Oakland Morning

The sun painted
Its song across
The strip of earth known
As MacArthur Blvd

An Oakland
Morning

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
Away

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

San Francisco Eviction Sale

For sale:

The empty shoes of poets
A guitar body shorn of strings
Grandma’s cast iron pan with decades of
Built-on grease
A pot minus soil

For sale:

Our black skin
Our brown bones
The yellow leaves floating
In pools of our eyes

For sale:

Grandma’s tortilla hands
The guts of grandpa’s old transistor radio and his
Old racing forms
The squeaky staircase
The stained glass windows stained with wine
The murphy bed whose springs announce spring
All year round

For sale:

The rolling hills
Of the working shoulders that
Built North Beach

For sale:

An arm
A leg
A wing
A thigh
(all parts that gave their lives
To the city of St. Francis)

For sale:

The sacred playground
Where we grew up, where
The asphalt collected pieces of
Our skin like a living scrap book
Making us one with it

For sale:

The bridge that no longer connects us
The bridge with the faulty bolts
The crooked grinning street that leads
To city hall

For sale:

Our soul that is
A thin film floating
On the bay

Our heart that
Was once black, brown, yellow
Red—now bleached the color
Of nothing

For sale:

Our murals
That move across
Our skin and out of
The city

Giveaway:

Our dignity
Our spirit
Our class

At this
Eviction sale

© 2015 Tony Robles

Hawaii 79

I didn’t know a damn

Thing about Hawaii

Except what I’d seen

On TV

 

And there was, of course,

That football jersey that

Someone had given me

That had the word “Hawaii”

Printed on it above the number

79

 

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

Places

 

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

House

 

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

All

 

 

© 2015 Tony Robles

 

 

 

 

Oakland Morning

The sun painted

Its song across

The strip of earth known

As MacArthur Blvd

 

An Oakland

Morning

 

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

Away

 

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

Ithuriels

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.

Done

“Done”
By Tony Robles

The city
that done
did

did done…

done did
you me he
and she

the city that
done did
you

over easy
upside down
downside up
rare
medium well
al dente

the city
that keeps
doing you

the city
that done
forgot how

to do
it

don’t do
me like
that

don’t do
me that
way

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

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
“Rough!”
“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”
“Oh”
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.
“Ruff!”
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.
“Rough!”
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

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