Laffing Sal

Sal, I ain’t
Seen you in
A long while

I remember the
Laughter trapped
In your belly that
Somehow found escape
At the fun house at
The beach

And the waves
Crashed against
The rocks in the
Distance while the
Undertow sucked
Sunlight through an
Invisible straw along
With soda pop of
Every flavor

You laughed at us
As we bumped into
Our reflection in mirrors
That bent our shapes
In every direction with
Our minds to follow

And slides and bumper
Cars that were solid
Like Studebakers, a
Bump, more like a crash
That could jar the bones

Sal, laughing lady
I miss your laughter
Your peanut and popcorn
Uncanned laughter
That you could hear in
A seashell across the
Street if you didn’t have
The price for admission

Sal, I envied the way
You laughed through

The fights between
The black kids from
Fillmore and the white
Boys out in the Avenues

Jabbing and hooking
And stomping in a dance
Over whose street was

Not to mention
Wars all over
The globe

And the bulldozers
And plots
And empty

lots of invisible lines
were crossed to get
to the fun house, to
get within earshot of
your laughter

invisible barriers
lines of demarcation
invisible bruises that
ripened below the surface

You laughed when
They took you out
Of the fun house

laughter that rendered
the ocean across the
street into a silence whose
fragrance remains moist
on the skin

And the
Sucked at the

And the condos
Rose where
You had once

Sal, are
You still

© 2017 Tony Robles



At City College I majored
In broadcasting with dreams
Of being a radio DJ in my
Hometown of San Francisco

One of the required classes
Was broadcast announcing
And the instructor was a well
Known radio talk show host
Who had access to news and
Commercial scripts

He was a black brother,
Sharp, suit and tie, had
Apparently gone to Harvard

He had an affinity for
The Kennedys and was
Obviously extremely educated

My fellow classmates and I
Would read those scripts,
Slipping, stumbling and stuttering
Through sentences typed by
Someone we didn’t know

“Come to KC Dodge for
The best deals on cars and
Trucks in the Bay area!”

But when the instructor
Read them it sounded like
His voice had been carved
From a perfect wall of sound,
Each sound wave free of blips
Burps, hiccups

My grandmother listened to
His talk show and remarked,
He was a black guy who should
Have been a white guy

It was rather funny but if he
Was standing in front of talking
And you closed your eyes you’d
Swear he was white

But our eyes were
Open and he was black,
A Richmond District black
Brother with black roots
On a street paved gray

And one day he invited
The general manager of the
Top radio station in town for
A visit

And the kindly white haired
General manager spoke to us
About the inner workings of
A radio station

And one of my classmates,
A young black brother
With a voice that didn’t sound
Like the instructor’s blurted
Out a question, cutting off
The general manager in the
Middle of his presentation

“What about infliction?
I want to know about

I thought to myself,
He means inflection

And the instructor, a
Bit embarrassed, walked
Over to my classmate
And whispered something

Infliction was not
Heard again for
The remainder of
The presentation

Much has happened in
The 3 decades that
Have passed

The kindly radio station
General manager died, the
Announcing teacher continued
His successful radio talk
Show before landing a job
In local politics

The city lost 21% of
Its black population
And 10,000 Latino

The police are shooting
At folks that look
Like my classmates from
City College

And the homeless
Bear witness to
It all

I never became
A radio DJ in San
Francisco but a
Poet instead

And that classmate
Those many years ago
Had it right all along:


© 2018 Tony Robles


Walking up 24th street
In a suit carrying memory’s
Dust from an attic that
Was said to be escape proof

A black man
Walks a line
Imaginary yet real

A line crossed
Cut into wrist & palm
As gutters drink the
Dreams of murals

The soles of his feet
Balancing the complexity
Of his stride

Bearing more than
Most in the shadow’s
Witness of sun

On the crown of his
Head he balances
A plastic bag filled
With papers
Covered in hand scrawled

Loops, dips
Circles, flat lines

carved into
his face of misshapen

A language
Of womb

The shape of a life
In balance
At an angle

Offering words
of balance
While platters of
imbalance waver,

Crossing onto South
Van Ness Ave
Crossing every border
In pure balance, brilliance

Wading across the taut
Tightness of tightrope
In repose

Proving that the
Best poems come
Off the top of your head

© 2018 Tony Robles

On People Behaving Badly: Stanley, We Ain’t Misbehavin’, we’re saving our love for you

Stanley, I heard you are retiring from KRON 4 along with that beacon of journalistic light, Gary Radnich. What will we do without you? How will we survive as a city, as a state—as a species, without your burly presence, armed with camera, to tell us, to tell the world, that we behaved, or behave, badly. Stanley, you were a TV God, a bonafide journalist of the highest degree. You were omnipresent—pointing your camera from trees, buildings, under the rug, under the table, from the mountains and valleys and in those hard to reach areas that required your keen eye. No part of our landscape escaped your scrutiny, your eye for showing us the worst of us. There’s Stanley on the corner holding—not a tin cup—but a camera, waiting for us to run that red light, to go astray and expose it to his legion of fans. There’s Stanley, panning left, panning right, for the gold nuggets of misbehavior—hypodermic needles, feces, illegal turns etc. etc., and exposing our hustles—yes, Chinese ladies reselling bags of food laden with salt and fat—that means you. A stroke couldn’t keep you away from this anointed duty, this mission, this cross to bear as you watched us cross on red with (or without) making the sign of the cross. You were back, as though you never left. I suppose it took a degree of genius to perform your duty. You took candid camera to another level. Where candid camera utilized humor, you utilized shame and disdain. We all, through technology, have phones with cameras. But it was a rare soul that could capture human nature—as you did—to give us a mirror of ourselves. And that voice, your narrations with those scolding inflections can only be described as soothing—if not reassuring. So sweet were your words that your segment should have been named, perhaps, candied camera. But perhaps we knew these things all along—before you decided to capitalize on them. Images and the presentation/manipulation of such are powerful. For the media access you had—rare digital real estate—why did you decide to point your camera at the worst of what we are? But what will we do, what fate awaits us without you to monitor our badly—if not bodily—functions? It seemed rather odd to me that you should devote such time and effort in highlighting so-called bad behavior, which promoted some of us to wonder if you were projecting your own shortcomings and insecurities onto other people. Perhaps, perhaps not. Did you point that camera at yourself? At what standard did Stanley hold himself to? Did he behave badly? I suppose we’ll never know. I do recall seeing you on 10th street one day, camera in hand, joshing and yucking it up with members of SFPD. You smiled and offered your fist, which they affectionately bumped. Racist text messages? The only thing going on was a brotherhood of the ‘bump’—and I suppose the good will will flow from there. Perhaps it is unfair to reduce your segment to a form of voyeurism and/or entrapment; you were, after all, showing us ourselves as we truly are. But in the process, there appeared to be something lacking. Empathy? Grace? Perhaps those things don’t matter anymore, as we are in a time when we want to see our fellow citizens fall and fail and get what’s coming to them. Perhaps it is unfair to judge you or even ponder your legacy, if any. A blip on the screen?A blimp? Time will tell. Cut to commercial…



© 2018 Tony Robles

The Day of the Big SRO Move

It was the day of the big move.  The SRO Citadel, on 6th Street, sat perched on granite.  It was among a bevy of residential hotels vying for the title of grand jewel of the SRO Kingdom.  It was an old building with old fashioned fire escapes and a for-sale sign affixed upon its drab colored bricks.  The citadel was sandwiched between a pawn shop and another SRO—a whole row that seemed in perpetual competition to one-up each other in a dignity derby of sorts.  Voices called out from windows:  I’m better than you. At least my toilet flushes!  And the response:  Well, at least our roaches are tame—they don’t walk out with the plastic dinnerware and SSI checks!  And the arguments would endlessly ensue; then a respite–wink, a closed window—and life goes on (or off).  But it was the day of the big move and Roy would be moving to another SRO, 3 or 4 blocks to the North, in close proximity to the nationally and internationally renowned “Church of the Eclectic Slide”, where all faiths, sexual orientations, political affiliations and dietary trends are welcome.  A move—or the thought of moving, for Roy, had big implications.  For Roy, to move—let’s say—from bed to bathroom, is, on some days, like moving from San Francisco to Denver by foot.  But despite his physical challenges, Roy maintains a good attitude which is often aided by a “Thank you Jesus” and tall can of domestic beer.


Roy had lived in his SRO (single room occupancy) unit for several years.  In that time he became a tenant representative, bringing tenant concerns to management.  At the top of the list of concerns/complaints was the building elevator.  The elevator would go down and not up, or up and not down.  Old parts, said management, was the heart of the problem; parts that needed to be custom made back east and shipped. Old parts.  Who in the Citadel didn’t have that problem?  Old backs, old arms, legs, torsos, feet, hairlines, knees—not to mention, minds.  How many had experienced the frustration of not being to move, to get up or get back down?  It was a metaphor for dysfunction and a purgatory of sorts—stuck in an elevator between up and down—a gray area getting grayer by the day–and in the ambiguity of time and space one can hear the faint voice of Curtis Mayfield:  If there’s a hell below…we’re all gonna go! 


Can you help me move?  5 words always caused me a feeling of dread. Yes, I replied.  What else could I say?  I considered Roy a friend and I thought that if I had bad knees, COPD, a bad back and host of other physical ailments, I’d want someone to help me.  “Yes, yes, I’ll help” I said.

“Ok, meet me at UHAUL on Sunday at 11:30”

I hung up and thought aloud…son of a bitch.  I arrived at UHAUL where Roy was leaning against the building, his belly protruding though his shirt in the morning sun.  He was already sweating.  His dog Elliot was on his leash, good natured, twitching—looking like a milk dud come to life.  We got the truck after a bit of confusion about which truck was reserved.  We made our way to 6th Street.

“I got another guy…he’s gonna help us, name’s Danny.  Sure as hell hope he comes.”

We pulled into an empty space in front of the Citadel.  We go to the front desk.

“Elevator’s out” the desk clerk said, displaying a row of gold teeth.  Roy’s body sagged forward towards the desk.  He took a hold of the edge to gain his balance.

“RUFKM” Roy blurted

(For those unfamiliar with this acronym, it means: Are you fucking kidding me?)

“Hey” began Gold Teeth, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t break the motherfuckin’ elevator.”

“I know you didn’t break the motherfuckin’ elevator”

“Goddamn right I didn’t”

“Well, get on the phone and call the technician.  Get ‘em out here.  I got to move my shit. I rented a truck and the clock’s ticking”

“I got to get approval”

“I am the approval!” snapped Roy, as if delivering a message from God himself.

Roy and Gold Teeth went back and forth for a few minutes.

“Look” I said, “We have a dolly here, why don’t you let me go up and get a few boxes?”

Roy looked at me, a bit puzzled.

“Are you sure, it’s 7 flights up”?

“Yeah, no problem” I said, taking the dolly

“Wait, hold on a minute” said Gold Teeth.  “You need to sign in”

“Where’d you get them gold teeth?” I asked

“Why you want to know?”

“They’re quite stunning.  I’d like to get a pair like that someday.”

“I got ‘em next door…at the prawn shop”

“Prawn shop?  Don’t you mean pawn…”

“I know what the fuck I mean.  Ain’t you ever prawned a ring, or a conga drum?  If you were ever broke you’d know what I was talkin’ about.”

I gave my ID and started climbing the stairs.  The stairs were steep and narrow.  Each floor had a distinct smell; one floor smelled like an oven with a burning TV dinner while another smelled of pine cleaner while yet another smelled of cotton candy and urine.


I got to the 7th floor slightly winded.

“Motherfuckin’ elevator” I muttered to myself

“What’d you say?” a voice called out

“Who’s that? I said

“The elevator”

I walked to the elevator.  I hit the button.

“That ain’t gonna work”


“You a dummy?  I’m broken”

“You picked a great motherfuckin’ time to go down”

“Go down?  Hell, I can’t go up either.  This is serious dysfunction.  A cold shot if you ask me.”

“Where does that leave me?”
“Seven floors up with a dolly and no paddle”

“Big help you are.”

“Look kid, I’m old.  My parts go out.  I ain’t no spring chicken like you. I ain’t tryin’ to give you the shaft but it’s gonna take more than WD40 to get me operational.”

“WD 40?”

“WD 40, Wesson Oil, Super glue, dental floss, all that shit…”

“What about the landlord?”

“He’s broken too”

“Ok, thanks.  Talk to you later.”

“No problem”


I looked around Roy’s room.  Boxes were stacked by the wall near the poster of a golden cross radiating light through a cluster of clouds.  A smattering of beer cans, magazines (Car and Driver) and DVD’s lie scattered but, for the most part, we were ready to go. I loaded the dolly with 3 boxes.  7 flights was high, any higher and I’d be in the Alps.  I made for the staircase.

“Hey shit stain” a voice called out from down the hall

“Yeah?  A voice responded

“Can you loan me a few bucks?”
“You never paid me from the last time!”

“Man, I told you, my check’s gonna arrive any day now”

“I ain’t doin’ it this time, man”

“Well, can I borrow your old lady?”

“Fuck you!”

