Frisco Graduation

Standing in line at an elementary school graduation I look at the colors surrounding me.  The cars rolling by with loud colors and the lyrics of lives lived or once lived blaring from car speakers announcing their presence while the sky above whispers in its ever present blue; trees that have stood for generations show their skin and limbs proudly like the survivors they are.  The others in line are mostly down home folk, Frisco natives or folks that have been in the city for generations, running in all directions, crossing streets, trying to make it before the light turns red, scurrying to get a place in line that is snaking the length of the street.  The parents and relatives arrive with stuffed animals and balloons to show their love for their kids and the achievement of education.  Pictures are taken and folks are excited and proud as the colorful balloons bobbing and hovering above their heads.

Women–mothers and grandmothers and aunties sprout up all over—all proud and full of smiles.  Some look like floats, big boned, big cheeked—outfitted in tight clothing that is like another skin, balancing on heels and shoes that glitter in the early evening.  Those mothers, whose lips are thick with sheen gleaned from the glint of sun that rests on the troubled faces of skillets, pots and pans; whose smear of kisses cover a child’s face and never comes out.  Those women whose bodies are filled with dreams and screams and laughter and tears and stories; those women waiting in line, waiting for their children to walk across that stage; those women whose voices hit the air and sing out, whose laughter cracks through the clouds and make the rain fall in every color.   With women like these, no rainbow is needed because the rainbow is wrapped around them and expands with their breath, laughter, dreams; giving birth to more breath, more laughter, more dreams.

I can’t help but look at the youngsters ready to graduate from Elementary school and wonder what pictures, poems and stories await them.  I see all the children, all colors and backgrounds and voices.  I think about my own elementary school graduation.  I was a skinny little boy who’d broken his leg in a car accident.  I was hobbling around on crutches.  I remember those days in the city but those days are like broken reflections shed from the skin of a mirror.  I see the generations pass by me, faster and faster, and I look at the trees lining the street in silent celebration.  I see little boys dressed like men, neckties, slacks, hair greased sideways and upward and forward.  The little boys run about and the little girls are dressed like their mothers.  And the kids are on the stage in caps and gowns.  And the kids have names like Tiburcio, Akil, Octavio, Fazon, Valeria, Maifa, Maricruz and other names that are poems waiting to be born and sung into the San Francisco air.

The theater is packed and the kids give speeches that speak of the struggle of their parents to raise them.  Some spoke of their immigrant families and told their stories in English and Spanish, their voices rising like trees into the expanding sky.  And as each child’s name was called to accept their graduation certificates, the mothers, uncles, grandparents, brothers and sisters released their own pent up dreams, rising from seats, not holding back.  In a chorus of affirming claps and declarations of pride and calling out of names that would be the envy of any church or arena, those parents and friends showed who they were—down home folks with booming voices and emotion that pour freely.  Their voices, their presence, their children are the meaning of San Francisco.  Their faces are the color of flowers that need to stay here.  Will these children be here, will they grow up here?  Or will they be evicted from the landscape in which they give color.  Will their faces be part of the mural that tells the story of our city or will there not be a place for murals anymore?


Dead Air

I. Testing testing one-two-three
There was a radio station at my
School and there was a booth
With a microphone and a DJ behind the
Glass and those buttons and switches
Lit like Xmas candy and melting butterflies
And I thought it was an aquarium of sound
And I remember my grandmother telling me
About a guy who said, “There’s a sucker born
Every minute” and I was in school and I
Couldn’t be a sucker and I’d watch the DJ
Talk into the mic behind that glass
As those candy lights glowed
And I thought, this must be real

II. Testing testing one-two-three
I got on that radio station after
Much testing about the history of radio
And basic audio production and the difference
Between amplitude modulation and frequency
Modulation and a potentiometer or “Pot” for
Short and I smoked no pot but the pots were
Round and they controlled the meter and the
Little needle that fluttered back and forth, trying
To stay out of the red, don’t over-modulate but
Don’t under-modulate either, watch the needle,
Always watch the needle

III. Testing testing one-two-three
First day on the air, I was given an
Airshift sometime in the afternoon and I sat
In the booth with two turntables, cart machines,
A microphone and all those candy colored buttons
And I sat in a chair that had wheels but there was
No safety belt and I proceeded to play a record at
The wrong speed and I forgot to sign my program
Log and I turned on the mic, all I had to say were
The station’s call letters: K-C-S-F
And I had rehearsed it hundreds of times, in my
Sleep, in the halls, in the toilet…four simple letters
And I took a deep breath as the candy colored
Lights held breath

IV. Testing testing one-two-three
Man, what the fuck was that? The
Lights asked. You got popcorn stuck
In your mouth? Can’t you talk? Can’t
You say four simple letters? My tongue
Mastered every imaginable knot. The hard
Candy lights were splinters on my tongue
Leaving me with neon colored paper cuts that
Bled the color of leaves falling silently outside
The building while I tried over and over to say
4 simple letters: K-C-S-F

V. Testing testing one-two-three
I finally got those call letters out
Of my mouth as well as the time and
Temperature and I gave the time so much
That I began giving the time in different time
Zones and the temperatures on different planets
All of this while eating potato chips and getting
Fingerprints on the buttons and switches

VI. Testing testing one-two-three
One day the microphone died
The candy colored buttons wouldn’t light up
The turntables came to a halt
I opened my mouth…K-C-S-F
And nothing came out but shadows wrapped
In the skin of warped records and I coughed
Hard and the station engineer, who looked like
He came straight out of the Farm Bureau of
Investigation kicked open the door and said, what
The hell did you do? And I opened my mouth but
All that came out was dead air

VII. Testing testing one-two-three
Testing the temperature
Testing the time
Testing the waters of sound
Testing the dimly lit lights
No microphone
No booth
No glass
Just air

VII. Testing testing one-two-three
Four simple letters, K-C-S-F
A poem
From outside the glass
Dead air, alive
among the leaves

© 2018 Tony Robles

I Do Love You

On the corner
Where the edges
Have grown dull

A suitcase
Picks up the
Discarded pieces

The missed notes
The cracked dishes
Socks with holes
Cups with missing
Photos without

A suitcase
Dragging a name
Across a street

The sound
A slurring of
Distances between
Curse and silence
Sibilance and siren

A bridge collapsed
Swallowed by a headline
Nobody read

And the suitcase
Drags across
Our streets

Leaving behind
A slag of honey

And the words:
I do love you

© 2018 Tony Robles


Trippin’ over thoughts
Trippin’ over the past
Trippin’ over shoelaces
Trippin’ over yesterday’s news
Trippin’ over the mirrors
That reflect every bad move
Made on the chessboard of
My skin
Trippin’ over the years that
Were hiccups that never
Fully developed
Trippin’ when I should be walking
Trippin’ over the extension cord
Connecting to a record player that
Doesn’t play, radios whose innards
Have been gutted
Trippin’ over empty cans
Whose contents doused the flames
And left a trail that followed
Me into the potholes gasping for
Trippin’ over warrantees and
Warrants that extend over lifetimes
Trippin’ over cigarette butts
And sucked wind
Trippin’ and slippin’ into
Something I can’t get out of
Trippin’ over sentences
Not fully formed
Sentences sent sent
To a detention I still trip
Still trippin’
Don’t trip

© 2018 Tony Robles

The Bill

The bill is due. It has been due. It is due now and there is no way to determine when the bill will be paid or the debt forgiven. But we all know, in the crevices of our bones, in the shell of our consciousness, that the bill is due and can only be paid if we are willing to give up our lives. In giving up our lives we must be willing to kill. We must be willing to kill the notions and assumptions that have been slashed and seared into our skin. We must shun them as they have shunned us. We must kill the thing that has dimmed the light in us. The expense—the debt—has accrued. How to measure the sadness, the desolate moments, the massacres of body, soul and mind? The bill has come due. The price has been paid but the bill is due. The bill, the cost, the obligation, is in us in the tattered pieces of a torn quilt; the quilt that is us, the quilt that provided warmth, the quilt that was sewn and torn and mended—created by hands of every color.


The bill or, the price, has been calculated, miscalculated, misrepresented yet it cannot be distorted, for the truth surely comes to light. Ignorance is no longer an excuse to buttress our delusions. The voices of the past have warned us—voices from this country’s inception—and, more importantly, from before its inception—pre-theft, massacres and genocide– when the spiritual guardians of this land took under consideration the spiritual context of the earthly, respecting what was given, what was breathed into existence. The inner contempt for what is good has turned outward and again inward. The debt came   with the ships whose cargo was swallowed by the sea, the DNA, the root of who we are—drowned, submerged into what would become myth, legend and finally, truth that could not be ignored as the blood cried out from under the waters that moved across our bodies.


The bill is due, it can no longer be subdued by subtext that omit us and by that omission, omitting the whole that is us, the ones who were brought to the continent of land and mind, spirit and dream and those who came of their own volition, whose circumstances are as varied as he amoebas below, the stars in the sky. Our poets, prophets, scholars, thinkers—and those who moved them to speak truth—are appendages and witnesses to all that have been apprehended and held hostage. The desecration of our lands came at the expense of the desecration of our minds. Looking out into the streets—day or night—we see the outcomes, the sum of the choices that have been made or, more accurately, imposed upon us–the slumping silence, the mangled limbs, the swollen feet, the eyes that have seen too much death. Death, the thousand deaths, the overt death, the undetected death, the death in the smile of a palm, the death in the face of indifference; death cannibalizing death, feeding on itself.


The writer Oscar Penaranda spoke of this in a story called, “The Price”—a tale of two brothers fighting over the fate of a piece of family land. One brother sees the land as useless, the other sees it as what it is—land–something that should be honored for what it is—something that exists. What to do with it? Sell it, one brother says—it is craggy, not being used for anything. We can sell, the other brother says, but at what price? Are you willing to pay the price, to live with the price? In the middle is the young nephew who must weigh both points of view—and pledge his loyalty to one. We are left in the end to ponder the notion of cost and price and the ramifications of each as the line that divides both is not as clear cut as one would believe.


Who is to pay the price for the collective human cost, or, if you will, the infrastructure of skin, bone, breath, spirit–that has been fractured? T o whom do we point the finger of accountability in search of an answer, or at the very least, a clue? Our interconnectedness has been impounded in the sanctum of false security, social media disguising itself as true community, religion disguising itself as God, Creator– hate sauntering the runways disguised as love; meanwhile the slaughterhouses stay hidden from view—severing connections with the preciseness of a guillotine—where spirit, consciousness, ethics—fall to the floor in the offal of what might have been. The bill is due.