Tag Archives: war

On the Purpose of These Stories and the Effort We Put into Them

Photograph by Jose Padua
If I were the war on drugs
would I look upon you with great suspicion
when you step on the subway train
on your way to work in the morning;
would I eye you sideways
when you sit in the coffee shop drinking coffee,
in the fast food restaurant easting fast food,
dining out cheap like me,
unhealthily like me,
watching your pennies like morning rain,
wondering about the next paycheck, next job,
next night out amidst the city lights,
or just an early evening at home doing nothing
but listening closely as the children play
their sweet simple games?
If I were the war on terror
would I listen to AM talk radio
while I’m driving to the store with my family
then tell everyone to be quiet
when the on-air discussion moves on
to how America got into this mess to begin with
and what, as real Americans,
are we willing to do to get out of it?
Sometimes at the grocery store you look at me,
your eyes almost bulging
like warm blood beneath the surface of pale thin skin
when I’m standing across from you
at the open face freezer
deciding which cut of meat to buy
because I’m a carnivore like you,
or trying to find sweet corn,
a fresh loaf of bread,
and a treat for the kids
even though I know they’ll be
wild with kinetic and other forms of energy
and acting as if they’re never going to go to bed again
as long as there’s bright color
and high pitched sound in the revolving world
that surrounds them.
You, in the meantime,
wonder what medications I may be on,
ask yourself do I look a person who shoots smack,
drops acid like it’s the 60s,
or who perhaps comes here
from a faraway country your country is at war with
and who if I were to open my mouth
could only speak in some language
you can’t possibly comprehend?
If I recall my history correctly,
terror came first,
then war, then drugs,
and seeing there was no one to challenge drugs,
war declared itself an abuser of drugs as did terror
with harsh words and something
that looked like a menacing sneer.
Nowadays, drugs are everywhere
and so is war and famine and poverty and greed
and the fear of growing so old
as to be unfit to play one’s part
in all the wars and terror to come.
Because oh where
would war and terror be without us,
where would drugs be if we weren’t here to take them,
where would terror be if no one were afraid.
If we were simply sitting peacefully
at sturdy wooden tables
in the rough sunlight of early evening,
telling each other stories,
remembering the days
when we’d hold fire in our hands,
all for the purpose
of bringing color to the darkness
on these long, cold nights.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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A Brief Reflection on the Passage of Time As Seen Through an Old Burn Mark on My Skin

Photograph by Jose Padua
More than twenty years later I still have
the slight trace of a brown burn mark
on my left forearm from when I was
at the stove in my lower east side apartment
holding with a fork in my right hand
the pork chop I got on sale at Key Foods
on the corner of Avenue A and Fourth
and which slipped off the tines into the hot oil
that splattered all over my lowered arm.
I cursed and screamed and kicked
the television that was on the floor
next to the oven and I began to feel better
then kicked the television again
because it was a good way to focus
on something other than the pain I was feeling
and besides the television was already broken,
I just hadn’t bothered to take it down to the curb
or wherever it was you were supposed leave
your useless old machines in New York City.
After the burn and the pain came several seasons
when all I had was the radio and nothing
to watch The Tonight Show with or the news
or sports which I was starting to lose interest in anyway,
and whenever I needed to see what the weather
was like I looked out the window,
opened it a crack to feel the air that came in,
which always made me want to open it all the way
and stick my head out and maybe sometimes
go ahead and take the fast way down to the street,
and I listened to the radio during the first war
in the Persian Gulf and during the uprising in LA
after a gang of cops tried to bash Rodney King’s head in,
listening to the stories and hearing the sounds
of wars and riots and listening for but never hearing
the easy silence that surrounded whoever
was in charge saying who should be shot,
who should be hung or electrocuted
or else made to work until his or her fingers started to bleed;
and I had to imagine what everything looked like,
picturing in my mind who was hurt and who was killed,
pondering what would be left when it was all over
and feeling something less like confidence
and more like despair that anything could ever change
here in America or anyplace America touched.
And whenever I look at the brown burn on my arm
I think about both evil dictator and elder statesman;
I think about the guys who carry the guns
and for whom the law is like an insurance policy
they carry in their wallets ready to flash
whenever somebody needs to be reminded that
the laws were written to protect not us but them.
I think of all the immortal conflicts they bring
upon us, each of them feeding their great hunger
in nearly the same way I feed my own
but on an epic scale while rarely ever getting burned
during the long, slow process of living.
And I am reminded that too often in life
it’s the person who’s the biggest asshole who wins,
pushing aside what’s left of our bones to clear his way
from the unbearable heat of a dangerous summer
and all the other seasons of discord and urgency
to the comfort of everything that’s not beautiful but cool,
falling asleep in front of the giant TV screen,
snoring loudly then breathing deeply,
unable to be moved.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua