Beneath Me (For Toshio Mori)

Beneath me (For Toshio Mori)
By Tony Robles

I called an astrologer who
Told me I’d be working as
A security guard in the
Year 2008

I was charged 3.99 a minute
For this information which
Took a total of 30 minutes
Because the astrologer kept
Having to go to the bathroom

And Goddamn if it
Didn’t happen

The economy tanked and
Now I’m wearing a blue jacket,
Badge, keys and walkie talkie
That cling like crabs

The job is beneath me, sacred
Ground that I walk and patrol
Over but do not own
but owns me

I sit in the guard shack
At a desk putting
Pen to paper trying to
Give birth to stories and

I’m constantly interrupted by
The phone with tenants calling
About excessive noise or young
Guys jumping the fence and
Peeing in the pool

I kick their asses out of the
Pool and get back to
Pen and paper


And then I think of Toshio Mori
Who wrote “Yokohama, California”
In the late 30’s and early 40’s
A beautiful book that told
The story of a people
In a place that no one wanted
To hear about at the onset
Of World War II

Toshio Mori,
Sent to a concentration

His book was published
In 1949 after the war
And still, no one wanted to hear
About Yokohama, California

Toshio Mori kept
Writing every day but
Couldn’t get anything

Toshio Mori tended
To the flowers in his
Garden in San Leandro

30 years later he was rediscovered
by a group of aspiring writers who
found Yokohama, California selling
for a quarter in a used bookstore

They looked
Him up in the
Phone book

I sit in the guard shack
With his book and he introduces
Me to 1936 and to the woman
Who makes swell donuts

Toshio Mori’s flowers
Came into
Bloom beneath him

Its fragrance lifting
The mind beyond
Mere sentences

I inhale each

And then the
Phone rings

© 2010 Tony Robles


Al Robles honored in the Fillmore

Press Release For Immediate Release
March 3, 2010 Contact: Tony Robles

Poet Al Robles Comes Home to FillmoreDocumentary on I-Hotel Activist and Filipino American poet Al Robles to be featured at The 28th Annual San Francisco International Asian American Film FestivalSan Francisco- Community members and Supervisor Eric Mar will honor poet/activist and Fillmore District native Al Robles on March 14th 2009, at 1230pm in San Francisco’s Fillmore Plaza on Fillmore and O’Farrell Streets with music, poetry and remembrance. Al Robles is recognized as a son of the Fillmore and is memorialized with a plaque in the Fillmore Plaza. The life of Al Robles is featured in Filmmaker Curtis Choy’s film, “Manilatown is in the Heart—Time Travel with Al Robles”, a poetic documentary featured at the Asian American Film Festival Sundance Kabuki Cinema March 14th at 2pm and 15th at 7pm. The documentary is the second film project between Director Choy and Robles, the first being “The Fall of the I-Hotel” which featured Robles as the film narrator. The film follows Robles growing up with the jazz of his youth in the Fillmore with zen monks, jazz musicians and youngbloods, to his life as an activist and poet. Robles chronicled the lives of Filipino immigrants, weaving their histories into his poetic and community work, which included the fight against the eviction of elders from the International Hotel—a struggle that gave Manilatown worldwide attention. “Al Robles was the poet laureate – the heart & spirit – of the Manilatown & Filipino communities. San Francisco will never forget his tireless work supporting seniors and housing justice, fighting displacement & gentrification and nurturing youth in our communities”, said S.F. District Supervisor Eric Mar. Robles passed away in May of 2009 but left a legacy of activism and community involvement that has inspired elders and youth alike. In the words of hip hop poet Jeremy Bautista, “Much love and respect…From the Hip Hop Generation to Uncle Al, our hero!”

For more information on the Asian American Film Festival: For information on Curtis Choy’s films: For information on Al Robles:

A soul food restaurant without soul (black people)

A couple months back i went to a soul food restaurant in SF with a good friend. We were seated and scanned the menu. We sat waiting for our ribs and fried chicken. We looked at the pictures on the wall, pictures that reflected the city that we lived in. I looked at the people in the restaurant. I looked at the servers. There was something strange. Then it hit me–there were no black people in the restaurant (except for one, sitting with an Asian girl eating). But this soul food restaurant had no black servers or cooks. It was the strangest thing, almost like going into a Chinese restaurant and not seeing any Chinese people. I brought this to the attention of our server, a pleasant Asian girl. She didn’t really notice, being busy serving macaroni and cheese etc. To me it’s a damn shame, the dwindling numbers of African Americans in San Francisco, the mass exodus. It is said that the black population is approximately the same number as the seating at Candlestick Park. A soul food restaurant without black people. The food was good but it was missing something. Maybe it was soul.