I miss soul music
soul soul music
sticky radio ash tray music
i miss twisted voices
turning hips
spinning dials
Miss the air conditioner
exhaling hot hair
i miss husky soul voices
in the thick soul air
i miss my music
i miss my grandfather’s shiny
leather shoe music
i miss his memories served
on a vinyl platter
flowing like a river
in his skin
i miss grandpa
i miss the soul of
his voice
i miss soul music
i miss thick legs
and thighs
i miss the organ
filled with neckbones
i miss the burning
throat of notes cast
in and out of the fire
i miss the sounds tearing
up the seat cushions
i miss soul
i miss soul music
i miss soul radio music
got no time for
neo soul
just give me soul

(c) 2011 Tony Robles


Vice Versa Journal

was just notified that my short story/essay “Scales” was included and is online right now at Vice Versa Journal. This is the second story of mine they’ve published. Check out:

Stars and Gripes–Thoughts on Pacquiao vs. Mosley

Stars and Gripes: Thoughts on Pacquiao vs. Mosley

Seeing this past weekend’s fight between WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley brought to mind a quote I’d read somewhere: “The bell that tolls for all in boxing belongs to a cash register”. After reading about and watching commercials for the fight, I gave my tithe to the church of pugilism (AKA the local cable company)—54 dollars and change—hard earned money from my Uncle Tom job as a doorman at an upscale (when I speak of upscale, I speak of the residents) apartment complex.

I wanted to watch Pacquiao because I have neglected him. He is Pilipino, I am Pilipino-American and have not followed his career—a career that can only be described as brilliant. My gripe is that the quality of the sport has receded due to a dearth of great fighters. Fighters I watched growing up—Ali, Frazier, Arguello, Duran, Monzon, Hagler, Leonard, Sanchez, Hearns and Duran—were all active in the same generation—all future hall of famers. My father collected boxing magazines while I collected Marvel and DC comics. I graduated to collecting Ring and Boxing Illustrated Magazines, amassing an impressive stack under the bed.

I had first seen Pacquiao in 2002 on the undercard of the Mike Tyson/Lennox Lewis heavyweight title fight. Pacquiao was vying for the IBF featherweight title but my main focus was Tyson. I wanted him to beat Lewis. I didn’t give Pacquiao much thought although he was obviously a terrific puncher with good defensive skills and intensity cut from the same cloth as one of my heroes, Roberto Duran. But my narrow-mindedness did not allow me to foresee the potential greatness of Manny Pacquaio. I focused on Tyson because I didn’t like Lewis. Lennox didn’t sound like a heavyweight champion; heavyweight champions had names like Muhammad, Joe, Rocky–or Mike. That night Tyson got knocked out. The champion’s name was Lennox (not Linux). Pacquiao won that night too.

Fight night—clips of Pacquiao and Mosley’s fights are shown, footage of the two fighters training, posing for cameras and clips of Pacquiao at work as a congressman in the Philippines. The announcer talks about Pacquiao’s humble beginnings prior to his boxing career, about his drive and perseverance which resulted in an unprecedented feat–the first fighter to win world titles in 8 different weight classes. When asked about his political career, Pacquaio says that prior to being elected as Congressman, he saw the problems in the Philippines as being this big, illustrating the size with the space between his thumb and forefinger. He then added that the problems are this big, spreading his arms wide. Members of the press corps often referred to Pacquiao is being the smaller fighter, a distinction Mosley respectfully corrected–“He is the shorter man” Mosley said.

The weigh-in was shown and I became somewhat depressed. As I approach the mid stage of life–along with millions of other sedentary members of my gender– I watch these athletes and realize I will never achieve six pack abs. I look at the body of 39 year old Mosley and remember his fight against Oscar De La Hoya in 2000. He won that fight with speed. I wondered how much he had left at age 39. The prelim bouts begin and I drop to the floor, attempt a set of crunches when a text message from my friend Ezekiel–“Zeak” for short–the boxing fan, comes through.

Zeak: You watching the fight?

Me: Yeah

Zeak: I think Pac’s gonna knock him out in 9

Me: How many crunches can you do?

Zeak: ?

I give up my crunches, jog to the kitchen and back, hitting the couch in time for the main event. I sit. Mosley enters first with his team led by LL Cool J on the mic doing “Mama said knock you out”. It was decent but I preferred the music video. Leading the Pacquaio contingent is Jimi Jamison—of the group “Survivor”—singing “Eye of the Tiger” from the movie “Rocky III”. I get another text:

Zeak: Pac should have sung that song himself. He has the voice.

Me: LL Cool J looks like he could give Pac a good fight

Zeak: Jamison looks like he should be carrying the bucket

Both national anthems are sung; the Philippine first, beautifully sung by Charice followed by the US anthem sung by Tyrese. Somehow I don’t hear the words that Tyrese sings. I keep thinking of his role in “Baby Boy”, in the python-like choke hold of Ving Rhames who whispers in his ear: Jody…little Jody before slapping his shiny head. I wonder how Ving Rhames would sound singing the national anthem.

I looked at the Philippine flag hanging stoically amidst the thousands of fans, moving slightly under the hum of lights and above the ocean of anticipation. I thought about myself as a Filipino-American. It felt good hearing the Philippine anthem. I wanted to join in but didn’t know the words. After Tyrese’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, Jamie Fox was introduced and segued into “America the Beautiful”. Another text:

Zeak: Fox is taking this Ray Charles thing serious, huh?

Me: I like Ray

I wondered why the extra portion of patriotism was being doled out and it came to me via yet another text:

Zeak: It’s a dig on the Bin Laden Folk. It’s code for: WE GOT ‘EM

Me: Also a dig at Pacquiao. It’s the US saying, you might be the best fighter in the world, but ours is the best COUNTRY in the world. It makes ’em feel better.

Round one. Both fighters are jabbing and moving, respectful of each other’s power. No damage done. I score the round even. That was as close as it got. I had Pacquiao winning every round thereafter. He used his jab and applied constant pressure, landing hard shots that took the steam from Mosley within a few rounds. Mosley’s signature speed and pinpoint counter punching that had been brilliant in fights against De La Hoya, Forrest and Mayorga was not present.

Mosley seemed to age as the rounds progressed. It was as if his mind knew what to do but was betrayed by an uncooperative body. I was reminded of Sugar Ray Leonard, in one of his last fights, against Jr. Welterweight Champion Terry Norris. Leonard absorbed a beating, taking punches he would have avoided in his prime. Mosley, like Leonard, was past his prime. Both fighters had much respect for each other—at times seeming too respectful—touching gloves before every round and in various times in between. Prior to the fight, Mosley expressed resentment at being the underdog. Having been thrown off his rhythm by Pacquiao’s power and speed, Mosley seemed to have left any resentment he had in his dressing room.

During the fight cameras cut to each fighter’s respective Wife/partner; their faces etched with anxiety, concern, worry. I get another text message:

Zeak: Who you thinks hotter, Pac’s wife or Mosley’s girl?

Me: They’re both beautiful…like models

Zeak: Come on, you got to have a preference

Me: It has nothing to do with the fight

Zeak: Hell, the way the fight’s going, I’d rather see the ladies go at it

Me: You got a point

At the final bell I had Pacquiao winning every round except the first, which I scored even. Pacquiao was simply too fast and possessed too much power for Mosley to overcome with his famed counterpunching that made him one of the best pound for pound fighters in boxing for much of the past decade. The unanimous decision verdict was anti-climatic. Both fighters showed respect for each other during the post fight interview. “You’re the pound for pound king” said Mosley to Pacquiao through swollen but still handsome features. Pacquiao nodded silently.

The post-fight text message:

Zeak: Who’s hotter, Mrs. Pacquiao or Mosley’s girlfriend?

(The 54 dollar question)

Notes of an Uncle Tom

Notes of an Uncle Tom

“Tom, Tom…Come in Tom. Do you read me tom?”

I still laugh at my father’s reaction the moment I informed him—with unprecedented pride—that I’d been hired as a door attendant at a high-end apartment complex in the city. I had started off as a security guard at the same complex greeting the high end residents with a high end greeting (such as “Wonderful morning, isn’t it?”…followed by an under the breath “you son of a bitch”), high end nod, and of course, a high end—albeit chickenshit—smile.

I always pictured a door attendant as wearing one of those outfits with a wide shouldered jacket and captain’s hat—like the door man on that classic TV show, “The Jeffersons”. I was given a pair of tan pants—Dockers—a light shirt and well made, high end leather shoes. I slipped into the outfit and began to feel high end. My end had never felt so high. Anyway, it’s getting higher with every passing minute.

