Tag Archives: poem

And the Green Card Moon Shines Brightly Over the Beautiful Black Ocean

Photo of Margarita S. Padua
That weekend started off with another encounter with the woman who always tailgates me when I’m trying to stay somewhat close to the school zone speed limit. I’d just dropped off my son Julien when she turned onto the road behind me from the main parking lot. Looking into the rearview mirror, I could see her cold blue eyes staring straight ahead in furious contempt. She followed a few feet behind me for half a minute. Then, when there was a break in the oncoming traffic, she stepped on the gas and zoomed around me. She got all of three, maybe four car lengths ahead of me before she had to slow down again because she was now behind another car that was more or less obeying the speed limit. Still, she had probably shaved an entire half second off her commute, which meant that by going around me she was that much closer to completing her role in making America great again.

Later that day, when we were all home again, I noticed that my daughter Maggie had been carrying around my friend Liz Hand’s novel, Waking the Moon. It’s about the supernatural happenings involving a group of friends who met at college and includes a character based on me. Although the character is much cooler than I was, it still felt odd to have Maggie seeing me this way. This isn’t to say that the real me she sees everyday isn’t odd enough already, it’s just that there’s something about books and real literature that makes you look at the world that much more closely, and I imagined that Maggie, after reading Waking the Moon, was looking at me that much more critically. I just hoped that when she was done with it she still considered the non-book version of me odd and weird enough to take seriously.

After dinner, Heather and Maggie talked again about a paper Maggie did for school on refugees. That’s when Julien asked me to show him my collection of vinyl records in our hall library. One by one, I pulled out the albums of recordings he’d only seen in CD form: Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Les Stances a Sophie, Ornette Coleman’s Friends and Neighbors. The full size LPs of all of these impressed him, but what really made his eyes light up was when I pulled out Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Blacknuss LP. At the time, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was what he asked to hear more than anything else. “Wow,” he said, and he reached out to hold the album himself. When he’s a little older, I thought, I can show him how to use the turntable— just like a couple of years ago when I showed Maggie how to use it to play the Velvet Underground albums she found in my record collection.

That night, we were in Richmond, Virginia, taking another break from the small town life. I was always astounded, whenever we visited a real city, how much more comfortable it was for me. Even in a southern city like Richmond there was so much more of a mix than in our small town. And though there were still people there in Richmond like the guy with the shaved head and yellow Tea Party sticker on his leather jacket—he made a point of staring at me as he walked past us at the pizza joint where we had dinner—most of the time I felt like I didn’t need to explain anything to anyone there. I was an American there in Richmond, and I could be as odd as I needed to be, at least some of the time.

Twenty-three years ago that night, I was in Georgetown Hospital in DC, spending the night in the reclining chair next to my Mom’s hospital bed. In the morning she had another heart attack, and then, that afternoon, she died. She was born in the Philippines in 1925, and although she was always Pinay, or a Filipina, she was also, by the time she died, an American. If she were alive today, and wanted to make one last visit to the Philippines then come back to America, she’d do it. Yeah, one way or as many ways as you can dream of, she’d do it. Because she had two homes—the country where she was born, and the country she worked hard to make her home.

I remember the day when my Mom got her green card. She was happy, she was relieved—I could hear the actual sigh she let loose when she found out. It meant our lives here were more secure. It didn’t mean we were what everyone here would call Americans, but it meant we could keep on trying. It meant that we had a chance.

This poem was written in celebration of my mother and the color green, and all the powers she and it had, both together and separately.

Green Card

Once she made
her way
to the States
in the early 50s,
my mother
never made it
back to the
country where she
was born,
which in the eyes
of some
didn’t make
her an American,
but which to us,
her children,
made her
as American
as she needed
to be.

-Jose Padua

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The Monkey Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was a minor soul ballad, though not quite a ballad,
or not a ballad at all, that brought Billy the Kid back
to life in a dive bar downtown. Someone started doing
a strut on the tile floor that looked like the floor
of a church, but it wasn’t a church it was Baltimore,
on a spring evening, during an era no one but me calls
the Renaissance of past lives now coming back to life
when someone plays that great goddamn song on the jukebox.
It was time to stand up, so we stood until we were taller
than we were before like flowers in the afternoon after
a morning when it rained, until we felt dizzy from being
so high over the tiny names carved on the wooden bar.
All the workers from the neighborhood stood up, too,
to dance, because Billy was always good to them and
was like wild west death to their enemies. So many
more names were added to the rough wood that night,
so many more words were breathed like lovers breathing
on hot, dank nights, and so many cow-men and cow-women
never sat down again for the rest of their lives, and for
four hours not a sip of beer was spilled, nor a drop of
bourbon wasted by being wiped away on a man or
woman’s lips by anything other than a kiss. And when
it was time, the floor turned to dirt in our bloodshot eyes
as Billy the Kid tightened his footsteps faster than a
pinball machine going TILT, dancing his way out the door
into the after midnight mist. And when it was time we ran
off into the night like saxophone solos, each note a word,
each sentence a nod to the tune that brought us here, each
day following the last, each night keeping the beat.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

From the Belly to the Head

Photograph by Jose Padua
In my twenties when I was still living
with my mother and father and brothers
in the house I grew up in, I would always
hear from certain friends, “Why are you
still living at home?” The short answer
was that they wanted me there; the long one
that we ate rice for breakfast, eggs with
marinated pork for dinner; had paintings
of tiny houses on stilts with thatched roofs
that let in a lot of air, a plaque displaying
The Weapons of Moroland that reminded
my mother and father of the islands
they came from; displayed on the living room table
wooden carvings of caribaos pulling heavy carts,
headhunters carrying their enemies’ heads;
if you came into our house you ate in our house;
those of you who wouldn’t eat, how could you
expect us to trust you? In my immigrant culture
the custom was for children to live at home with
the family, to contribute to that home, and continue
to do so until they had families of their own,
but I never said that, never explained, never
wanted to say my people do things differently
because there’s nothing like having to state
the obvious for breaking already tenuous bonds
and at the time I wasn’t quite ready to be on my
own. Because being my friend was like going to
one of those stores where nothing has a price tag:
if you had to ask how much it was you couldn’t
afford it, and if you had to ask why I lived where
I lived, you couldn’t be my friend for very long.
And although I wanted to be American like
everyone else, I understood what it meant to stay
in touch with ground that wasn’t right beneath me,
a home that was on the other side of the earth,
teaching me, molding me, giving me strength.
Today I live in my own house with my own
family; if you know the right questions to ask
and what not to ask, I welcome you to come in,
rest your feet, have a drink and a bite to eat;
I welcome you to come in and look around
so you can see the world from here, so you’ll
know and feel, from your belly to your head,
what’s going on now.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Brief Reflection on Joy and Alacrity for the New Year

Photograph by Jose Padua
Every now and then I think
about the times I’ve been
a total snot with people.
Sometimes it’s because
I’m really very shy,
other times it’s because
I’m really an arrogant snot.
It’s that simple. And though
the only one who needs
to know this is me I’m
telling it to you anyway,
because I am a magnanimous
snot, full of joy and alacrity,
and I am happy to be
your friend.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

To My Father on What According to Evidence-Based Assumptions Would Have Been His 102nd Birthday

Cosme Padua
You’re not here to see this.
A president you would
have called a son of a gun,
not knowing the harsher, more
colorful, more beautifully
profane curses we have
in the English language.
You discovered the way
people speak here when
you came to America
from the Philippines
on the boat.
You learned how
to speak in America
while standing up
every day and walking,
lifting, getting, doing
the hundreds of things
they call work.
And when you spoke English
you spoke it
with an accent,
of course,
because unlike what
any all-American,
born-and-bred
sons of guns thought,
this is exactly
what made
the language
yours.

-Jose Padua

Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River

Photograph by Jose Padua
On a Saturday morning with the
TV off and all the usual means of
communicating with the outside
world down, my five-year-old son
declares, “If I close my eyes I can
see Godzilla,” which is yet another
observation and message from today’s
youth which rather than giving me
pause lifts me and through fluid logic
gives me concrete reason to believe
that in the future I will still be wearing
dark shades.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Those Years That Went Down

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when
I’m walking
in the old neighborhood with
my wife, my daughter, my son
and we pass by
all the sharp corners
and tight spaces
where daytime drunks
still gather,
no longer hidden by
the ornament
of night,
I remember
those years that
went down
like whiskey
and the beauty
of the B-side of
a hit single,
played over and over
on the juke box
in my favorite dive bar
until everyone
gets really annoyed,
lays down their mugs
their tumblers
their heavy shot glassess—
those sacred, precise
instruments of drinking–
as the smoky air
begins to feel liquid.
So glad
I made it out
into the open air,
so grateful
for solid blue
sky.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

With the Morning Moon Shining Down Upon Me through These Thick Walls

Photograph by Jose Padua
This morning I pounded
a nail into the wall
using a book
by Franz Kafka.
The nail went in easily
but like a bad translation
of German into English
the sound of book
hitting nail
created a tone
somewhat different from
that of hammer hitting nail.
I sat down,
glanced at the calender
hanging halfway up
the dining room wall,
and decided it wasn’t
high enough
as I slowly drank my
morning coffee
and felt a considerable
but insignificant ache
in my bones.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Notes on the Crepuscular Effects of the Music of Thelonious Monk on the Noise of White Supremacy

Photgraph by Jose Padua
This afternoon waiting
for his big sister
to get out
from school
my six year old son
asks me to play
“Ruby, My Dear”
over and over again
and because it’s
the music of Thelonious Monk
I don’t hesitate or try
to persuade him
that it’s time to listen
to something else.
Sometimes it takes
the revelatory light
of an entire summer’s
day to sustain you.
Other times even
the little glimmers
of late autumn light
are more than
enough to take you
where you need
to go.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Self-Portrait as a Whale in a Hotel Room in York, Pennsylvania

Photograph by Jose Padua
They don’t usually let whales stay in hotel rooms
in these parts, but today they’re making an exception.
Be proud of that fact, just as you are proud of your
great girth and impressive though more practical height.
Remember, if love is a foreign object falling to Earth
from some unknown corner of outer space, you are
the creature it is falling for, which is to say that love,
as always is a miracle and at the same time something
we should always encourage. And remember, too, they
don’t sell plankton or even krill in the vending machines
here, which means you are going to have to settle for
potato chips if you’re lucky, or that strange substance
they call Andy Capp’s Hot Fries if you’re not. If
anyone tries to capture you, play your whale music,
let your voice, which is strange and eerie to the ears
of humans, echo throughout the halls of the hotel, then
slip out the back door, flop your way down the parking lot
back to you car, and drive immediately to Lancaster,
where they may appreciate your presence, though
of course in America today, nothing is guaranteed.
If worse comes to worst, as they say, remember
that you are a mammal and not, as they also say,
a fish out of water. In other words, pull the car over
to the side of the road. Put your emergency lights on,
check your map or your smart phone for the nearest
hospital. If anyone approaches your vehicle as you wait,
roll down your window, be polite, step out if they ask you,
and breathe calmly, lightly, steadily. Remember that
hidden amongst weeds and wreckage, broken lights
and busted pavement, are opportunities. Remember
it’s better to be lucky than beautiful. Remember that
which is scattered over what survives in long, neat
rows. Be thick where everyone else has grown thin.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua