Papa Don’t Take No Meds

My father, over the years, has become a fount of advice and information in matters of health.  He adheres to the adage the information’s out there, you need to look for it.  He phones me and the subject of health invariably comes up—after the obligatory weather update where—in his part of the world, Hawaii—the climes vary in degrees of heat: somewhat warm, kinda warm, getting warmer, hot, hot as hell and burning my ass off hot.  As far back as recollection will allow me, he has been health conscious.  He worked in a janitorial capacity for the City and County of San Francisco.  He started work early and would arrive home before the final bell at my elementary school.  He would be in the throes of his daily workout as I headed home; a regimen that included weightlifting, pushups and sit-ups, shadowboxing and sparring.  He not only boxed with his shadow.  Being his shadow, metaphorically and physically, I was his default sparring partner.  I was given a pair of ancient boxing gloves—bare of laces and steeped in the crystallized memory of sweat—a mold that I unwillingly conformed to, secreting my own sweat into the pugilistic perspiratory legacy. 

I’d walk inside the house and he’d say, hey kid, get over here.  He lie on his back for his sit up routine. I was enlisted to hold down his feet, at the ankles, while he hardened his abs: 10…20…30  he’d call out on the way to 100—sweat trickling down his forehead, his breath in my face which smelled like onions, garlic and fish.  My face would contort with his every repetition, as if I were the one performing this self-inflicted abdominal torture; and I suppose my father perceived my facial twists and turns as some kind of moral support or solidarity.  But in actuality, my face twisted in response to his foot odor.  He never wore shoes during workouts.  He wore dress socks, thin socks from Sears woven in polyester.  The stench was rather unbearable but, to my father’s credit, he tried to rein it in with foot powder and other potions including cologne that never seemed to work.

How’s your health? He asks.  Ok, I say, adding that I’m exercising more, trying to control my blood pressure, which is high.  His voice has not changed much, he still sounds youthful even in his mid-70’s.  He tells me of the books he’s reading about health. You know, he says–2 things will cause you complications—being overweight and smoking.  He explains that the more weight you carry, the more stress it puts on the heart.  I listen to his voice, some 3000 miles away, grabbing at the flabby folds of flesh at my sides.  I hear you dad, I say.  He has always been physically active.  In the time I spent running back and forth from the refrigerator to the television, he became a martial arts instructor—a guro.  He entered and finished in the Honolulu Marathon 3 times, lamenting that each subsequent time was worse than the previous year.  In my estimation, being able to complete one marathon is monumental—much less three.  What about your diet? He asks.  Well, I’m eating one fruit a day, I reply.  Hmmm, he says, one fruit a day?  What about two fruits…three?

You don’t want to wait until you get sick to see a doctor he says.  Before any of these matters became remotely relevant to me, it became relevant to my father with the death of his own father.  Grandpa never went to the doctor.  The pains in the old man’s stomach stabbed at him.  When he finally went to the doctor, it was too late.  I remember him as a frail old man in a bathrobe that smelled of Vicks Vapor Rub.  I was just a child with no idea that this frail old man raised a family of ten; came to the US as a young man and laid down roots.  I had no idea that my existence was tied to this old man, that, if not for him, I wouldn’t be here.  All I remember was his thin frame and the smell of Vicks and the 3 Tootsie Rolls he placed in my hand.

Exercise is medicine, my father says—you need to take your medicine every day.  He says you have to keep moving, keep the blood circulating.  I am doing likewise, walking briskly an hour a day.  He walks among the palm, mango and guava trees for the same duration, sometimes longer.  It is my hope that I am keeping up with him, footstep for footstep, among the crepe myrtle, red bud, Japanese maples and other assorted trees that provide a backdrop and forefront of fragrance, color, shade and an atmosphere of peaceful welcome some 3000 miles away .  He says that walking helps keep the senses sharp as well as providing peace of mind.  However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the parks are off limits.  A kindly cop issued him a ticket for walking in the park.  Peace of mind is always under duress, especially in a pandemic.

You don’t want to be on medication, if you can avoid it, my father says.  When I was growing up, there was no doubt that my father didn’t take no mess—a phrase coined by the classic song by James Brown–Papa Don’t Take No Mess.  However, he has reached another level:  Papa don’t take no meds.  You got to keep moving, he says.  You got to move, exercise. It’s medicine. 






Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands of the virus
wash your hands of fear
wash your hands of calloused fate
wash your hands of rope
burns used to hang scapegoat
effigies in glass house windows
Wash your hands of the virus
wash your hands of liars and
truth deniers
wash your hands of tainted water,
tainted seed and soil
wash your hands of hymns that
do not include her
Wash your hands of the virus
in the cracks where lives the
poison water of indifference
Wash your hands of
compassion’s muted chorus
and the dried throats of flowers
wash your hands of glacier hearts
wash your hands of caged clocks
wash your hands of sky torn asunder

wash your hands

They are the powers that free

(c) 2020 Tony Robles

18People Reached1

Go back to what?

The country needs to go back to what
Hard what will set you free
My father used to tell me that if you
Wanted anything in this life, you
Had to what for it
“See my car, I what my ass off for it!”
Just what hard and you’ll get ahead
There was a quote:
“Hard work betrays none”
We got to go back to what
To an 8 hour what day
Millions of Americans are out of what
Some are able to what at home while
Others do not have that luxury
Many take their what seriously
While others, not so seriously
Black and brown what for low wages
Many have gotten rich from the
What of others but if you ask them about
It they look at you and say: What?
The president wants us to go back to what
But what I want to know is what it is
That he does
In the old days the boss would say
“No lollygaggin’, no loafin, move your
Lazy asses…get to what!
And nurses what double and triple shifts
And bus drivers what in incubators
of coughs and sneezes
And janitors and grocery clerks what
Because their what is essential to the
Who what where when why and how’s
In this life
Get dressed for what
Make sure you get to what on time
Did you what today?
Did you what hard today?
Yes, so hard I what my pants

A what of art

And the president says, we have to get
Back to what

© 2020 Tony Robles

Grocery Clerk

You, who carry
the weight wrought
of much

boxed in with the worries
of kids, family,
ex and ex’s and
crying  tick tack toe windows

decisions beyond
paper and plastic

living and breathing
behind barcode’s
barbed branches

working amidst
the virus

essential as wings
to a silent bird

debit card swipes
signs of the cross
protective shields and

Your mouth utters
the total, muffled
from under a mask

but some
have no mask

The price

for being

(c) 2020 Tony Robles

Covid-19: An Encounter with a Bee during Quarantine

It’s quarantine, shelter in place–the stay at home order.  I am blessed to have a home as many do not.  Don’t go outside we are warned, do not gather in large groups so as not to spread Covid-19, aka the Coronavirus.  With this diktat comes an assortment of mixed messages.  We are told not to wear protective masks then we are told to wear them.  We are told that the droplets from a cough or sneeze can travel 6 feet and to give others that amount of “social distance” upon encountering them.  Then I read in the Washington Post that the droplets can travel as far as 8 feet while other reports indicate the possibility that Covid-19 can be spread by particles emitted via the mouth during normal conversation.  Regarding the spread via sneezing and coughing, I came across the term cough droplet ballistics, used to describe the endeavor of observing and measuring the length and trajectory of droplets emanating from a cough or sneeze.  I also came across a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that referred to the very phenomenon of coughs and sneezes as violent expiratory events and the issuance of fluids thereof as multiphase turbulent buoyant clouds with suspended droplets of various sizes. I have always been cognizant of my coughing and sneezing in public, but not all people are. Given our pandemic and the careless coughers and sneezers among us, studies such as these should not go unnoticed.

I try to use common sense, keeping my distance, not coughing or sneezing on or near my fellow human.  I recently saw a video clip of a well known televangelist giving a sermon. He rebuked Covid-19, issuing a very strong and impassioned puff of air through puckered lips, asserting, “Covid-19, I blow the wind of God on you.” What trajectory the wind travelled is not yet known; however, it has since been advised that particles from the mouth and/or nose can travel farther than the 6 feet that had been previously indicated by the CDC; that particles could perhaps travel 4 times that distance.  As I watched the clip of the pastor, I felt a vague gush of air pass across my face .  Not possible, I thought, as this was a video clip.  But the winds of paranoia accrue in crisis and manifest itself in many ways.  I hope someone can inform the good pastor of this before the next service.  With information flying around—6 feet away and beyond– I did the only sensible thing; I washed my hands at least 7-8 times using the CDC method.  Handsanity informed by fear.

I listen to news reports at home. Yesterday’s news seems a lifetime away.  News articles pop off like firecrackers as well as video clips claiming a cure and, of course, the belief that this is being caused by radiation from 5G towers  A few weeks ago the situation seemed far away.  People contracted the virus in Korea, Italy, Iran, Spain and other countries. The numbers of positive Covid-19 cases in the US grew and surpassed all countries.  But somehow, in this corner of Western North Carolina it seemed as if that reality was over there, while we were over here. My morning routine is checking the news, checking the numbers of positive cases in my county.  Not long ago we had less than 10 positive cases with no deaths.  That number is climbing. As of today there are 99 positive cases and 6 deaths.  This is small compared to New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the US with 6 thousand new cases in the last 24 hours and over 104,000 confirmed cases.  Detroit bus driver, Jason Hargrove was coughed on by a passenger and died the following week but not before posting an impassioned plea in a video clip lamenting that some among us–in spite of the pandemic–do not seem to care and implored people to be mindful.  Grocery clerk Leilani Jordan of Maryland died after contracting the virus. Her shift involved serving seniors in their designated shopping hours.  Leilani stayed on the job in order to serve the elderly customers despite the Covid-19 virus and despite having cerebral palsy.  2,200 people have died in nursing homes.  This virus is hitting African Americans and Latinos disproportionately in many cities including New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Detroit.  People in detention centers and in correctional facilities have contracted the virus in crowded conditions with little or no protective gear.  I sit at home and think of the virus as over there.  I look outside at the red bud tree near my house. For the first time I notice it–really see it.  I turn on the radio and hear the announcer’s voice say: Stay home, stay updated, stay isolated. The pandemic is happening over there and I realize that over there is over here

I sit in my living room.  I think of a conversation I had with my father the prior week.  I never thought I’d experience anything like this in my lifetime, he said, adding, “When I was growing up there was polio but they knocked it out.  Eisenhower had that.”  “No, dad, It was Roosevelt” I say.

I feel soreness in my throat.  Is it the virus?  I hyperventilate, boil water for tea.  I take a sip.  No sore throat, whew!  I look around my living room; isolated, knowing that many do not have this luxury.  I look at the ceiling counting the specks in the overhead tiles where I see something hovering.  I put on my glasses.  It’s a bee. I am sheltering in place. How did a bee get in here?  I grab a broom, lift it to the ceiling and swat at it.  It hovered more eluding my awkward swipes.  It spoke.

Bee: Man, put that broom down!

Me: How’d you get in here?

Bee: How do you think?  Through the front door.

Me: what do you want?

Bee: Hey, I’m looking to self isolate

Me: Why?

‘Bee: Have you heard of CCD?

Me: Yeah, that’s when you obsess over details and orderliness and—

Bee: you’re thinking OCD

Me: Sorry

Bee: Keeping talking like that and we’ll both get PTSD

Me: What’s CCD?

Bee: Colony Collapse Disorder.  We just disappear from the hive

Me: How?

Bee: Lots of reasons.  Parasites, pesticides, infections, viruses—the damn pesticides make us weak to survive some diseases.

Me: Tough break

Bee: You know it.  And toss in climate change and you have a train wreck.

As the bee spoke, it was conscientious, mindful to leave an ample amount of social distance between us.  It flew to my kitchen cabinet.

Bee: You got a lot of tuna in here, enough to last a few months.

Me: It’s bumble bee, you want some?

Bee:  Hell no, I ain’t no cannibal but I’m essential

Me: What about some fruit?

Bee: is it ripe?

Me: Yes

I sat while the bee chose a spot on the wall, taking in the surroundings.  The bee was a fan of oldies.  It wanted to hear that old song called “Buzz Buzz Buzz” by the Hollywood Flames.  We must have listened to it a half dozen times. Then I told it that I was passing the time renaming classic songs to give it a social distance twist.  He thought most of the titles were corny but he did take a liking to “Don’t put your hand in the hand of the man (who didn’t wash it)” and “Papa’s got a brand new mask.”  It felt good not to be alone. Then it asked.

Are you scared?

Me: Yes

Bee: I hear you.  I am too.

Me: The president says he wants us to go back to work.  But I think to myself—go back—go back to what?  I don’t want to go back to the same world.  This is an opportunity to change it.  We can’t go back to what it was before.  What it was before is why it is the way it is now, falling apart.

The bee hovered again, bequeathing more buzzes, establishing hovernance over my space to which it now belonged. It landed, this time closer to me.

I hear you, it said.

After a few minutes we put on that old song again and we laughed. We talked about the new world we wanted to go back to: a beautiful crazy new world. 

And the bee hovered towards the ceiling: buzz buzz buzz

© 2020 Tony Robles

My name is Emiliano

you told us
to call you Emil

you didn’t say much
you wore the same work
uniform as i

a brown shirt covering our
skin that is the same shade
of brown

and it was your first day
and you sliced the meat
like you’d done it a thousand

you were strong,
i could tell by the way
you stood

your silence was strong
as some among us couldn’t
pronounce your name

call me Emil,
you said

One who had trouble with
your name was named

named for a river
a valley

a sweet woman
working the deli counter
always helpful
always pleasant
mindful and with kids
at home with names not
so hard to pronounce

and when you did speak
you spoke of your mother
who brought you here when
you were 6

her spirit lives
in your silence

and when i looked for
you the next day,
you were gone

your tattoos of Aztec
warriors crying out
in some other place

and i take the next
order, a half pound of
honey glazed ham


Will anyone remember
your name?

(c) 2020 Tony Robles

KIM 3—Sigue La Movida: The One That Didn’t Get Away

The one that got away—the thought, the idea, the opportunity—don’t let it get away, keep it moving.  I’ve spent the last week listening to the latest CD, KIM 3—Sigue La Movida—by Michael Marshall and Equipto, independent hip hop and soul artists from the Bay and it has moved me to reflect, to strive towards gratitude and rededicate my life to the struggle–which Equipto says–is imperative, that we have to have faith in the struggle and that the power of the people is the most precious thing ever.  It is a movement across 100 highways towards our destination in spite of the industry and institutions that lock up not only our bodies but our minds.  Sigue La Movida—keep it moving. 

And move it does.  The music of KIM 3 has crossed the country on the “Slap Frost Tour” that began in San Diego and continues to move across the country.  The tour brought together the musical gifts of Mike Marshall (Meezy), Equipto (Queezy), Z –Man, Vocab Slick and the brilliant skills of DJ True Justice.  I had the privilege of seeing their performance in a small club in downtown Asheville, close to my adopted home of Hendersonville, North Carolina.  It was a reunion with Equipto, who I had met as part of the Frisco Five Hunger Strikers.  He was catching some rest prior to the show, taking a nap while Mike Marshall sat in a corner, his unassuming presence lending a sense of calm to a venue whose energy was beginning to build with local opening acts.  It was my first time meeting Mike.  I asked him if the tour had a message.  He paused and said that there wasn’t a specific message, that it was the road, the music and getting it out there.  Of course, this understatement humbly underscores a work of great complexity and love that flourishes in this latest offering of Solidarity Records, the 15th year of the KIM Franchise and collaborative effort of talented producers, rappers and DJ’s to give birth to a work of timeless beauty, immediacy and healing that won’t fall victim to the one that got away.

I sit still and breathe in a call to action, to ground oneself in self-awareness and meditation, a mantra imparted by the timeless vocal of Mike Marshall who sings: 

This ain’t no hippy shit

It’s older than all of that

Meditation can get you some peace

If you sit still

And the voice of Equipto in response, in affirmation and confirmation sending a message with breathtaking lines:

While we burn the palo santo

Exchanging intimate convos

The wild wood and aroma of the sacred tree

I’m in a state most of y’all would think is

Make believe

To get away under the shade of the maple leaves

When the moon comes together patiently

The sounds of KIM 3 are rooted in justice, in honoring our ancestors, of awareness.  As Mike Marshall sings, “I’ll keep you in my mind”, his lips speaking the names of the departed, giving shape to memory and crying out

I know we all got to go someday

But today it was you

And he sings out, cries out, the grito, the pain from deep within, but not without hope: 

A different time and space, we’ll see you later

KIM 3 is a call to action.  Marshall sings out, “It’s time, so why not stand up?  Resistance ain’t free but its mandatory.  It calls out those who pretend to be down with the struggle but beg off taking action like Brother Seneca X who proclaims:  I twisted my ankle

But the underlying message is in the power of the people who are in a constant struggle for it.  Marshall asks:  It’s time to hand it over…it’s time…why not now?

The experience of this CD, this work of love, is one of elevation and dignity.  One, in listening, is taken to another level.  The lyrics take on complex emotions, the beats, the timeless vocals and the emotional landscape of sound that is gifted to us is truly an experience meant to heal and get us moving towards our path of creating another world where we are truly alive—Keep it moving.

In some ways, the music took me back to when I listened to Marvin’s “What’s Goin’ On? Album for the first time, as well as “Kind of Blue” by Miles and, “A Love Supreme”.  The common thread of these works is love; the common denominator, the road to redemption, down 100 highways, on a path not linear but adjusting to change and rolling with the highs and lows.  It is about being vulnerable enough to imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes—the other, the outcast, the one “We mock and walk on by”—but couldn’t survive in their shoes.  Their shoes is a track on the CD that speaks to the conditions, the criminalization and degradation of houseless folks. Equipto graciously included my poem, “Frisco Speaks” on that track of which I am greatly appreciative. Much props and love to the writers of these songs, written with respect and a sense of excellence.

The music in KIM 3 is timeless. It is a call to action. It is a poem that expands and flows with the flow of life that we adjust to by any means necessary.  It is a gift from the bay that I was blessed to have witnessed in Asheville.  Their words remain with me and give me much needed medicine on my own journey in this life. 

I was born in the fog so I can see through the smoke

Keep it moving, Sigue La movida.

© 2020 Tony Robles