A door slams…silence


The staircase was steep, going up or down.  I thought of Roy down in the lobby—bad knees.  Stay put my friend.  I edged to the staircase.  I checked to see if the boxes were secure on the dolly.  I began my descent.




It took a good deal of effort maneuvering downward, as the dolly seemed to have a mind of its own and a different agenda in terms of navigation.  I rolled past scrutinizing eyes peeking through curtains and doors.  I made it to the lobby where the other “mover” stood with Roy, arms folded.

“Tony, this is Danny” said Roy.

We shook hands.

“Man, my old lady threw me out” said Danny

“Why?” asked Roy

“Because I’m here helping you”

“You ain’t done shit yet”

“That’s what I need to tell you.  My back…it’s…”

“I knew you’d pull this shit, Danny!” said Roy, voice rising, cutting Danny off with the wave of a hand.  “You’re as useless as tits on a motherfucking bull.”

“Hey, at least I brought the motherfucking dolly” Danny replied, pointing.  A dolly stood near the wall.


The conversation continued between Roy and Danny and I quickly realized that Danny’s last name was Dolittle and that it would be me doing the sacred heaving and ho’ing.  To Danny’s credit he brought a sturdier dolly, larger than one UHAUL provided but heavier to negotiate up the stairs.  I left Roy and Danny–who was now sipping a curious liquid from a brown paper bag which he now passed to Roy–and went up 7 flights.  The dolly was heavy—bulky and cumbersome—like a human being riddled with ailments.  I got 4 boxes—Thunk-a-thunk-a-thunk.  I descended halfway down the 5th floor staircase when I heard faint sounds—dainty footsteps approaching from the rear.  I looked back. It was a slightly built young man wearing a stained sweatshirt mumbling through a partially smiling mouth.  Why did he have to open his mouth?  His incoherent words (Or muffled babble) telepathically prompted the boxes to perform a most impressive acrobatic maneuver.  The boxes, unaided, launched themselves from the dolly, somersaulting down half a flight of stairs, tumbling with the momentum, reminiscent of that ski jumper on the intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports, whose monumental mishap on the slopes was relived, in all its glory, on weekend telecasts for years.  I looked at the spilled contents scattered about.  The mumbling guy to my rear gingerly stepped over the contents that were now without a home.  Take it easy, he said, not mumbling this time, as he made his way downward.


I put the items back in their boxes; among them a picture of Roy, 40 pounds or so lighter, perhaps 20 years younger—another time, another life.  What was his life back then?  All I knew of him was that he worked in the past at county fairs.  He worked on crews that set up carnival rides, then breaking them down to set up at other county fairs.  I’d been to many county fairs as a kid.  I loved the corn dogs and rides.  I remembered a picture my grandmother had taken of me on my first pony ride.  I put Roy’s picture back into its box.


I went down the stairs and made it to the lobby. I put the boxes in back of the UHAUL.  Roy was sipping from the brown paper bag.

“Maybe one more load”, said Roy, sweating.  I looked down at his dog—he too was sweating.

“Ok, I said.

My forehead was sweating, my back was sweating, my ass-crack was sweating.

“Let me help you this time” Roy began.

He took a hold of the dolly.  I sensed it was a bit heavy for him.  I would help.

“Say man”, Roy said to the desk clerk.  “Can you just keep an eye out for my stuff in the pick up?  I don’t want anybody to steal anything.”

The gold toothed desk clerk waved a dismissive hand.

“Man, don’t nobody want any of that bullshit.”

Roy shook his head and took a hold of the dolly.  The dog, Elliot, began to bark—as if impatient with our lack of efficiency.

“Hey you half a mutt” said Roy, “Will you get off my back?  You’re worse than my ex-wife.”  Elliot looked up, with watery eyes, twitching.

Roy took a hold of the dolly.  The dolly somehow sprung to attention and elevated a foot or so off the ground, hitting Roy in the temple.  Roy staggered toward the elevator door.  Danny, who was sipping from the brown bag spewed the liquid in a fine spray, trying to stifle a laugh. I walked towards Roy.  A small bump was beginning to form on his temple, pink and throbbing.  It was a delayed reaction, reminiscent of a heavyweight fight for the gold medal where the Cuban Superheavyweight hit the American fighter with a right hand to the temple.  I vividly remember the American, not falling immediately, but turning completely around, walking dizzily to his corner, and falling on the seat of his trunks with a dignified thud.  The great light heavyweight champion Archie Moore once described it, saying, “There’s nerves on that side of your head, your skull, that—when you get hit—makes you susceptible to getting knocked out.  To Roy’s credit, he stayed upright.

