Tag Archives: refugees

Breathless Like Those Days of Great Laughter

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was one of the last times the Runkle side of Heather’s family was able to have a winter reunion. With Mom-Mom Runkle’s health issues, travel, especially in the cold winter months, was particularly difficult. But it was at one of those last reunions, at Heather’s Uncle Brian and Aunt Rose’s house, that I found myself sitting with Mom-Mom Runkle and looking with her at one of that year’s novelty Christmas gifts, the giving of which has been a tradition in Heather’s family.

This one was an animatronic Country Bears toy—you pressed a button, and the Country Bears figures, which were arranged holding musical instruments, began to move as they played a holiday tune. I pressed the button and held it up for Mom-Mom Runkle to examine. When the Country Bears figures started to move and play their song she said, “Oh my! How do they do that?” I looked her in the eyes and said, “Practice.” Mom-Mom Runkle paused, then let out a joyful laugh that seemed to echo throughout the room.

Now, you can tell a lot about a person by his or her laugh. Some laughs have a tone of derisiveness about them (recall the way Nelson, the classroom bully on the Simpsons, laughs). Other laughs are only for the purpose of saying “I’m smart, I get it” (a laugh I would hear a lot in the audience whenever I saw a Jean-Luc Goddard film at the old Biograph theater in DC). Some laughs are creepy and even frightening (think Ted Cruz). Then there are those who don’t have a laugh. (Has anyone ever seen Donald Trump laugh? He smirks, he grins, he leers, but has he ever let loose with anything resembling a genuine laugh. I’m not the first person to note that laughing might be among the human behaviors he fails to exhibit).

Anyway, Mom-Mom Runkle had a laugh, and her laugh wasn’t anything like that of the aforementioned persons. It was a genuine laugh, without a trace of self-consciousness. Not everyone gets my sense of humor, but Mom-Mom Runkle did, and to hear her laugh in response to my remark was like taking a spur of the moment hit of nitrous from a can of whipped cream.

Mom-Mom Runkle had one of those laughs that you remember. It was a good laugh, a great laugh, the sort of laugh that brings with it a sense of revelation, even, and as such was a true expression of the essence of things, destroying all the bullshit in its way.

Like the rest of us, she wasn’t perfect. But I can only hope that one day, if only once, I might laugh in a way that rings just as true, and that it might echo through whatever room I find myself in. Or, if I’m outside, somewhere in this sometimes beautiful, sometimes frighteningly backwards stretch of valley, I’d like to think that my laugh could echo off the mountains on the horizon, then, like a clamorous flock of dark birds, swoon back up toward the sky. And, I’d like to think that soon again, I’ll be able to let loose with a laugh that feels like something more than temporary refuge from a time of fear and apprehension. I’d like to think that, once again, it will feel like a home in which I, my family, my friends, and a lot of other people from all sorts of places who consider themselves Americans might dwell.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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Where I’m From and Where I’ll Wander to Until the End of Time and Space

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 and 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 because
this is where I’m from; this is how we wander.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Memo in the Form of a Sonnet to the White Supremacist Who Referred to My Wife as a Breeding Vessel for the Hispanic Invasion

Photograph by Heather Davis and Jose Padua
Despite my name being Jose I am
not Hispanic but Filipino, which means
that as far as you’re concerned my white wife
is not a breeding vessel for the Hispanic
invasion, but for the Asian invasion. Please
take note of this. Because the Asian invasion,
as well as the Hispanic invasion and all
the other invasions you fear, are gaining strength
like tropical depressions, and as the days go by
your vessel will lose more and more of its
buoyancy, more of its ability to breed.
Which means, as far as my wife and I are
concerned, that there’s still hard work to be done.
And which means we will continue to float.

-Jose Padua

First published, in a slightly different version, at Vox Populi.