This work was featured in Issue 17:4, Fall 2016 — Slam Issue

Jose Padua

New York

Volume 17:4, Fall 2016
Slam Issue
I used to take long walks at dawn in New York,
staying up all night in my roach infested 4th floor walk-up
on Avenue B drinking cheap wine, baring my soul to
the bathroom mirror as I contemplated easy listening music,
having beatific visions of aggressive shoe salesmen
while the angelic rants of harried personnel managers,
brainstorming ad executives, and the insane followers of trends
echoed through the caverns of my vacant unilluminated mind.

Dragging myself through the gentrified streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan
in search of a cheap breakfast special of scrambled eggs and sausage,
looking up to the sky waiting for Pussy Galore to parachute down from
the heavens like in some James Bond movie, my head got dizzy,
not because of the magnitude of the heavens which floated
over the route of every Greyhound bus in America and every desolate
flower in the world, but because the blood was rushing away from my brain.

Expelled from the academy for acting like an asshole,
my copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead remained unread;
Jack Kerouac was just someone I read when I was in high school
because he seemed like a writer who knew how to party;
to me the name William Blake meant as much
as the name William Hurt, just another sensitive guy
who you had to know really well in order to call him “Bill.”

Whether I was dead broke or living on credit,
working a straight job marketing costume jewelry through the mail,
or writing stories off the top of my head
for alternative newspapers to make a few easy bucks,
I was always the con man without a clue,
the pool hustler who always scratched on the eight ball,
the actor who didn’t know how to tend bar or wait tables,
the musician who couldn’t keep time or play in tune,
the poet who hated poetry and poets and pretty much everything else as well.

One of the second best minds of my generation,
I was suffering in a second rate way,
always desperate but never starving,
always angry but never mad.

Sometimes I worked and sometimes I didn’t.
Sometimes I got jobs just by waiting by the phone—
“I want two thousand words, on my desk, Monday morning. Serial killers.”
Other times I lost jobs by coming in on time at nine in the morning
wide awake and smiling as the previous night’s bourbon wafted
out of my pores like a can of air freshener that was packaged in Hell.

New York, city of opportunity, where when my girlfriend
dumped me for the first time I went out and ended up with a twenty-three
year old model/actress who was Steve Buscemi’s brother’s roommate.
Man was I connected, if only I’d had an idea for a screenplay it
would have taken me at least another year before I went broke.
New York, I knew someone there who knew someone who knew Allen Ginsberg.
New York, I knew someone there who knew someone who thought he’d once been
abducted by a UFO.

New York, where the six degrees of separation are cut in half,
where the half-life of radium 226 triples like a human embryo
at a fertility clinic, and where a quart of bourbon
will get you one gallon drunk on any day of the week except Wednesday.

New York, where I was in a band called Lord Burlap,
playing sloppy guitar for a high strung, bald-headed singer who stuttered
when he talked and who was an all around good guy and good friend of mine
until he decided that he wanted to kill me.
New York, where on a day after I appeared on national television
reading a poem I wandered the streets feeling like I’d completely sold out
and gotten nothing in return.
New York, where I ran into my connection for writing a soft-core porn novel
on the corner 14th and 3rd Avenue as the mustard from the hot dog
I’d just gotten from a street vendor dripped to the ground.
New York, where one snowy winter day I watched the smoke rise from
out of the bowels of the World Trade Center as I lay in front of my 12 inch
black and white TV set refusing to answer the phone,
believing that illumination, Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, L. Ron Hubbard,
and Dr. Ruth were beyond me,
and hoping that for God’s sake those people would quit calling me on the phone.
New York, where Allen Ginsberg got old and turned into one really creepy, self-righteous
guy who couldn’t go for two minutes without quoting Jack Kerouac.

There’s no time to be connected now,
no time to wander desolately under the starry dynamo of the American night,
no time to follow gurus and scholars and aging hipsters.

Allen Ginsberg died in 1997.
Allen Ginsberg wrote a few good poems back in the fifties,
then starting chanting and taking his clothes off in public at every opportunity
as he bade us to watch and listen.
Allen Ginsberg suffered for his art, then it was our turn.

I left New York in 1993.
I was younger then, but not that much younger.
I too suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.

 

Jose Padua’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Bomb, Salon, Exquisite Corpse, Up is Up, but So Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992 (NYU Press, 2006), Crimes of the Beats (Autonomedia Publishing, 1999), and many other journals and anthologies. He has also written features and reviews for NY Press, Washington City Paper, and The New York Times. He was a member of the 1995 DC Slam Team and has read his work at the Lollapalooza Festival, CBGBs, the Knitting Factory, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, St. Mark's Poetry Project, and the Washington Project for the Arts. To read more by this author: The Evolving City Issue, Five Poems, Volume 9:2, Spring 2008.