“Hey dad” I said. “I got a new job…a house negro job, a doorman. Aren’t you proud of me? You think grandma and grandpa are proud, having braved the stormy seas to come to America like George Washington and John Wayne (not really, but it sounds like a good thing to say), in hopes of providing a new life, new opportunities to their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. Dad paused. He’s a native San Franciscan living in Hawaii. I heard the waves pounding the shore through the static of his Metro PCS cell phone. He finally spoke: You ain’t got no house negro job…you got an uncle Tom job. I listened to the waves and the sound of the ocean over the phone. My dad, working years and years as a janitor in San Francisco; he’s got the Hawaiian beaches now. Let him have that beach, he deserves it.

I stand by the door waiting. I look around. The building is big and spotless and I hear the calls of ravens outside. They sometimes call out to me. “Hey Uncle Tom, you think you can throw us a few breadcrumbs…at your convenience, of course”. I got to the lobby kitchen area and look for breadcrumbs but all I find is expensive gourmet coffee. I see a resident walking to the door. I step on it, moving with the swiftness of a gazelle, reaching the door and opening it with much class. Sometime the residents say thank you, sometimes not.

I am 90 days into my Tom-Hood. I am doing a decent job but I have some concerns. One of these concerns involves an old white man in a terry cloth robe–let’s call him T.C. (short for Terry Cloth). “T.C” comes down every morning to the lobby for his morning paper and coffee. He is pleasant, and his robe his befitting of the terry cloth prince that he surely is. He requested a cart from me to move a few items into his apartment. Like the good Tom that I am, I complied. He came back with the cart 30 minutes later. Put it there, he said, producing a fist. He inched his fist close to me. “Give it up” he said. I looked at my hand. “T.C” took a hold of my hand and formed a fist. He then, in a beautifully choreographed moment, bumped his fist into mine–a “Brotherhood of the fist” of sorts–not predicated upon race, economic status, education or various other chickenshit requirements and/or sensibilities. It’s tough being a Tom, for you forget how to make a fist and must rely on older white men to give you an occasional refresher course.

Sometimes I find myself dozing at the desk and at the door. I think of the neighborhood outside. Not long ago, my grandparents were prevented from moving here. It was in the 1950’s. Grandpa was a black man from Louisiana, grandma was San Francisco Irish. Nobody in this place knows this. I open the door and the ravens cry out. I step back inside and see another resident approach. They all look so important, all making so much money. What do they do to make so much money? I open the door and smile. “Have a nice day, sir”. I don’t earn enough to live in this place, yet I grew up in this neighborhood. Nobody in this place knows this.

A coworker stops by. His name is “J”. We talk about the job. He mops the floor and changes the toilet paper consistently and with much expertise. He speaks of the former doorman, a fellow named Kissassman. Kissassman lasted a couple of months. “J” explained that Kissassman was running around every second, attending to every need. “Kissassman get me an umbrella, Kissassman make more coffee, Kissassman call me a cab, Kissassman arrange to have my dry cleaning picked up, Kissassman, kissassman Kissassman…etc, etc. One day kissassan left—kissed it all goodbye like a snake shedding some unfamiliar skin. His last words, “I’m tired of being Kissassman. I’m going to have my name changed…legally.

In the meantime, I stand by the door. I catch myself dozing off. My cell phone rings, a text message from good old dad. I read it:

“Tom, Tom…come in Tom…do you read me Tom?”

Great poem from Devorah Major

Manilatown’s poetry event this past weekend, “Rhymes and Rhythms” was food for the soul. I felt the spirit of my Uncle Al and Bill Sorro in the room as poets spoke about breaking down walls that keep us trapped, alienated from community. Devorah Major blew me away with the poem below…it speaks volumes about the city. It’s beautiful when the poet captures what you feel…and puts it into a song that feels like it was written for just you in mind. As a native of San Francisco, the poem illustrates how I feel when thinking of the city that has been home to my family for 4 generations.

City Scat
we come to this city

of concrete, brick

steel and toil

country people

knowing the earth

sea faring people

reading the tides

gambling people

holding jokers and spades

we come to this city

hard laughin’

weep sob wailin’

prayin’ celebratin’ people

bending and sweating

we come to

this hiss crack

slap snap

siren whirl


electric zip

and burn



bustling corners

banging our heads

against destiny

and crumbling

brick walls of confusion

we come to this city

that can cage us

enrage us

deny us

revile us

turn us

from friends and family

into prey and predator

we come to this city

this hip howl

she bop

da he bop

da we bop

bang clang

swinging city

and we name it ours

–devorah major

devorah major is the first North American African poet laureate of San Francisco. She is a novelist, poet, essayist and professor at the California College of Arts.

Pushcart Prize

I just learned that my short story, “In My Country”, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Mythium Lit Mag ( I received notification of this by Mythium’s editor Crystal Wilkinson. The official winners are to be announced in May of this year.

I am very surprised by this and am grateful for the nomination.

I must say however, that no story i could ever write could say as much or satisfy the spirit like a plate of food at my aunt Theresa’s house. The adobo, gumbo, pancit and ginger soup she makes says more about the heart of our family and our community than any story could capture. Her poems fill the belly and the mind much more than the stories i put down on paper.

That’s the truth

Brown Pride–A Letter to UFC Heavweight Champion Cain Velasquez

Brown Pride: A Letter to Cain Velasquez

Dear Brother Cain,

Congratulations on becoming the new UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Heavyweight Champion of the World. I didn’t get to watch you, to see you perform your artistry, to see you live the spirit warrior dance flowing from your heart and mind. I didn’t see the moment when it all came together, the moment that came and went like a flash—blows raining down from the heart of a drum, the pulse of our ancestral rituals—inspired by love and struggle and the spirits of our indigenous ancestors. No, I didn’t see it and I surely didn’t see the years, the countless hours of work you put into training and preparation, embracing your craft, sweating and sacrificing and letting go of fear, standing up and being who you are. I can only dream of the discipline, skill and determination it takes to compete in such a grueling sport. What a great day it is. It means something. “Cain Velasquez…heavyweight champion”. Those words keep echoing in my mind.

While you were in the octagon facing Brock Lesnar (who kept pronouncing your name VELAS-QWEZZ), I was at the home of POOR Magazine reportero Muteado Silencio. Muteado is an indigenous scholar, artist and poet with Prensa Pobre, POOR Magazine—an indigenous newsmaking circle that makes revolutionary media, that is poor people and indigenous people led. Muteado is a powerful voice resisting racism, border fascism and linguistic domination—always there when help is needed, always ready to speak up for migrant Raza and communities of color. It was Muteado’s birthday and friends and family gathered in his small home in Oakland. Cain, you would have loved the gathering. The music was alive with Cumbia, hip hop, salsa, rap—the rhythms of resistance alive, tearing down the walls of confinement with the movement of our bodies and minds. Muteado’s mother was so warm and gracious and giving, her journey of motherhood and struggle swimming across her brown skin. Bowls of chicken, pork and vegetables warmed us. I think one of our reporters, Bruce Allison, ate 6 bowls. Muteado’s mother is a tough lady, mother of 13 beautiful children—even tougher than you, Cain—no joke.

The house was hers and the ancestors are alive, their voices alive in her movement, in her hands, her eyes, her voice—in everything she prepares. I saw an interview you gave where you spoke about your parents and how their struggle inspired you to become a fighter. You spoke of your father crossing the desert 5 times and being sent back before making it across to this country for a better life. You went to school and wrestled for Arizona State, earning honors in that sport while achieving a degree in education. Tell me Cain, is Muteado’s mother like your mother?

Anyway, I wish I could have seen the fight but we didn’t have pay per view at Muteado’s house so we watched the Giants game instead. The Giants won! The room was alive—the Giants on TV, salsa in the speakers, pollo in our bellies and poetry on our lips. What more could we have wanted?

As the evening went on, I got a text message from my brother that read, “Cain beat Lesnar”. I began telling people about your victory. “What?” they asked, the music blaring from the speakers. “Cain Velasquez…he beat Lesnar…he won” I repeated. They didn’t hear it but those words were music and it blended with the salsa coming from the speakers. The whole neighborhood heard it.

Since the night of Muteado’s birthday, I’ve read about the fight and have watched interviews you have given—including one interview where the host asked you about your brown pride tattoo—saying that some people think the tattoo indicates affiliation with a gang. We at POOR Magazine think the tattoo is beautiful. Also beautiful is the way you’ve spoken of and given respect to your father’s struggle as a migrant Raza man—his strength is your strength.

Brother Cain, just want to let you know that when you beat Lesnar, it was us beating the landlord, slumlord, boss. It was the kid that I was, afraid of confrontation, being able to confront fear and put it on its ass. It was our elders long ago and in the present who fought and are fighting for decent housing. It was for the dreamers who dreamed of doing what you did, to be able to stand up and look fear in the eye.

I read once that when Joe Louis was heavyweight champion, after each of his victories, the people in Harlem used to go wild in the streets in celebration. When I think of your victory, I feel those spirits moving from Harlem across the country to Arizona and to Muteado’s house in Oakand. And from there it goes through the desert where your father walked, planting the seeds that would become Brown Pride.

(c) 2010