San Francisco Poet Laureates Statement of Support for North Beach Poet Diego De Leo, 81, who is fighting eviction from his home of more than 30 years

 

We, present and former poet laureates of San Francisco, fully support

the effort of North Beach poet Diego De Leo, his neighbors and community

advocates, in fighting an attempt by his landlord to remove him from his

home of more than 30 years by eviction via the Ellis Act.

 

 

Diego lives on Chestnut Street, his home for more than 3 decades.  He is

81 years old and a poet.  He came to the US in 1956 at the age of 17 and

describes his relationship with San Francisco as “Love at first sight”.

He married his late wife, Josephine, at Saints Peter and Paul Church and

helped build the community of North Beach, whose values of sharing,

preserving history and respecting elders are falling to the forces of

unbridled greed plaguing the city.

 

 

Diego’s landlord, Martin Coyne–owner of neighborhood bar, LaRocca’s

corner– is using the Ellis Act to evict Diego.  This is Coyne’s second

attempt to evict Diego–his first attempt was described as “fatally

defective” by lawyers representing Diego.  Coyne has enlisted notorious

Ellis eviction firm, Zacks, Freedman & Patterson in the upcoming trial

set for late August.

 

 

Of course, this is about greed.  Speculators and landlords abuse the

Ellis Act to evict tenants with the intention of “flipping”

buildings–selling quickly at a profit.  Seniors are preyed upon, some

end up homeless; others, such as North Beach tenant Elaine Turner, die

under the stress.

 

 

We condemn the eviction of Diego, a senior and treasure of the community

of North Beach.  He is a poet whose verses are a portent to what San

Francisco is becoming–a city devoid of memory and a spirit that is

eroding.  We, as poets, have a responsibility to speak the truth and to

denounce the unbridled greed and impunity with which landlords and

speculators are allowed to operate in our city.

 

 

We demand that Martin Coyne drop the Ellis Act eviction against Diego.

We demand that he not induce more stress upon an 81 year old man

whose health is dependent on a stable home.  Let Diego continue to

enrich his community with poems and the warmth of his spirit.

 

 

Signed,

 

 

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, SF Poet Laureate Emeritus 1998-2000

 

Janice Mirikitani, SF Poet Laureate Emeritus 2001-2003

 

devorah major, SF Poet Laureate Emeritus 2003-2005

 

Jack Hirschman, SF Poet Laureate Emeritus 2006-2009

 

Diane di Prima, SF Poet Laureate Emeritus 2010-2012

 

Alejandro Murguia, current Poet Laureate of San Francisco 2013-Present

 

Leaving SF (For Candy)

A not so
Innocent
Bystander

On stand by
Standing by

The birds
Stripped of song
Pluck the sleep
From my eyes

Guitars float
Neckless across
The splintered
Face of the bay

My skin, taut and
built up with
Years of
Fog, mist and the
Unseen sediment
Of soil

Eye sores and
Faults plague my
Skin at a distance

Oh, San Francisco
An incantation of
Cants

Can’t leave
Can’t stay
Can’t remember
Can’t forget
Can’t deny
Can’t cry
Can’t love
Can’t hate
You

SF, a lump
Of feelings in
My throat

An inhale of
Fog

Exhaled

© 2016 Tony Robles

The City

It’s your heaven
It’s your hell
It’s your blue tears
Turned a shade of
Jade

It’s your birthright
Bath water
It’s your afterbirth
Undertow

It’s your
Traveling circus
With rhinestones
Cut into the eyes

It’s your discretion
Or lack of

It’s 2 bridges
That don’t
Connect

It’s your
Passport without
A pass

It’s a dog run
Where everyone
Marks their territory

It’s recycled stories
And recycled lives
Sifted and resold in
Thrift stores and
Rest homes and
Single room hotels

It’s fog trapped
And stifled in
Throats

It’s imported jars of
Tails, eyes, noses,
Tongues and umbilical
Cords pickled, preserved
And pitted against itself

It’s a punch press
Postcard slipping
Inside oily microfiche

It’s the silent
Vendetta humming
In your pockets

Before they
Are picked

It’s the city

(C) 2016 Tony Robles

Finding your voice

I lost a set
Of keys a
While back

Keys to my
House, my
Job, my bike
Lock and keys
Whose holes
Are a mystery

The right key
Opens the right
Door and there
Are lots of doors
That you’ll walk
In to with the wrong
Key

And sometimes you
Have the right key
And the right door
Opens

And the right sound
Hits you like a
Right cross and
That sound becomes
A part of you