“You ok?” I asked, steadying the dolly.  Roy shook his head, trying to compose himself.  He looked at Danny.

“Well, hello Dolly” said Danny, smiling.

“Danny, you want a Charley Horse?”

“I love you, man”

“I know, but shut the fuck up anyway”

We carried the dolly together.  Danny Dolittle had disappeared–a liquor store run.  Roy made it to the 7th floor, stopping several times to catch his breath and rest his knees.  We walked inside his now half empty room where he confronted the possessions of his life, now boxed.  Some boxes appeared sturdy, some not.  There was a small refrigerator, a dresser and a few more large items.  How would we move them without an elevator?  Roy sat on the edge of his bed, catching his breath.  He began to laugh.  Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.

“Why are you laughing?” I asked

Roy looked at me, shaking his head.

“That desk clerk, I guess he was right.  He said that this was God’s work.  Maybe the elevator went out for some kind of purpose.  Maybe we would have gotten into some kind of accident.  Who knows?  All I know is that there are people who are worse off than me.  Good news is that the elevator repair guy is on his way.  Hope he gets here soon.”

He looked around at what had been his home for the last 7 years.

“Don’t nobody want any of this shit” Roy said, echoing the words of the desk clerk.

We both laughed then got busy trying to figure out the next move.  Thunk-a-thunk-a-thunk!



© 2018 Tony Robles










Arthur, Arthur, Where Art Thou? (Or: You Beat me to the Punch): A George Washington High School Reunion

I was on Muni heading to my high school reunion.  As an author, memory is crucial to my craft.  Much of high school I have forgotten. Crowded Muni rides on the way to and from George Washington High School (AKA Wash), however, have left their indelible tire tracks on my psyche.  I remember 1980, on a crowded 38 Geary bus, gazing through the fog blurred window.  Heavy rains beat the pavement, its bleat upon leaves sent trees into a shivering frenzy.  Among the students looking to cram onto the bus was a student galloping down the hill.  I could hear her steps—even now—as she clomped upon the pavement like an enraged bull; her momentum swift and powerful, so powerful that, in fact, she could not come to a halt.  Upon reaching the bottom of the hill—in an attempt to stop—she slipped, like a graceful stage performer or fish—her feet giving way, upwards, and, in an unforgettable maneuver, she elevated several feet into the air before landing on the pavement—rump first—with a loud: Thump!  I believe the bus shook.


The reunion was a coming together of different graduating classes–1979-1985.  The event was organized by Fenton—a guy I didn’t really know back in school.  He graduated in ’81, a year before me.  What I do remember about him was that he acknowledged you with a smile in the hall when he walked by and it didn’t matter if you were popular, unpopular, a hermit, bookworm, or athlete—he had an equal opportunity nod and smile.  He was almost an ambassador of some kind of will—and not of the ill kind—but what exactly, I didn’t know with any certainty.  And for folks in high school, especially the timid one’s whose only certainty was uncertainty, to be acknowledged by such a person—in any degree—was positive.  What better person to organize a reunion, looking sharp, dressed in a red dinner jacket with a welcome as wide as the parting of the red sea?


The reunion started at 6pm and I was running late.  I staff a community center on Saturdays—the Manilatown Center—on Kearny and Jackson Streets.  The center was started by my uncle, the late poet/historian and activist Al Robles (Graduate of Galileo) to honor the former Filipino community known as Manilatown and honor the memory of the elderly tenants who were forcibly evicted from the International Hotel (Also known as the “I-Hotel”) in 1977.  My late uncle loved the old song, “I remember you”.  It was a song that moved him deeply:


I remember you

You’re the one who made my dreams come true

A few kisses ago


When one ceases to remember, one ceases to live, he often said.


I got off the bus.  The reunion was at El Patio Restaurant, a 6 block walk. I thought of my Co-Washingtonians, likely pulling into the parking lot in cars, SUV’s—Uber or LYFT at the very least—and I’m hoofing it.  If I were carrying a backpack or books it would be high school all over again.  I arrived at around 8pm.  I thought of my uncle and that song, “I Remember you”.  I felt nervous.  What if nobody does, I mean, remember?  I remember walking the hallowed halls of my Alma mater complete with plaques and trophies—remembrances of glories from yesteryear, hallowed halls that could have, for me, just as easily been haunted; of young girls whose smiles were beautiful yet terrifying.  And of being in a sea of faces and bodies sweating in gym and polishing my rifle in ROTC and what happened to Mr. A?  Was his name Athanasopolous?  A name no one could pronounce.  And why did he think me to be a troublemaker when I was a borderline hermit with maybe one friend who halfway knew me?  All those Mr. A’s & B’s & C’s & D’s & F’s—for me it was mostly C’s.  But it was too late to turn back.  I entered a dining area that was sparsely occupied yet busy with the sounds of a Mariachi band entertaining the guests.  In the distance I heard a thumping sound that seemed to make the floor vibrate.  I headed towards it.


