Tag Archives: Poetry

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

Directions in Music and Other Ways of Approaching the Day

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I pick my five-year-old
son up from school
then stop at the grocery store
to get milk instead
of going straight home
he says “I’ll just stay here
in the car
and listen to Miles Davis”
because right then “Spanish Key”
from Bitches Brew
is playing on
the car stereo and
since it’s a warm spring
day here in the valley
and what he wants to do
sounds better than
what I want to do
we sit in the car
and listen
until the song is over
and we’re thirsty for something other
than sound.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On Remembering the Times and Forgetting the Burden of Days

Photo by Jose Padua
No one ever remembers the times you put the toilet seat down
after using the bathroom, those days when the weatherman
predicted to the exact inch the amount of snow that was going
to fall in the next day’s winter storm. They’ll remember if you
told them an upcoming movie was going to suck but only
if you remind them that back in 1948 you said, “No Orchids
for Miss Blandish
is going to suck, big time” or that in 1990
you said, “Let’s go see GoodFellas instead of Look Who’s
Talking Too
,” but you went ahead and saw Look Who’s Talking
Too
, which pretty much put an end to your forty-two year
relationship. I remember warm spring mornings when I stepped
outside and the world felt blue and green and yellow and I felt
as if I could run a marathon but didn’t because I knew all the
beautiful blooming flowers would eventually make me sneeze
and make my eyes water so that at the end of the run I’d be sobbing
like a baby not because of the thrill of my accomplishments but
because of my stupid allergies. I remember being a boy and
seeing “FUK” spray painted on the wall of the bridge we were
driving over and laughing out loud when my Mom looked at me
and said “Oh, you’re laughing at that” and me not being able
to say it was the misspelling of the word Fuck and not the
word itself I was laughing at, even though the idea of someone,
especially my mother, thinking I was laughing at the word Fuck
was horrifying to me. And over the years I remember the people
who have lent me money or simply given generously to me with
alacrity their time and energy and support and the other varieties
of abstract assistance that keep one going during difficult times,
and although I have rarely ever been able to repay them with
anything in return, much less respond with humility and grace,
I have been able to tell them a funny story or two or lent pause
to days that needed pausing, and in those instances when my
story fails to make them laugh and the hiatuses I create are so
negligible in the space they make between then and now that
they neglect to forget what a bad friend and horrible deadbeat
I am, I offer to tickle them, which except on rare occasions is ample
distraction, and usually enough to get them to change the subject.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua.

Baudelaire

Photograph by Jose Padua
Was it poetry that ate my desire to succeed
and through failure that I succeeded
in thinking only horrible things,
things so horrible poetry could never grasp,
much less control them,
and out of chaos still leave nothing but chaos,
measured accidentally in words?
These nights are like Antarctic nights in short sleeves,
the sound is nice but there is no aroma,
no touch before throwing down the dice
while tangled pieces of string dangle
from my fingers like theories
that cloud one’s mind on sleepless nights.
No poetry can lay its hands on this to heal it,
my lack of tone and the muscle that’s required
to lift dark stones from the bottom of a running river;
this is the task of mud,
this is the sealed entrance,
the leftover shell and mirror.
Before my life of horrible things,
desire, to me, was a hyena
that stays just out of reach
of the lion’s teeth;
it made me take big steps ahead.
I left jackals and wild dogs behind me,
any animal who could not understand me.
My bags were packed before I even knew I was moving;
the words I used led me to construe
that the animals and I are alive,
living in separate worlds when I am high,
feeling my veins as gusts of wind
and my mind like snow on top of a mountain.
Before the horrible things there was desire,
the ambition to move about the stage,
stepping softly with silver clipped wings
to keep me calm;
before desire there was rage every goddamn day,
the flowers falling from my hands,
the smoke rising like a season.
And as the days grew longer or shorter,
depending on whether or not the petals
came apart upon their falling,
and as the continents drifted apart
and the animals evolved into the separate
species of predator and prey,
was when I began to want,
and so learned for the first time
about sorrow.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. An earlier version of this was published at On Barcelona.

Helltown

Photograph by Jose Padua
Back in the familiar wilderness
of tattoo parlors and auto parts
stores, the cheap motels where
there’s always a vacancy, the streets
so dry and sunny you can almost feel
the dirt and grime with your eyes
when you blink, and the teenagers
with their stained shirts and the random
fucks and shits and blow jobs that spill
from their mouths as a substitute for
speech. It’s the quiet boredom of the
normal, non-existential, nothingness
that kills them, that kills me. The boy
who’s the scared misfit with a lisp
and gawking eyes when he talks to us,
when he asks us questions, turns down
the corners of his mouth, squints his eyes
even in the shade and says nothing as he
looks to the ground in an effort to fit in
with the fucks and shits and blow jobs.
This is not bravery nor is it cowardice,
this is neither infamy nor avarice, but
might there be a word for it other than
survival? A sense of accomplishment,
more and other, than that of being alive?
So I look at them looking at me, wide-eyed
like first rides on a roller coaster, thirsty
like summer afternoons with no prospects,
their arms by their sides, their hands empty;
because what tears us down creates us,
and what we tear down creates the stones
we throw, each morning, into the dirty
winding river, ready to shine, ready
to walk the jagged, gravel road home.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua