The Loft

The Loft
By Tony Robles

In the Blue Ridge Mountains
of North Carolina far away
from blue Hawaii, the voice of
Elvis comes through the speakers
as you work your first day in
the kitchen

“When My blue moon turns to gold again”

Through a hiss of static
The boss says, slice the potatoes
while chomping on a barbequed
rib during a lull

the potatoes sit on the counter
like shapeless Buddah’s
one by one you put them through
the slicer

fresh chips to go
with burgers

The thinly sliced potatoes
resemble tongues submerged
in slightly murky water

next are the onions,
purple, cutting the tops
and running through
the slicer

plum colored tears
well up in your eyes

the cheese is next,
a cut above the
government variety

and you shave slices
from that block of orange,
tears still in your eyes
wondering if you’ll lose
a finger or hand in
the slicer

How would you write
Poems?

On the shelves above
are thyme, basil, oregano,
soy sauce, chopped scallions,
Chili flakes, Dijon mustard
sesame see oil, Worcestershire
sauce and a bottle of 4 Monks
cooking sherry

close by sits some white
wine in a cardboard box,
a spout on the front

You look for a dimple
of moon in the darkening
sky while contemplating turning
the spout and letting it fall
into your gaping mouith

Elvis’ voice fades
and you cut and slice
with the discipline

of a monk

(C) 2019 Tony Robles

Collision in Western North Carolina

and how are you this
morning? the man asked
as we stood in line at the
dollar store

outside the season
is turning

Others in
line nod and acknowledge
each other in kinship’s
Currency

Autumn’s splayed songs
announce reds, yellows, golds,
While multi-toned voices
intone, “It’s gettin’
a bit nippy, isn’t it?”

a pot of greens
simmers in a home
up the road

the man smiles at me,
wears a gray blue suit
and burgundy tie

he looks like a minister
but I discount that assumption
because it is Sunday,
1145 am and also because
we are in line at the dollar
store and to discount seems
the appropriate thing to do

a man of the cloth
would surely be in
church about now

maybe on his way

his purchase: a greeting
card with a picture of two
dogs, an English bulldog
and a dachshund wearing
knit sweaters

(and a bottle of mouthwash)

the card’s caption:
This is no ordinary friendship

have a nice day
the man says
leaving

the cashier
rings me up

Outside the reds
golds and yellows
brush against a palette
of sky

colliding

(c) 2019 Tony Robles

Cottonmouth

Always on guard
for someone who’ll
say something stupid

the mouth carries so much
memories
malice
music

on the tip of
tongue the marriage
of heart and mind

welded into something

I’m gonna knock the
taste out of your mouth,
I remember someone saying
once

and a young guy at the
checkout counter rings
up my turkey necks and
vegetables at the market

we used to hunt
turkeys back
home, he said,
showing teeth covered
in shadow

cottonmouths too, you
know what a cottonmouth
is?

A snake, I say

When I was a kid I almost
ran one over on my bike
in Florida but I don’t tell him

He bags my groceries

You take care now,
have a wonderful night,
God bless

I pick up my
grocery bag carrying
a cottonmouth

I walk into the
night of words

his words

a twang of moon
on the edge of tongue

that were not stupid

(c) 2019 Tony Robles

Head on: A Review of Elmer Omar Bascos Pizo’s “Leaving Our Shadows behind Us”

What lives in shadows–pain, grief, tragedy?  The poet brings these things to life, pulling away shadows that swallow our humanity and memory. The poet is intimate with what most see as insignificant, bringing it to light–the past, present and, most importantly, grace—the connective tissue in the search for meaning.  The poems of Elmer Omar Basco Pizo’s new collection, “Leaving our Shadows Behind Us”—published by Bamboo Ridge Press in Hawaii, is a glimpse into the soul of Filipinos in the diaspora; from the Philippines to Saudi Arabia to Hotel Street in Honolulu.  This is a poetry that connects us as Filipinos, through our contradictions, pain, humor and, finally, resilience, perhaps our greatest virtue.  The poems address the complexities of what it means to be a Filipino.  From the poem, “Identity”

From the venerated stones of my river

Where mudfish bump hibernating catfish,

Where spiders in muddy rice fields weave their geometric webs,

To the volcanic fires of Mayon, Taal, and Pinatubo,

The verdant forests of the Cordilleras,

The variegated blues of the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea,

Surrounding the islands of the Philippines,

This is what I am:

The price of grace is the endurance of the spirit in the shadows of hardships and injustice of this world.  The poet honors those whose lives have formed his poetry, the “web of broken lines” in a hand that has worked, touching the most precious things, bearing them as gifts to the eyes of the poet to behold who, in turn, plants it deep only to bloom in poems bursting, telling stories that refuse to be silent.

He continues, through poetry, to tell the story of his people, with whom he cannot extricate himself:

The common folk who still gargle water scooped

With coconut ladles from clay water jars,

Instead of the Nescafe` vintage drinking glasses of the 1970’s

The dried hands of mothers mending

Tattered clothes beside flickering kerosene lamps

Where gullible moths are tempted to flirt

With deceitful flames

In his poetry, Pizo mends what is intent on breaking the heart and spirit of our community and the individual.  This is a poet that has lived and experienced the harshest of trauma; receiving beatings from a father for any perceived infraction of the rules in his “Imaginary kingdom” to the humiliation of physical torture in another kingdom– Saudi Arabia—where he worked as an Greenhouse Agriculturalist, one of many overseas Filipino workers (OFW’s) and was beaten every Friday for 4 months for standing up against the mistreatment of workers.

These masters thought we contract workers

were lambs or goats bound at their feet

to be slashed across their jugulars,

as offerings,

making sure the desert bloomed

After his stint in Saudi Arabia—a 2 year contract—Pizo returned to the Philippines, beset by another tragedy; the bus he was on collided with another bus head-on, causing the death of an elderly woman sitting next to him and 5 other passengers.  Pizo suffered a concussion, losing his short term memory.  At the behest of his neurologist, he began writing as part of his therapy.

This poetry has depth yet its message—its soul and spirit—is not negated or diminished by the poet’s time spent in the kingdoms of academia, where he was a fellow at Silliman University and at the Vermont Art Center.  On a panel of poets at the Filipino book festival, Pizo belied his identity as poet with humor, asserting: “I’m not a poet, I just like to carve wood”.  His voice is many voices, for the poet has lived many lives and articulates the unsevered connection between poet and land, poet and ritual, poet and community.  It is poetry that reconciles and is vulnerable—a vulnerability that is informed by strength.  Pizo teaches, but is not pedantic; he is not interested in lecturing.  His poems are a handful of soil, to be felt and scattered.

I had the pleasure of seeing Pizo read at the Filipino American International Book Festival in San Francisco, an event held every two years that attracts Filipino-American and Filipino authors in the diaspora. It was my first encounter with him.  I found him to be very warm and when he informed the audience he lived in Hawaii—has lived there 31 years—I wanted to shout out, “Eh Braddah!”  I felt an instant connection with his heartfelt poetry; I could smell the bagoong, the chicharrones, dried pusit—throughout the auditorium.  Of course, there is the voice of the manong, surviving through poetry, singing Sinatra’s “My Way” in a way that only a manong can:

ay did iiit myyy weeeyyyyyy!  Tenk you beri mats!

The poetry in this collection is a balm for the scars we carry.  As he writes describing his mother in the aftermath of a beating inflicted upon him by his father:

Struggling to pour the oil into the palm of her left hand ruined by a web of broken lines, she whispered: Everything will be all right

The poems of Elmer Omar Bascos Pizo is the oil that provides comfort to the bruises and scars borne; an ointment of resilience and, ultimately, grace.  These poems confront who we are: head-on.

(Picture by Hawaii Public Radio)

(C) 2019 Tony Robles

Greeting Card North Carolina

and how are you this
morning? the man asked
as we stood in line at the
dollar store

outside the season
is turning

Others in
line nod and acknowledge
each other in kinship’s
currency

Autumn’s splayed songs
in reds, yellows, golds,
Voices in many
tones intone, “It’s gettin’
a bit nippy, isn’t it?”

a pot of greens
simmers in a home
up the road

the man smiles at me,
wears a gray blue suit
and burgundy tie

he looks like a minister
but I discount that assumption
because it is Sunday,
1145 am

a man of the cloth
would surely be in
church about now

maybe on his way

his purchase: a greeting
card with a picture of two
dogs, an English bulldog
and a dachshund wearing
knit sweaters

(and a bottle of mouthwash)

the card’s caption:
This is no ordinary friendship

have a nice day
the man says
leaving

the cashier
rings me up

Outside the reds
golds and yellows
brush against a palette
of sky

We collide

(c) 2019 Tony Robles

“For So Long”–a poem for Filipino-American History Month in Western North Carolina by poet Rachel De Guzman

Filipino.
What does it mean to be Filipino?
Is it heaps of food on banana leaves
Or the feeling of family
we give and receive?
For so long, I didn’t know.
For so long, I felt alienated by the people of my ethnicity.
For so long, I wished for the gift of tongues.
For so long, I wanted the dark skin that my friends and family had
yet I was praised for my light skin.
I was introduced to the unrealistic beauty standards held by society.
I learned to hate my Asian features
Loathe my Asian features.
I wanted golden hair and wide eyes
that contained clear and shiny and bright blue skies.
For so long I thought I was too sensitive to handle a joke.
They stretched their eyes
at me, they poked.
Then I met a community of people just like me
I decided I will not stand for the normalization of discrimination and racism towards myself
and others.
I will not stand for the erasure of my heritage.
For so long I hated my dark hair
that looks brown when it’s sunny
My black coffee eyes that
In the light were swirling pools of honey
For so long I wished to be anything but Filipino
My heart aches with sorrow for those experiencing those feelings of self-hatred
hating their heritage, wishing to erase it
but I long for the day they will embrace it.
So what does it mean to be Filipino?
It means to be hospitable, faithful, creative, joyful and so much more.
I will appreciate what make me…me.
For so long?
Forever

(C) Rachel DeGuzman 2019

I Gotcha

Always get lost in
My city

This city that
Birthed me and
Unearthed me

The map of Frisco
On the tilted tongue
Asking for directions
In Oakland

Where’s the BART
Station?

And this young black
Sister says, it’s
Over there, no, it’s
Over here, about
40 feet, looking at
Her cell phone map

Young sister with
Hooded windbreaker
Gold tinged hair
And stride to match

She walks me
Across the street
In the direction of
Four Corners

I appreciate it,
I tell her

I gotcha, she says

And I got got

Felt good gettin’
Got

I be gotten
Not forgotten
Heading to a city
That forgets

Begets
Broken Souls
Promises

I wade
In the rigid streets

Remembering that young
Black queen who said

“I gotcha”

(C) 2019 Tony Robles