I walked through the door and was met by a sea of tables adorned with glasses, silverware, red helium balloons and plates stained with the remnants of mushroom gravy and green beans.  Bright lights emanated from the dance floor.  The DJ and his equipment looking as elaborate and sophisticated—with lights and switches—as any aircraft cockpit; for the DJ is a    pilot, entrusted with the duty of moving human beings—legs, arms, torsos, bellies, limbs, minds etc.  I looked around—people were talking, mingling.  And like one of those helium balloons I floated, looking for a face, a place, a purpose.  I recalled a story they used to read in elementary school called “The Red Balloon”—the story of a lonely red balloon moving slowly through the world in search of a friend.  I slithered about. The one place I didn’t want to end up was the first place I ended up—the dreaded punchbowl.  How many could’ves, sob stories and woe-is-me talks have ended up in its swirl, generation after generation, graduation after graduation?  The punch bowl is, in some ways, a festive urinal of sorts—complete with accoutrements including fancy glasses, ladles, and occasional mist emanating from a fog machine—to add a hint of glamour and decorum to small talk that will, hopefully, enlarge or expand.  I dipped the ladle and spilled punch on my sleeve.  People were on the dance floor.  I looked for a familiar face. I saw several.  One face belonged to a guy who’d gone into the same profession as I—radio—having gone through the city college broadcasting department.  He was a bit heavier, but not overly so.  “I live in Florida, now”, he said, “I work in tech”.  His smile hadn’t changed as it appeared, beaming with the Florida sun, brought back home to the city known for fog. I remember faces for a variety of reasons.  One face belonged to a guy who I went to elementary school with, who ran the 50 yard dash in 7.0.  I approached him. You probably don’t remember me but…  He looked great, having graduated in my year.  There was another guy I remember.  He also ran fast.  All these black brothers from the past and the only thing I could remember was that they ran fast.  But I also remembered that I was—back then—a slow brown boy.  There was a hint of recognition from the folks I approached, perhaps an indirect connection made whole by our presence that we were still here, in our diversity, in a unity that, as a whole, our city is losing.  I made my way back to the punch bowl (in less than 7.0) where I wanted to punch something—namely myself—for the person I had been in high school.  Why hadn’t I known these guys back then?  Why didn’t we hang out?  Why did I have to be so timid?  Why was it so hard to talk to people?  Why did I think I was being scrutinized so?  Perhaps the answer was in the boy’s bathroom, when I looked in the mirror.  This seemed an appropriate time for reflection.  But I see their faces—in the present– their beautiful faces, their tragic faces, their faces of a thousand stories, a thousand semesters.  We head to the dance floor.


I fail at dances that require movement in unison, such as the Electric Slide or Cupid Shuffle.  I am always off beat, out of step, out of sync.  I watch the unity in movement.  My fellow classmates, schoolmates, make it look easy—dipping, sliding, catching shadows and shaping them into planets and dreams and seasons—all in the movement of their bodies, keeping time with mind and spirit.  As I look onto the dance floor I see my generation; some well-fed, some well-read, others well-wed or perhaps divorced or separated.  And I see those girls I’d seen in the halls, in the cafeteria, in the bleachers—way back when—carrying a variety of attitudes along with their books. I remember that girl from math, I remember that one from Family Life.  They still look beautiful.  And still I look and not talk.  And then the voice of Chaka Khan overwhelms:  Ain’t nobody, does me better…than you.  If not for music, we’d have nothing and when the body embodies or embraces music, then it’s time to get down—that is, forget all you’ve learned—just let it go and come naturally.  And yes, some of my classmates are heavier, chunkier, a sag here and a sag there but they balance with grace and class all that brought them to this moment, this night.  I’m overwhelmed at how good they look, and how they can still get down.  One must remember that getting down is not restricted to the dance floor—it also extends to the dinner plate (always close by) where one can be oneself in the company of those whose presence fills you the most—with laughter and memories and perhaps tears.  This reunion was a blending, a diversity of the student body minus the body politic.  It was a dance, a revival, a Vegas buffet line and church service all wrapped into one.  So many years have passed.  What is left?  I realized how much I missed out on knowing the people in my presence, those who helped shape me.  I joined in for the electric slide and, again, didn’t make out well.  My electric slide turned into a static slip.  The girl running for the bus in the rain—landing on her well-formed rump those years ago—had more grace than I.  I made my way to a few tables, talking to folks who I never talked to in high school—a woman who had been in ROTC with me and a guy who had the most beautiful eyes back then, who now works as a counselor in a school; same beautiful eyes, now seeing possibilities.  I talked to a guy who I remembered as being extremely quiet—we were in the same math class.  I approached him, introduced myself.  He didn’t remember me.  I told him, “I remember, you were a quiet brother”.  “Mmmmm hmmm” he replied.  He told me he was now the pastor of a church.  I meet his wife, shook her hand.  She was in an elegant sequined dress—a touch of royalty to her—her hand filled with down home warmth.  “We’re high school sweethearts” the pastor said.   I also sat with members of the class of ’81—all Asian—one of which was quite lovely and nice and danced with me to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up”.  I remember the class of ’81 as being rather sophisticated—in a way that I cannot articulate.


Host Fenton gave me an opportunity to recite a poem I’d written in honor of George Washington High School.  He took the microphone and announced: I’d like to call up Tony…he’s an…Arthur.

I looked around.  People were sitting, chatting, drinking—a few seemed to be reflecting.  This was a lull, a pause to insert something perhaps profound.  Then the most profound thought hit me:  Did this negro say I was an Arthur?  At that moment I’d realized I’d been wrong about my vocation.  I wasn’t an author but an Arthur, in the footsteps of giants—Arthur Ashe, Arthur Miller, King Arthur, Arthur Rimbaud, Arthur Mercante (Jr. and Sr.), Arthur Clarke, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Prysock, Art Carney, Art Tatum, Art Shell,  Artie Shaw, Art Linkletter, Arthur Schlesinger, Art Schlichter, Arthur Treacher (Of fish and chips fame), the Palace of Fine Arts, Art History 101, Art for Art’s Sake and the Art of War–just to name a few.  To the world I might be a hot shot author, but to my fellow classmates I was the guy holding up the punch bowl, just another guy.  I can hear them:  Hey, I remember you, you were that guy who was always by himself.  We thought you were a mute.  What have you been up to, what kinda work you do?  No longer a mute, I began to recite:


Did you go to
Wash? What year
Did you graduate?

I remember homeroom
like an heirloom

I can’t wash
it out

Mr. Chandler told
me not to bend books
back to the spine because
“books have feelings”
but he also said, Don’t be

I can’t wash the
memory of the fine
sisters in the halls who
were more woman than
girl while i was more boy
than man

and that Chinese girl,
was her name Linda?
She was fine and her
mere presence brushed
across my skin like a sultry
fog that slid
then left

i can’t wash the murals
off the walls of my mind
that showed George Washington
and ex-presidents as heroes until
we got out in the world and learned

i can’t wash
wash out of my skin

and how the black
settled in my brown skin
to create something that
could never be washed out

i went to Wash
and you went to Wash
and i remember a young
Chinese cat who kicked
a tree branch

turned 360 degrees in
the air like a kung fu movie
and made the air pop

that won’t Wash
from my mind

and i remember taking
the bus, for a nickel
and seeing kids from Fillmore
on the 38 Geary

Kids that didn’t
remember me from
grade school, sitting
Alone in the bleachers
Contemplating splinters
That were to become poems

but i can’t
wash them from
my memory

can’t wash their
voices from my

can’t forget the way
they were when
they were young

and went
to Wash




Funny thing, as I recited my poem, I noticed, in their chairs, were girls I had crushes on as a student.  I don’t recall them giving me a glance back then.  But I noticed they were giving me their—as the teachers used to say—undivided attention.  One even smiled.  Oh, the benefits of being an Arthur.  In reciting the poem, I felt as if I’d dived into that punchbowl, a baptism of sorts, articulating, speaking what had been inside me for so long.  After the poem there was applause.  Someone even approached me and said that was some heavy shit, man.  Then Fenton took the mic and said, “Ok…let’s get back to partying!  And it was back to the Fatback band, the Bee Gees, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson etc.  Who needs an Author…or Arthur…when you have music like that?  Arthur makes his exit, but not before filling up a glass of punch for the road.  Group pictures were taken and I watched, not being in the picture but feeling a part of this special moment, observing everything around me, creating a picture of my own that I can only express in the words: I remember you



© 2019 Tony Robles











Can I get a Whiteness?

Whiteness has not been my witness.  It has averted its eyes, its shards of denial making its way towards us, eyes shooting cursory glances, muted bullets.  Wanda Coleman called it, “The War of the Eyes”, warning us that to “Be forewarned is to be forearmed.”  It has turned a blind eye to the tax levied upon our skin.  Whiteness is denial, a false witness whose fruit is tainted as it falls to the ground, like the corpses of our ancestors.  Whiteness is not a witness, but is party to, abets in the consent of the desecration of our bodies.  Whiteness is a sheet conforming to the curvatures of coldness, the stillness of breath over the landscape of silence.  Our thoughts, to some, should be white, our tongues should be white, our sweat should be white.  The problem with this, of course, is that we, as people of color, cannot be white enough—never.  We are in a constant struggle to outwit the white, as sure as the whites of our eyes.  I think of all that white sweat glistening on the tomatoes and strawberries in the fields. Of course, the soil is white, or should be, in any case.  The indigenous bones have been dug up and tagged, absent of skin and white too.  Indigenous children who have come hundreds, thousands of miles across the landscape only to be pulled from their parents—will be matched with a nice white family, whose color, of course, is under the skin.  And, of course, there is a price to pay for this whiteness.  There was a popular, somewhat obnoxious song some years ago called why can’t I be you?  Perhaps the words can be bent to fit today’s decree: white, can I be you?  A great writer said that is country has never been white, and dared the country to prove it.  What is the future of this nation when its past has been shown—written in blood, bone—tragedy and, at times, brilliance.  It is, in the words of Orwell, “in front of your nose”.  The lynched bodies, the falsely accused, the testimony of those who were taken before their time all cry out to be heard. Where is  hope when hope is drowned, when it comes up for air only to be submerged in the comfort of ignorance, which is a false comfort—mistaken for security—that leads to the death of body, spirit and mind.  Who does one turn to?  To whom does one make an appeal for life?  Is there a 9-1-1 emergency line to call when the connections of communication to both past and present have been severed?  The answer will not be found in the White House—no surprise to us who consume minimal bites of truth from the spoon fed, tongue depressor apparatus known as the media.  Does the declension have a remedy when our healers, our vessels of wisdom are shattered by means perfected through the ages?  A nation intent on holding on to its hate, its legacy of hate at the cost of itself, of the sacred landscape upon which innumerable blessing flow; and the wall that that is supposed to cut off the flow, what are we to make of it?  If we remember one thing from the past is that one cannot escape it.  Walls are rendered, in the end, to rubble, collapsing under the weight of truth, guided by the human spirit—through the centuries.  And why build a wall—which, by the way, will likely be constructed by the labor of black and brown human beings—when there are walls abound.  The skin tax borne by people is one wall–among many walls–of the institutional variety, fortified by media, and notions that cling like an incurable disease.  The separation of parents from their children is not new to America.  What indignation was suffered to warrant such actions towards people who are the descendants of people who have lived in this land for centuries?  What is the justification of incarcerating children then parading them, some as young as 6 years old, in a courtroom to defend themselves?  Decades ago, a writer wrote of the “White problem”.  This problem has festered and is now imploding.  Dear White people, brown people have been good to you.  The Pilgrims would have perished if not for the godliness of the native people who showed them how to plant corn—how to survive in a land that they could not conceive, in the deep structure of their humanity, the possibility of owning.  In short, they would have dropped dead.  The harvest that has enriched this country, and its white descendants, came by way of brown hands—hands that, along with black hands and white hands—have created unprecedented wealth in this country.  The brown children being held, incarcerated, snatched from their parent’s arms, are descendants of the original people of this land we call America (Writer Oscar Penaranda, among others, however, stresses that America refers to an entire hemisphere and that, as people living in the United States, should be referred to as US Americans or United Statesians).  It is with these children—and children like them—that our hope lies.  To be true to this nation, this nation must look at itself and throw off the chains of white supremacy or superiority.  Those children are our hope.  Those young black men and women in the crosshairs of white supremacy are our hope—perhaps our only real hope. Our moment is here, it waits—it burns as the earth temperature rises.  It is time for whiteness to truly look at itself and to be a worthy witness to the truth.