Hawaii 79

I didn’t know a damn

Thing about Hawaii

Except what I’d seen



And there was, of course,

That football jersey that

Someone had given me

That had the word “Hawaii”

Printed on it above the number



And Waipahu

Smelled like

Burning sugar


I’d arrived from

San Francisco, a high

School kid and I remember

The beautiful girls


I was falling in love

At bus stops, school—

Any number of public



And most folks I met

Spoke pidgin and I spoke

Mainland English and felt

Like a babbling idiot


And the mangoes dropped

From trees and I would

Pick them up and eat them,

Bruised or not


I was staying with my father’s

Wife’s family, the dad an

Old man who had survived

The Bataan Death March


We lived in the back of their

House and I sat around thinking

About the pretty girls I was

Terrified of, whose pidgin tongue

Twisted around my mind


One day the old man told me

To get off my ass and help with

Some work to be done on the



The next morning a

Cement mason

Showed up


He was tall, fat, and

Wobbled as he moved,

Looking less like a mason

And more like an aspiring

Professional bowler


He cleared an area of

The yard while I held

The handles of a wheelbarrow

Filled with cement


He got the area

Prepped, looked at

Me and said

Poosh ‘em up


I stood there

Looking at the man,

Not understanding

what he said


Poosh ‘em up he said

Again, taking a hold of

The wheelbarrow handle

And yanking it up


(Who would have thought that an overweight guy the shape of a bowling pin could be so strong?)


The cement spilled onto

The ground like pancake

Batter and the fat man

Smoothed it over


And my nostrils

Took in the scent

Of mangoes


Bruises and




© 2015 Tony Robles





Oakland Morning

The sun painted

Its song across

The strip of earth known

As MacArthur Blvd


An Oakland



And I was walking

Along, past the

Churches that looked

Like stores, half empty,

Half full


An empty Chinese

Restaurant stands behind

A rusted gate


A family restaurant

Whose family must’ve

Worked the counter

Before the rust


It was an Oakland

Morning and I was

Heading to the bus stop


And as I walked I came

Upon a man lying on

A king sized box spring


His body was MacArthur,

Head to toe, covered by

Clothing that couldn’t hide

The story of his bones


He had just woken up,

(It appeared) eyes pried

Open by the probing finger

Of the sun


Bits of glass and rock

And cigarette butts

Strewn about


I looked at the man

Then looked



He looked at me

From the corner

Of his eye


Good morning,

He said


The way he said

It was not melodious,

It didn’t come with

The scent of long standing

Trees lining this strip

Of earth


Good morning, he

Said as he sat up

To face the day


Sometimes the only

Thing you can say

Is “Good Morning”


While the sun’s

Finger probes

Your eyes




© 2015 Tony Robles

My piece about Ellis Act Evictions in 48 Hills

Cover of my upcoming book, “Cool Don’t Live Here No More–A letter to San Francisco


Looking forward to the release of this wonderful book, which should happen in the next month or so.  Editor F.S. Rosa did a wonderful job of putting together the short stories, poems and essays in this collection.  My brother Ace did a great job on the cover art.  Former San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman had this to say about the book:

“In poems and vignettes, Tony Robles has written the generational memory of San Francisco at the point where alienation, deportations and technological invasions are gutting its soul. This Filipino activist just won’t have it, and neither will you after reading this superb book that restores the sense of a People’s City.”

Looking forward to the book release.  Much gratitude to publisher Jim Mitchell of Ithuriel’s Spear Press, editor F.S. Rosa, and to my mother, without whom, none of this would have happened.


By Tony Robles

The city
that done

did done…

done did
you me he
and she

the city that
done did

over easy
upside down
downside up
medium well
al dente

the city
that keeps
doing you

the city
that done
forgot how

to do

don’t do
me like

don’t do
me that

But like a
lover’s weep
before a lover’s

we keep
coming back

to this
city that
done forgot

(c) 2015 Tony Robles

Vinnie Punzal Rest in Peace

Saddened to learn of the passing of San Francisco native Vinnie Punzal.  Vinnie was an OG Pinoy from SF.  Went to George Washington High School.  His father was best friends with my grandfather (they both were Muni drivers in SF).  Vinnie was gracious, friendly, warm–a beautiful brother.  Rest in power.  vinnie

Rough! My Life as a Dog in Oakland

Never tripped on Oakland. To me it was that other place across the bay with better weather and up to the minute shootings showcased on the local news. Being from San Francisco, I was constantly trippin’; trippin’ over my shoes getting from point A to B bypassing what was in between. I tripped over my thoughts, a combination of past, present and what might lie ahead. My tongue tripped over itself in search of words, words that might mean something. Due to circumstances I will not elaborate on at this time, I find my self trippin’ as I walk down the street of my new home in East Oakland. The streets I walk on are new and, like San Francisco, the pavement is a maze of sutures, remnants of wounds I didn’t bear witness to. Yet, I feel the scars and sutures and faults as if they were carved into my own skin. I walk onward.

I walk past empty storefronts, churches, corner stores of various sizes and a thrift shop with wigs, canes, furniture, clothes and books. I walk past people, faces black and brown with emotions built up inside skin and bone that can be felt. In my first week in Oakland, 3 people said good morning to me. That never happened to me in 50 years in San Francisco. I respond with a good morning and walk on.

I head to the Coliseum Bart station one day on my bike. Rows of houses with wrought iron gates and fences stand stoically alongside trees with rivers of stories carved onto the skin. One house is surrounded by a fence covered in clothes—shirts, pants, socks—dangling, coming alive in the wind—kicking, waving, swaying in the Oakland sun. The houses are old and without the anti-septic quality their counterparts in gentrified San Francisco are acquiring. I see a man in front of his house, water hose in hand, dousing his car; a baptism of sorts—a gleam of pride and dignity as he embarks from his home to take on whatever may come.

I see more faces, the dogs of the neighborhood along 73rd street. Dogs with thick meaty faces, scarred faces, distinguished faces, faces of quiet fire, faces that a mirror would not forget or regret. The faces resemble prizefighters of yesteryear–Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles dogs; Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano dogs—Sonny Liston dogs with a Tyson thrown in for good measure; dogs that are both ugly and handsome at the same time; dogs that have seen it all and do not have patience for foolishness.

One such dog is a dog I call Pogo stick. Pogo resides in a house behind a wooden fence. I ride by and pogo jumps up and down. I get glimpses of the top of his pointy ears and head as he bounces like a ball. One day he got high enough where we came face to face. I saw his fine row of teeth and each time he jumped he spoke.

“Say man (jump), where you goin’? (jump)…you think you can (jump) go to the corner (Jump) store for me and (Jump) and pick me up a pack of (jump) smokes (jump) and a lottery ticket?

I can’t get his teeth out of my mind so I ride off until I come to a black wrought iron fence. I approach. There is a black pit bull. He whimpers a tone that has sat deep for a long time. I lean against the fence.
“How’s life treating you?” I ask
“Really? You look comfortable to me.”
He put his nose between the iron bars and poured it out:
“Rough, rough, rough…rough rough rough…rough! Rough rough! Rough rough rough…!
rough rough rough!”
I didn’t understand yet I felt what he was trying to communicate.

I was about to ride off on my bike when I saw a small dog approach. It looked to be a Chihuahua/lab or some other mix. It looked up at me like he was an old time gangster—he had an Edward G. Robinson face.
“What do you want?” The little dog asked.
“Wait, you speak English?” I said.
“What the hell you think I speak? You damn right I speak English! I speak a little Spanish too and I’m trying to learn Chinese”
We looked at each other for a moment. I broke the silence.
“So, do you know what that other dog said?” I asked, pointing to the pit bull. The little dog looked at me.
I looked at the pit bull, his thick nose glistening behind the gates.
“What I said” he began, “Is that you just got here in Oakland a hot second ago but I been here a long time, since before you was in diapers. And all that poetry you writin’ about my home ain’t nothing but a lot of bulls**t. If it wasn’t for this fence, I’d put some real poetry on your ass. I’d A-1 steak yo’ ass right here and now”
“A-1 steak my ass, what does that mean?”
“It means that all that stuff you writing about Oakland, about the sutures in the street and the fault lines and cracks that tell stories like a palm in some fortune teller’s trick bag ain’t about nothin’. The only cracks and sutures that you’re gonna see are the one’s in your ass when I take a chunk out of it
I moved away from the fence. I backed away. I heard a noise.
I hopped on my bike and pedaled onward, faster and faster. The sutures in the street were mouths that smiled then laughed. I was trippin’. I tripped over my own pedaling feet and towards the fault lines in the street. I fell on my ass as the laughter of the dogs rang in my ears.
Rough, rough rough!

(c) 2014 Tony Robles

Woman With the Smiling Eyes

Mam, I have to admit, I was watching you. You probably didn’t notice me sitting across from you on the AC Transit bus leaving the Oakland Coliseum. It was a warm day and I was sweating, glad to have gotten a seat. I’d just come from SF where I’d taken part in a rally for housing rights. So many evictions across the bay in San Francisco. You’re probably aware of the situation but one can’t assume. But if you are aware of what’s going on, you know exactly how bad it is. But there you sat, and my eyes somehow fell on you as if there was no other place for them to fall—on this day or any other day.

Your face was a story—a book, a battlefield, a poem, a song, a season—all held in your two eyes that somehow warmed the bus. Your eyes slid over towards the front of the bus—a familiar face. “Clarence” you called out, your eyes warm in the familiarity of a face that held recognition of story and history. Clarence came by and sat down. How you doin’? You said, your eyes drawing me in. And Clarence said, “I’m heading to my old lady’s place”. And you continued to speak and you looked at Clarence and ran a gentle hand through his hair. “I’m older than you and look at all that gray hair you got” you said, as Clarence leaned away, laughing.

You continued to talk and I couldn’t hear much of it because of the bus engine. But I heard you say, “I don’t give no man no money. The only man I give money to is my son and he’s in college. He’s gonna be a doctor.” And the bus jerked a bit, causing a young woman to lose her balance. Clarence steadied the woman’s arm and helped her regain her balance. “Thank you” the woman said.

And you were firmly in your seat, maybe carrying 20 or so extra pounds but no doubt, the weight of a life survived and endured beyond anything I can begin to imagine. And I looked at your eyes as they melted into the moment. And in that moment you became my aunt and Clarence became my uncle. And the bus became the living room, and the barbershop and the kitchen—a place that we could be who we are.

And I see the black faces all around me on the bus—a mural of faces and skin and eyes and teeth—bright and alive with the glisten of lives reflected off the skin of the river of life, a mural that moves across space and into the soul through the eyes of the woman sitting across from me. And through my own eyes I see a black community; maybe lifelong Oakland folk or exiled black folk from San Francisco via eviction. It is a community that has been lost in SF. The evicted eyes, heart, spirit—the broken landscape under the skin that is the whole of San Francisco. A community decimated by San Francisco, a city that never deserved it.

Oakland, thank God you haven’t lost your soul. Thank God that the black community is there—that the black laughter, black fire, black feeling is there. And while some people would say that Oakland is violent, that people there shoot each other etc., I’m thankful that the people I see are real, they are people that say good morning to you on the street, and acknowledge your presence with a nod. I know it isn’t a perfect place, but it acknowledgement is a form of respect and I can’t remember the last time I was acknowledged in San Francisco except for the transit fare inspectors and other bullies like them who appear to enjoy their work. Thank God for the woman on the bus. Thank God for the woman with the smiling eyes.

(c) 2014 Tony Robles

The Great Brown Hope By Tony Robles

Security guards are a dime a dozen. How many guards are undercover poets? I don’t know. I have run into my share of undercover drunk guards though. Their problem–they’re not good at keeping it undercover. I recall a song by the great R & B singer Wynonie Harris called, “Bloodshot eyes” where he describes the redness of a certain woman’s eyes as looking like, “Two cherries in a glass of buttermilk”.

I was the great brown hope at one time. Loads of talent I had, or so it seemed. I could imitate people, celebrities like Clint Eastwood and Muhammad Ali. I was in college and landed a job as a radio announcer in a small town. The station was located in a cow pasture near a small airport. I worked the overnight shift, spinning records and saying such unforgettable things as “much more music KSHT…now, for your 3 day weather forecast!” When my shift ended I’d have to navigate my way past heaps of steaming cow dung to get to my car. The most memorable thing that happened was when, during a newscast, a moth flew into my mouth. I coughed and gagged over the air. Luckily I had the presence of mind to toss in a commercial for the US Army before running to the bathroom. Be all that you can be!