And that key
Gets in your
Throat

Letting out
What you
Have to say

as only you
Can say it

In the right
Way

(C) Tony Robles 2016

Painted Ladies

The ladies I see
Are not painted
But have been
Stripped of much

Love
Trust
Rest
Dreams

Somehow they
Keep going forward
Presenting themselves
In a harvest of hues
Despite the weather

And a lady
Carried the hurt
Down Mission Street
One Friday

Walking past the
Suitcases looking for
A place to unload what
Is left

Into her cellphone
She unloads:

Motherfucker, don’t
Give me that shit. I told
You not to mess with me

And her blackness
Was dyed another shade
And walking towards her
Was an older black woman
Pushing a grocery basket

And the younger woman
Continued into her
Phone:
listen motherfucker…

And the older woman
Stopped, her head rising,
Her eyes following the
Younger woman

Excuse me sister,
She said

She walked over to
The younger woman
And gently took a hold
Of her arm

And words were
Said

And soon the
Younger woman and
Older woman were laughing

And the younger woman
Waved her hand as if touched
By the spirit and said, “Lord
Have mercy, I know that’s right”

And they parted
With the words,
God bless you sister

And Mission Street
Kept going:

The street sweeper
Kept sweeping

The paletero kept
Selling his ice cream

The palm trees
Kept being what
They were

And the older
Black woman pushed
Her empty grocery basket

God
Bless

© 2016 Tony Robles.

Smiling Faces

There are people
In this city that
Haven’t smiled
In years

Faces with scars
That betray hearts
Carved into the bark
Of trees

Faces that carry
The legacies of
Languages alien
To the blood

Faces turned
Inward looking for
The illusive sanctum
Of smile

The black suppressed
Laughter of bones
Kindling the memory
Of spirits

The sphinx
Is a fallen crown
A frown

Smiles stored
In jars
Preserved by
Who knows what

There are people
In this city that
Haven’t smiled in
Years

How many
Years

Can you
Fit

In a smile?

© Tony Robles 2016

415

It was code
Before the
Coders blew in

And caught a code
And sneezed over
The city
Strands of
Digital tinsel

So shiny
So bright

It was code
That cannot
Be decoded

Nor can it be
Removed by any
Number of anorexic
Keys meant to pick
The locks of our homes

It was the code
That were our mother’s
Recipes that were too
Precious for paper

Or digital fingers

Code that can’t
Be bought, sold or
Cracked

No matter how
Much snow is
Planted on our
Bodies

Or crucifixions
By landlords decreed
By greed

It’s our
Code

Ours

(C) 2016 Tony Robles

Fillmore Born, Still Here

Saw this cat named Terry on the bus the other day.  Some guys are like a breath of fresh air.  Not Terry.  He’s a breath of cologne.  I don’t wear cologne but there’s something about Terry’s cologne.  It’s a subtle scent that doesn’t overpower you.  You just know it’s there.  He wears these velvet jogging suits that are smooth and loose.  That’s Terry, smooth and loose.  We ran into each other on the #5 Fulton heading downtown.  Riding the #5 can be depressing.  All those faces, that twisted mass of tech-washed gentrification that has overrun the city of my birth.  I can barely stand it, that sense of entitlement of the techies, the coffee sippers—those financial sector technocrats whose presence radiates so much death of sprit. I try not to look but they’re all over the place so I close my eyes.

 

He got on board on Fillmore Street.  The door opened and that cologne hit me.  I looked up. “Hey Anthony” a voice called out.  I was drawn in by his gaze.  His eyes are somewhat unfocused yet radiate a smile contrived only of an honesty of the moment.  “What’s happening, Terry?” I said.  Terry moves a bit unsteadily, having been in a car accident years ago.  Sometimes when talking, his attention drops off.  Perhaps it is the area of lost consciousness that lands like a cloud, those precious moments when he slips into the subconscious street of his mind, where words and songs echo to the surface.  Terry—Fillmore-born, still here.  We got off downtown. We walked a couple blocks to Market Street.  I remembered the way he walked from when I first met him.  I was a vocational rehabilitation counselor for an employment training program run by a local non-profit organization.  Most of the participants in the program had developmental disabilities.  The training facility was an assembly center where the workers sorted, counted, weighed and packed mosaic tiles for shipping to retail outlets.  My job was to supervise the workers, which is always uncomfortable because I see myself as a worker and not a supervisor.

 

I hit it off with Terry.  We’d laugh and he’d sit and count those tiles like they were poker chips.  But he would sometimes lose count and have to start over again.  His eyes would drift to the women in the program.  He liked talking to the girls, always complimenting them on what they were wearing.  I’d say, “Hey Terry, you can’t do that.  Ain’t you ever heard of sexual harassment?”  Terry’s gaze would drift away for a few seconds.  “You’re a motherfuckin’ killjoy” he’d answer, smiling.  “You’re right about that” I’d answer.

 

We walked to Market Street. Terry has moved on to a profession better suited to his passion.  He sells mix CD’s.  Five bucks a pop.  He pulls out a small binder filled with CD’s in transparent sleeves.  He asks me what I like.  I ask him what he has.  Fast jams or slow jams, whatever you want, he tells me.  I tell him to set me up with slow jams.  He pulled a CD out of its sleeve.  He had a playlist to go with it, not digitized and impersonal but handwritten on good, old-fashioned lined paper:

 

              “Ole School Mixed Slow Ballads”

  1. Sho’ Nuff must be love—Heatwave
  2. Do Me Baby—Prince
  3. I’ll be there—Jackson 5
  4. Hanging Downtown—Cameo
  5. Got to Be there—Jackson 5
  6. Do Me—Rick James
  7. Never Can Say Goodbye—Jackson 5
  8. Between the Sheets—Isley Brothers
  9. What’s your sign—Danny Pearson
  10. Natural High—Bloodstone
  11. Oh Honey—Delegation
  12. Be My girl—Dramatics
  13. What’s come over me—Blue Magic
  14. Sparkle (in your eye)—Cameo
  15. Fell for you—Dramatics
  16. Didn’t I blow your mind this time—Delfonics

 

We parted ways.  I had my mix CD.  It sat in my bag a couple of days.  Terry called me and asked me what I thought of the CD and I told him that I hadn’t listened yet but would soon.  He called again and again I told him I’d listen as soon as I could.  I finally found a perfect time to listen—at work.  I popped in that CD and let it play. Now, I don’t know how it happened but I got mellow and loose and hell if I didn’t look at myself and see that I was wearing a velvet jogging suit.  And that smell, is it cologne?  Damn, Terry got me again.  How am I going to get any work done today?

 

Hey Terry, thanks for the music, thanks for being here.  I never knew a jogging suit could fit so well.  Thanks.

                                                 

 

 

San Francisco, We can’t afford you

We can’t afford
you

can’t afford the
tremors of your
half smiles

can’t afford your
see saws weighed
down with quaint
rudeness

can’t afford your seismic
under the table
handshakes

Can’t afford
Your red carpet
Denial.

can’t afford your
ruins hidden under
the robes of judges

can’t afford the half
moon creases under
the eyes of elders while
vultures pick the lint from
their pockets

Can’t afford to
Be force fed fog
Dragged like a dead
Body and laced with
Bitter pills

can’t afford the
leeches living rent
free on our skin

can’t afford the hiked
up skirt of real estate
whores

can’t afford the murals
plucked from our
eyes

cant’ afford
police bullets dipped
in blood of black
and brown

can’t afford your scentless
sanitized sense of
self

Can’t afford
Tech antennas
Transmitting snow

can’t afford your
cathedrals of one
way mirrors

can’t afford the bad
checks written on
our backs

can’t afford the toxic
air breathed thru
straws

can’t afford the speculation
of long distance lullabyes
wagering the day and
hour of our death

can’t afford eyes
prying open the doors
of memory without
permission, without
thank you

City of
St. Francis

we can’t
afford your
shit

anymore

(c) 2016 Tony Robles

Friscopino II

Friscopino is a pot
Of mispronounced
Names that go
Undigested, burning
In our ears and throat

Friscopino is Filipino
From SF

Filipino and black
Black and Filipino
Filipino and Mexican
Mexican and Filipino
Filipino and Italian
Italian and Filipino
Filipino and Chinese
Chinese and Filipino
Filipino and native
Native and Filipino

And other mixtures
In our Lola’s pot
That gave birth to
What is Friscopino

Friscopino is my
Veins clogged with
Diniguan shadows
That live in the pores

Friscopino is never
Forgetting where you
Came from

Friscopino is
Fish bones in my
Throat and socks
That smell like adobo

Friscopino is the
Shame we have in
The parts of us that
Are the most beautiful

Friscopino is the
Black in us that
Can’t be denied

Friscopino is bad
And loud with a
Heart too big for
The chest

Friscopino is a
Tattoo that covers
Our pain

Friscopino is the
Proud lechon skin
That covers our
Bones

Friscopino
Is Filipino From
Frisco

And everything
That comes with
It

(C). Tony Robles 2016

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