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.
Photograph by Jose Padua
When there are so many things in the world
to regret, why is it I regret so little? Lessons
I learned either by doing or not doing,
outcomes that in the long run went by dark,
back roads were sometimes to my benefit
but at the expense of someone else.
Some days felt like progress, others simply profit.
How is it some people never stop to consider
what they’ve taken away from someone else—
The effect of light and shade on what they see,
noise and silence on what they hear?
I move on with what I have, but the slight pauses
that are all I carry of regret are a burden
so slight as to feel like a vanishing of pain,
a lifting of a piano from one’s back
with so little that’s ennobling between lifting
and vanishing. I can still remember the music
we heard moving into this place, the position
of the moon our first night and the smell
of the river, the smell of the dirt, the way
the river split the land in two on dark days
like a snake, and on bright days like a path
through a place where there once was none.
Photograph by Jose Padua
Posted in 3. Literature, Memoir, Photography, Poetry, Shenandoah Valley, The South
Tagged Jose Padua, poem, Poetry, regret, river, valley
Every love story may be a ghost story but
some may also be stories about assassination
and greed, depending on who’s in love
and who the ghosts are and if one or both
or several of the people in love are responsible
for the ghosts being ghosts in the first place.
Sometimes the ghosts are wholly innocent;
other times they’re complicit in the slaughter
of innocents, chief architects of the perpetuation
and performing of unconscionable acts, ministers
of transgressive forgetfulness where robbery,
arson, and murder are examples of forgetting
and the demolition of funhouses and everything
housed within them, giving birth to the fearsome
dawn of advertising, vanity license plates, juices
derived from vegetables, the promulgation of
excessive irony and ambiguity in self-conscious
narratives and the proliferation of superficial
forms of living. Meanwhile, I have sat on damp
tennis courts to examine the sullen bouncing of
soggy balls, ridden lost highways in cars with tires
as bald as William Frawley, but most importantly
I have read all the books in the library on the
subjects of true love and intimidation and at best
felt my affection for these things unrequited.
I have studied detailed maps of the constellations
only to look up toward the heavens feeling
despondent and lost. Everyone loves a love story
although they don’t always know this, everyone
struggles through obstructions, acid rain, and the
turning on of television shows programmed by
the stooges and flunkies of oppressive regimes.
And every long embrace is also a call to arms,
the assertion that if all hostilities do not cease,
there is a force of nature with the power to settle
all scores, a river winding its way through the forest,
and the memory of everyone who’s ever been defeated.
Photograph by Jose Padua.
First published, in a slightly different version, at Vox Populi.
Although I was said to have been born
human, it wasn’t long before I became thing,
thing being a stream of water, or on better days
a river or bay. Some days I am grass, all of it,
everywhere in the world from the grounds
of an emperor’s estate to the patch where
the man without a home rests his head,
followed by entire years when I exist
as a single blade of grass, slender and green
like all the other blades on a boring lawn
in the suburbs. There are minutes when
I am a single sad hill followed by weeks
when I am the Himalayas, towering over
boundless lands from great and powerful heights.
When I am a mountain it is harder to walk,
but when I am a river I find it easier to
navigate through difficult social situations.
This is when humans call on me the most.
To celebrate their progress of riches with
a long, slow beautiful ride of self-applause
and self-referential speech. Or else to send
their enemies somewhere they’ll never
be found and never come back from
in the belief that it will make all of us
a little safer. And I fall like rain on the streets,
splatter like bugs on car windshields,
shake the asphalt like big, speeding trucks,
before sending you off like a one way
bus ticket to the cold, desolate end of the highway.
Then I cool the air, slowing everyone down,
bringing about the change in the seasons.
I take the subway back uptown.
Photograph by Jose Padua