I went from small town DJ to big city security guard on the graveyard which is where I’ll be until Mr. Obama comes through with the stimulus sandwich on rye (topped with pickle). Getting back to the buttermilk and proverbial cherries, I ran into a security guard friend, Orlando Brooks. He constantly goes to the bathroom to gargle the alcohol from his breath but nothing helps. One of the best guys I know in security (one of the best guys I know, period) but the best guys soon end up in the scrap heap of tin badges because their parts are obsolete. What parts? Answer: Their hearts. I stand guard–writing poems on the graveyard trying not to lose mine.

##### ##### ##### #####

I’ve been riding Muni all my life. My grandfather was a muni conductor in the days when operators wore moneychangers on their belts. The fairness/unfairness, justice/injustice of life can be witnessed on the muni bus. There you are, waiting for a seat, standing for what seems like forever when a seat becomes available. You make a move but the seat gets yanked by somebody sneaking in through the back, someone who hasn’t waited, invested, endured. The bus is filled with loads of metaphors, among other things.

What is this thing called the hipster? Call me old-fashioned but my radar goes up whenever I hear a word that contains the word “hip”. When I see the word hip, I immediately assume the opposite to be true. I think I see them in my city walking in packs on Divisadero, or in the Haight or on Valencia complete with bells, whistles, armpits and obligatory tattoos. Some have bad names like Dylan, (or Dillon or DHILLON?) Shiloh or Caleb. They don’t look like real people somehow. They walk in packs of 9 or 10 looking for buildings to occupy, many that house our elders but the elders can’t live forever I suppose–so they get replaced by the hipster(s). I go back to Emilio Castillo and the Funky Doctor of Tower of Power (www.towerofpower.com) who wrote the great song, “What is hip?” :

“What is hip, tell me tell me if you think you know. If you’re really hip, the passing years will show (and sometimes hipness is…what it ain’t”)

Nothing hip about gentrifying neighborhoods and displacing elders. I hereby on this day, take the word “hip” out of my vocabulary. What’s needed is a hip replacement.

##### ##### ##### #####

I saw the funniest thing the other day. I was on the #5 Fulton going down McAllister when I looked out the window. A man was walking his dog–one of those large poodles with hair that resembles a bathroom throw rug. Anyway, the dog is sauntering along in doggie ether when I notice what’s on its head–a shiny do rag! A kick-ass ghetto poodle. ‘Sho you right!

My mom is a sweet woman–a native San Franciscan of African-American and Irish heritage. She had a very poignant observation about so-called San Franciscans. She said, “A San Franciscan is someone who knows everything there is to know about the world except his or her own neighbor”.

Well said, mom.

##### ##### ##### #####

My aunt’s take on the economic crisis, “At least you got a couple of ducats and a pot to piss in”.

##### ##### ##### #####

I asked my cousin in Seattle what I thought was the burning, eternal question: Cousin, do you sometimes think you haven’t truly reached your life’s potential?

His answer: You’re not alone. Bernie Madoff, AIG execs, Al Capone & Ziggy Stardust all have the same problem

That’s all from the graveyard shift.


Mural Of Eyes

2 eyes,
Sky and

Passing over
Evicted flesh
Of the sacred body

Scooped of

Left for dead
In unblinking
Florescent pools

The evicted eyes
Evicted heart
Evicted limb
Evicted tongue

The murdered mural
Of our skin, the murdered
River of our skin

Evicted by the
Color of no

By the movement
Of no

The unmurdered
ritual that is born
over and over

Evicted eyes that
Cry stories in
A thousand colors
That dry into the
Stone carved history
In our faces

That saw who got
Born on a morning
That blended into night
In a mural that filled the
Lungs with the light
Of our first song

Evicted eyes
Pulled from an
Evicted face

Evicted teeth

Laying under
The foundation of
Houses that were
Once ours

Our bodies rising
Up with evicted eyes
That see everything

© 2014 Tony Robles

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