supper was something else.
The radio is on and in between tunes I don’t mind
the asshole a.m. DJ with the used car salesman’s voice—
I even think he’s cool, though I know enough not to ever
trust anyone like that. I’m at an age when everything is
slow, from every boring trip to the store to two sweet minutes
of Tom Jones singing “It’s Not Unusual.” With the voice,
the horns, the beat, I’m singing along with my lips and
keeping time with my memory. Decades later, my daughter,
when she’s three, will say that listening to Tom Jones,
“makes me feel like I have pink hair.” She almost blushes
to say so. This is the movie of my life, the one that gets shown
after midnight, when everyone is sleeping and I can’t. When
my mind prowls the landscape like a fast car changing lanes.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Airplane

Photograph by Jose Padua
The problem isn’t so much finding the right day
to stop smoking, drinking, doing meth, sniffing glue,
practicing self-asphyxiation or any of the myriad
of vices available for human consumption or participation.
Once you get to that point it’s already too late,
you’ve already fucked up and wasted so many days,
months, and years that you’re never going to get back
and as we all know there’s nothing more precious than time,
nothing in such short supply unless you’re a member
of the non-working, non-caring upper class,
but even they eventually die, lose their sight
hearing and sometimes their minds.

I have a theory that goes, What if we picked
the right day to start smoking, drinking,
doing meth, sniffing glue, or practicing
self-asphyxiation? Like so many things,
it could be that it’s all a matter of timing,
and if we picked the right day to start
we’d be able to handle all our vices,
and we’d do them at just the right frequency,
the right strength, at the right times,
and with the right people.

None of this being ratted out to the cops
or buying from some dude who turns out
to be a narc; none of that sore gritty feeling
in your lungs, the waking up in the morning
with horrible people who love all the songs you hate,
or think all the books you love are boring
or worse don’t even read, and of course
none of that accidental and embarrassing
hanging of yourself in a hotel room,
hell no, when you were just trying
to have some goddamn fun.

I know this is just a theory and not all theories
reach the level of Einstein’s on relativity,
and there are so many theories that have been forgotten
because they don’t provide anything that’s useful,
but listen: I’m an artist, which means
I’m not aiming for practicality,
and I sure as hell am not working my ass off
to provide you with ways to decorate
your goddamn lifestyle, because I’m aiming, excuse me,
for the fucking stars.

Some nights I feel my heart, beating fast,
and I blink my eyes, so sore and dry,
and I’m tired and sleepy and drunk
because of all the things I’ve quit,
and I’m high on all the things I never try to do anymore,
each lost moment lifting my spirits
as my hair turns gray and
another wrinkle appears on my forehead.

I stretch my legs beneath me,
lay my hands gently on my lap,
and turn the volume all the way down
to prepare myself for landing
because this airplane has come
from a place far, far away
and I feel too alive to be measured,
too lifted to seek asylum,
too much like a seed to do
anything but grow.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Old Man and Other Bright and Beautiful Landscapes

Photograph by Jose Padua
I don’t remember if it was last week
or last year, or just some gray day
when I didn’t have the energy to climb
my way up a blue mountain when I
realized that the old man listening
to light music on the way to the store
to buy soft food that wouldn’t hurt
his aching teeth was me. That the stark
landscape of an evening sky hanging
over a slowly moving brown river as
dark birds flashed their wings before
disappearing into the lush mystery
of tall swaying trees was a memory
that came rushing to me from the quiet
solace of an early afternoon’s hour
of delicate half-sleep. Sometimes
I’d leave the city far behind me
whenever I marveled at the flat
air that seemed to hover like a deep
speaking voice on helium over
a freshly mowed and neatly trimmed
lawn. Sometimes I’d walk to the county line
like I was climbing the stairs to sweet heaven.
Last week one of my neighbors banged
on the window of a car driven into a
wall down our street until the glass broke
to reveal a man who’d been driving drunk
wearing nothing but his clean, white briefs.
I think chance is what takes you the farthest
on a long slow road under gloom of night
with the lights off in this damp place
people who aren’t from here call the middle
of nowhere. It’s where I grow old and wise
among both lilacs and weeds, lifting
my feet one at a time, dreaming of nothing
but these bright, bitter and beautiful things.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Where I’m From and the End of these Days of Smooth Skin

Photograph by Jose Padua
When the time is right—which means after
the leaves have begun to sprout into dark
budding leaves and the ocean currents
flow more warmly northward
like perfect storms from southern islands
and all my heart-beating, word-hammering
work is done— bury me in these United States
in a manner I see fit amongst my slightly brown,
light brown, and dark brown brothers and sisters
on solid ground as wide as a city
where there’s so many of us
that the powers that be start to quiver
and shake as if the deep mud upon which they stand
is collapsing with the quaking
of their great white earth.
Roll away the rubbish of stars and bars
on battle flags, their sentimental dreams
of stepping on our backs and spitting in our faces,
and all our years of working for them rather than for us,
and all the yessirs and thankyousirs
that ever passed our thirsty lips,
and every moment our heads were bowed
in prayer or fealty and allegiance
beneath the smooth skin of their hands.
Then rise the way lost land rises high to blue sky,
which bends down with the bursting of clouds
to wet kiss crumbled brick and fallen metal.
Rise with weeds and wild grasses
as if waking from centuries of deep sleep,
rise like voices when questions have been asked
and the answer is a bird with dark feathers
perched upon a statue commemorating
the perpetrators of heinous deeds.
And walk these streets, knowing
that what’s beyond every sharp corner,
behind every wooden door,
and under every leaky roof
is another insane notion
cultivated by the inventors of regret;
walk swiftly as if dancing between bamboo poles
while stringed instruments control the melody;
walk until you reach the smooth curve
and low hills of the highway heading out of town;
walk so that everyone knows where you’ve been
and where you’re going, weathering
both trouble and affection, the gravel roads
turning into dirt.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Walking to Prospect Hill and Back on These Still Slow Days of Spring

Photograph by Jose Padua
Although my wife takes her walks
up the road to Prospect Hill Cemetery
I stay down on the straight and flat
gray sidewalk of Main Street. There’s
something about the steep hill that’s
too formidable, reminds me of long
lasting pain, and the green and stone
of the graves and the grief that surrounds
every plot and space fills me more with
sadness than peace on early mornings
when my blood has yet to waken me.
She heads up the hill while I ease up
like a slow day off from work and turn
the corner on High Street back toward
our house, then sit on the front porch
to wait. I’m two decades past those
days when I could walk for hours and
hours and hardly feel an ache or trace
of sweat on my brow under cool spring
skies, but what’s astonishing is this:
the way young birds emerge from
oddly speckled eggs, how stars appear
where there once was only mist and
heavy space, and the disappearance
of time during what’s now the light labor
of waiting for my wife to come down
from the hill and the Earth to spin,
our days growing warmer, our nights
shorter as we cross paths with every-
thing that lives and breathes or flies.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua