Generations

It’s funny the way
They argued about
Everything from driving
To politics to the shape
Of the kitchen table to
Who really won the fight
Of the century

There were discussions/
Debates on politics over bowls
Of soup, spooning in mouthfuls
Of this and that, swelling in the
Belly and sweat forming on the
Temples

Father and son at the
Table, at both
Ends, the distance between
Them the length of a bright
Yellow kitchen table that held
The memory of lemons and
Warmth of butter

And sometimes nothing
Was said as they mouthed
Unsaid words while they
Chewed on opposite ends

Father
And son

Two
Generations

One breaking windows
The other breaking wind

© 2017 Tony Robles

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Letter to Iris Canada

I have been thinking of you.  There’s an emptiness since you left us.  I do not speak merely of your physical presence–the presence of an elder whose mere gestures and silence spoke of the community that was built by hands such as yours—a community that is being taken away from us;  but a presence that was as real as any tourist landmark—more real, in fact, because you spoke to us, to our core of what it means to be an elder, a black woman in San Francisco. You refused to be silenced.  Postcard images are flat and tailored made for the whimsy of those who are just passing through.  Perhaps the words, “Since you left us” is inappropriate, for it betrays the truth of what you were burdened with in the last years—last moments of your life.  You were taken from us, your memories and your life—the years that wrote itself in the creases of your face, the aroma of your kitchen, the colors that surrounded and bloomed in your living room—minimized and disrespected in the ugliest way in an attempt to erase your presence from our landscape in the name of making money at any cost.  To those who bought your building, you were the “furniture that came with the place”—an old lady that “needed to go”–because there were units that needed condo-converting and you were old–there wasn’t space for you and what you represented.  We know better.  I needn’t repeat how ugly the city was in your eviction struggle, allowing a 100 year old woman to be evicted; sheriff’s locking you out of your home while you were away at a community senior program.  This is San Francisco?  San Francisco is a city of facelifts and buzzwords—beautify, renew—words that get tossed around a whole lot.  But this beauty is surface beauty only.  The fault lines are hidden, invisible to many but they break through just as sure as the fog eventually breaks.  As rich as this city is, it is evident that its infrastructure is falling apart—that of civility, decorum, community—those things that connect us as human beings. Iris, I am ashamed of this city and I am ashamed of how it treated you and the legacy that was you, that was your community—without so much as a thank you.  This city lives with a poverty of human connectedness. We needn’t intellectualize this—it is abound.  Iris, we miss you.  The roots you left are still strong.  We still feel your presence—we have not forgotten you—those of us who love this city, those of us who don’t forget the connectedness the city has to our lives in real ways that can be breathed and tasted and felt and touched, beyond commercial exchanges mediated by the digital parade that gives the illusion of connectedness.  Iris, you lived 100 years and every day I walk in this city and see 100 lifetimes in the faces living in the cold–broken but still here.  Iris, we want to push onward but how do we?  How do we throw off the blanket of indifference that smothers this city?  Iris, the broken bodies, minds and spirits are piling up under a full moon fit for a postcard addressed to no one.  Iris, we miss you, we haven’t forgotten you or the city that forgot you.  How can we forget?  How can we forget your face?  How can we forget your voice?  How can we forget what the city allowed to happen to you?  How can we forget your so-called neighbors and landlord who wanted you out?  How can we forget such abuse of an elder?  We are hungry for your words, your wisdom, your heart.  Speak to us, Iris.  We need you.

Massage Parlor in Dumaguete

It seemed like a
tea garden or the
garden of eden or
the land of a thousand
stoic faces steeped in
a silence of scent and
leaves and remnants

you want the
full body, she asked

she wore lots of
make up and struck
me as the aging
daughter of a diplomat

and the curtains
gently rose and fell
as each masseuse
walked by

i was led to a
room and was
told to remove
my pants

i obeyed and lay
flat on my
stomach

a male voice
appeared

Do you want
it hard, he asked

Don’t do me
any favors, i
replied

there’s also
soft and
moderate, the
voice added

(What about female, i wanted to ask but didn’t)

I’ll take
moderate,
i responded

and the hands
found the disconnected
bridge of my shoulders
and back as a towel
covered my waist

the hands found
the current of
my blood

hands speaking
a thousand
tongues

taking hold
of mountains

ascending
descending

in a massage
parlor

in
Dumaguete

(c) 2017 Tony Robles

Motorized Tricycle in Manila

Wrapped in candy wrapper
Notions of sky
Of heaven
Of hell
Of soil
Of soul

The tricycle
Gears bloom
Mud-caked toes
oil and rust

The clicking
Procession presses forward
In mid and full swallow of
Fumes and in the pauses
Between chews of
Gum

Moving with the flow
Of blood, this brood
Of traffic, this ambivalence
Of tendons and tensions
Cloaked in grace in a day
To day matinee of survival

The tricycle moves
Ahead, the motor clicking
Like a movie camera as
Film coats the eyes giving
Shape and dimension to
What is and what is not seen

What is distorted
In the heart’s lens

The driver sees
it all, has seen it
all in the unblinking
shots of rain
delivering the corpses
of yesterday’s flowers

And the motorized
Tricycle is a
Camera

Capturing the
Shot

Every bullet
Piercing the
Wall of the skin
Of anonymity

Moving through
Bone, shattering
Yesterday

And the
Hour ahead

(C) 2017 Tony Robles

Switch Pitch

He kept playing with his mustache.  I sat one table away and the checks kept piling up.  It was tax season and we’d gotten temp jobs with the IRS.  They had a Chinese guy who pushed a little buggy that looked like a shopping cart.  He must have been around 100 pounds. He walked like one of those blackbirds you see at the park. He looked like he should have been working at a vegetable market instead of an office.  He came to my table.  I pictured him wearing a green apron holding an apple or scribbling numbers on a notepad.  He took a stack of checks from his cart and dropped it at my workstation.  I tried to imagine the stack as a mango, apple or peach.  I picked it up and undid the rubber band.  The little Chinese guy walked off rolling his cart every which way.

 

I started entering check totals into the computer.  I wasn’t fast but I was fairly accurate.   I would wet my finger with my tongue and flip through the piles of checks. Many thousands of dollars passed through my moist fingers. I didn’t care about the amounts.  To me they were all the same–numbers with plenty of zeros.  I looked up.  The guy at the other table was now running a small comb through his mustache.  He seemed to take great pride in it.  There was sheen to the mustache.  It was black—like mine—but had acquired a different tint.  I suspected it had been dyed.  His fingers tapped the number keys on his computer while his other fingers stroked the mustache like a harp.

 

All of us had regular jobs.  This assignment was to make extra money.  My regular job was file clerk for a large Japanese-based company.  It was a bore—no challenge.  The only excitement I got was polishing my bosses’ golf clubs in a large closet.  I’d sit on the floor removing grass and dirt from each club with a brush, followed by vigorous buffing.  It provided me some solitude but even that got boring in a hurry.  For this assignment we had a postman, a teacher, a beekeeper, a baby mattress factory worker and a guy who was studying to be a priest among our crew.  The office reminded me of the classrooms in community college, ceiling tiles awash in a milky hue of florescent light.  The people surrounding me looked like the people from school—only fatter, balder and more sleep deprived.  My eyes were heavy from the glare off the computer.

 

It was somewhat difficult for me to concentrate on the job at hand.  There were several attractive women at my table.  One was black with braids that flowed onto her shoulders like a waterfall.  Over the course of several weeks the waterfall transformed into meandering vines of red, blue, green, strawberry, and—on one particular week—cotton candy pink.  Her nails were claws—an inch and ½ in length—and of the same color schemes.  The theories on how she entered data on the keyboard so fast were as varied as her hues.  My eyes moved constantly—alternating between the checks and the women scattered about.  I’ve always been fond of unusual noses on women.  Our shift supervisor’s name was Farian.  She had beautiful flowing black hair that was slightly curled.  The bridge of her nose curved into a perfect arc.  It reminded me of a bird’s beak—a toucan or some other tropical bird.  Farian would visit each table to check on us.  I’d watch her and fall behind on my work.  She’d walk up to me and say, “Is everything ok…do you need more work to do?”  I’d reply that everything was fine, focusing on that nose.  She looked down at me and it felt like I was back in school.  My attention shifted from her nose to her breasts to her shapely compact ass.  If she commanded me to drop to my knees and kiss that ass, I would comply (without pay) with much joy and vigor.  She looked at me as if I’d slipped a million-dollar check into my under shorts.  She walked away then came back.  She dropped a new stack of checks on my table and headed to the other section of the office—nose first.  I looked up.  The guy at the other table–the one with the Mustache–nodded and smiled.

 

“Ok folks, time to take a break”, said the shift supervisor with the toucan’s nose.  I followed the other workers to the door.  They headed to the vending machines and outside for a smoke.  I headed to the bathroom.  I approached the urinal and settled into a vertical meditative position.  I heard a voice humming.  I looked to my right—the guy with the moustache was 2 urinals away. I turned to the wall.

“Hey…look at this”

I looked.

“Down here”

I couldn’t believe it.  His two feet were off the ground. He was hovering over the cold tile floor—and urinating—simultaneously.

“Wow”

He zipped up and flushed.  We washed our hands, admiring ourselves in the mirror.

“What’s your name? He asked.
“Tony”

“I’m Rolando”

He peered into the mirror.  He stroked his moustache with his index finger.  Somehow, it made me stroke mine as well.

“Are you Filipino?”

“Yeah”

“But born here, right?”

Yes, I replied.  He spoke with an accent.  I’d never been to the Philippines.  The closest I’d come was my grandma’s kitchen and listening to her speak on the phone in Tagalog.  Many Filipinos I meet ask my why I’d never been to the Philippines.  Rolando didn’t ask.  I didn’t have to explain my ignorance.

 

“How’d you learn to do that?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“Levitate off the ground”

“It’s an old trick…all shadows.  I used to work in a hospital.  I’d do tricks for the sick people, to make them feel better.

“Did it work?”

“Not always.  Once I levitated for this guy, he had cancer and other diseases.  He couldn’t talk but he spoke with his eyes.  I went off the ground…one, two, three inches.  The man cried tears of joy.  It was like rain on a sunny day.  I lowered myself back to the floor and he died…with a smile on his face.  I cried for days”

We walked out of the bathroom.  We stood near the window.  Below, the cars passed by and the streetlights blinked.  Our coworkers began walking back to their desks.

“You want to have lunch tomorrow?” Rolando asked.

“Yeah…where?”

“Don’t worry…I’ll bring food”

We went back to our tables and got to work.

 

The next day we sat in front of our computers until lunch break.  8pm.  Rolando motioned me to follow him.  He led me to the break room.  He opened a plain white refrigerator and pulled out a couple plastic containers.  He stuck it into the microwave and it sizzled and popped.  A small line formed at the microwave, all women.  They glanced at their watches.  The timer went off and Rolando took the food—fish, rice and vegetables—and placed it on a paper plate.  He slid it to me, then made a plate for himself.  I watched him.

“Go ahead, eat” he said.

 

I mixed the fish and rice on a spoon.  I swallowed and caught a bone in my throat.  I ate more rice.  My grandma used to tell me that eating rice gets the bones down your throat.

“I will bring you to the Philippines some day” Rolando said.

He put more food on his plate.
“Take some more…”

He pushed the last of the rice on my plate.

“I don’t speak Filipino”, I said.

“Don’t worry.  I will teach you”

He gave me the Filipino word for fork…tinidor…and spoon…kutsara.  I repeated it several times.  Learning Filipino words was good but I wanted to learn that levitating trick he’d done in the bathroom.

“Teach me some more Filipino words” I said.

“All you need to know is spoon and fork” he answered.

I looked at our plates.  They were empty.

“Let me show you something”

 

He took out his wallet.  It was filled with pictures cut to fit the plastic holders.  He took out a picture.  It was Rolando wearing a T-shirt with the words New York emblazoned.  Beneath him on a table lie a topless woman–one of those 6-foot blondes–with something smeared across her breasts.  In the picture were several other young Filipino men holding bottles of domestic beer.

“Is that you?” I asked.

“Yes…I’m sticking my tongue out”

I kept looking at the photo, all that icing.

“It was my brother’s bachelor party”, said Rolando.  “What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“Nothing”

“Lets go have a drink…I’ll take you home afterwards”

We tossed out plates into the trash and went back to work.

 

We took the train to Rolando’s house.  It was in a suburban court.  It was dark and he took out one of those laser pointers and aimed it at my crotch.  He laughed.  I followed him to the door.  In front was a lawn with patches of grass.  We walked inside.  A large Television sat in a corner showing a Philippine news program.  We sat and a small boy walked out.

“This is my son, Felipe”

“Hi Felipe”

The boy looked at my face.  He dropped to his knees and untied my shoelaces.

“Don’t do that” said Rolando

“That’s ok”, I said.

Rolando disappeared into a back room.  I tied my laces.  Felipe untied them again.  Rolando reappeared, this time with a woman.  I rose.

“This is Belinda, my wife”

“Hello”

Belinda was beautiful.  Smooth skin, petite.  I thought about the bachelor party picture that Rolando had shown me.

“Are you a Filipino?” Belinda asked.

“Yes”

“But you do not know how to speak our language?”

It was a question yet it wasn’t a question.

“I’m learning” I replied.  “I know how to say spoon and fork in Filipino.  I owe your husband a great debt for this”.  Felipe was still occupied with my shoelaces.

“Felipe…stop it!”

We sat down and ate with fork and spoon with the Philippine news program in the background.

 

We drove for about 15 minutes in Rolando’s black pick up.  He had one of those cardboard air fresheners dangling from the rearview mirror next to a cross.  I rolled down the window.  We came across clusters of trees.  The moon glowed in the sky, covered by those trees.  It seemed the farthest place from a bar.

“We almost there?”

“Almost”

He stroked his moustache.

“Why do you do that?” I asked.

“What?”

“Stroke your mustache like that?”

“Why can’t I?  Is it against the law?  I am proud of m mustache.  It makes me look handsome, like an actor”

I wondered what the Filipino word for moustache was.  We pulled into the parking lot of a large building.  It looked like a school.  A party, dancing and women, I thought.  I followed Rolando.

 

We walked through the door.  We walked down a carpeted hall.  We came to a table where a group of middle-aged men and women sat.  The men wore dark drab suits.  The women looked like grad schoolteachers.  Welcome, one of the women said.  “What is your name?”

She wrote my name and Rolando’s on name tags, then stuck them to our chests.  A man walked to me.  He shook my hand.

“Welcome to our bible study.  We have been waiting for you”

I looked at Rolando.  He smiled.  We walked down a hall and into a large room.  It was filled with people—women on one side, men on the other.  Everyone was Filipino.  The men were mostly older with hair that looked dyed all shades of black.  Some of them wore American flag ties.  An usher led us to a pair of empty seats.

 

At the podium was the pastor.  His hair was plastered down and combed painfully to the rear of his head.  His name was Elmer.  He spoke about God’s grace.  I looked at the men in my midst.  Rolando listened intently, nodding as the pastor spoke.  I looked at his mustache and thought about the drink he said we were supposed to have. You lying son of a bitch, I thought.

 

I listened on.  The pastor had an interesting way of speaking.  His accent was Filipino but at times he seemed to slip into a southern drawl.  It was as if his voice was coming out of one of those antique phonographs with speakers wider than a bullhorn.  I wanted to laugh.  The sermon was interminable.  I began to feel bad about my suppressed laughter.  Soon my face was as impassive as everyone else’s.  The pastor ended it with a prayer.

 

We left the room and came to another with food—sandwiches—egg salad, tuna with soft drinks.  We ate.  Rolando knew most of the people.  I came to find out through the course of small talk that Rolando was a member of the church.  We stood around when the pastor with the southern Filipino accent approached us.  He took a hold of my hand.  His hands were thick and powerful.  He looked into my eyes as if he’d known me since childhood.

“So, do you have Filipino blood?” he asked.

“Yes” I answered.

He looked at me, as if expecting an explanation—where my family was from, and why I didn’t speak the language (except for the words, fork and spoon).  But I just stayed quiet and continued working on my sandwich.  He thanked me for coming to the evening worship and urged me to come again.

“Thank you”

He left.

 

I looked at Rolando.

“I’ll be back”

I walked to the bathroom and approached the stall.  Something happened that I couldn’t understand or explain.  I was suddenly lifted off my feet.  I was levitating!  I looked in the mirror.  My eyes did not deceive me.  I reached for the windowsill and balanced myself in mid air.  I opened the window.  The moon was in its place among the trees.  I passed through the window and spilled to the ground like a slippery shadow.  I looked at the moon and took a deep breath.  I looked down at my shoelaces.  I tied them.  I headed home, wherever that was.

 

© 2010 Tony Robles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Songstress at Powell Street Bart Station

on a high note
on a low note

words woven by a
seamstress of words
who seems to forget
lyrics, whose performances
seem like a series of jumpstarts
and kickstarts that linger
in florescent luminance,
anything but seamless

singing into a plastic
microphone, her child
at her side in a stroller
i only have eyes for
you, she croons
while eyeing
eyes firmly set in faces
with places to go and
people to see

songstress at the
bart station, whose
voice squeaks like a
door closing when
approaching a high note

a voice trapped in
a plastic microphone
her daughter smiles,
and so does she as
those missed notes
search for a place
to be found among
the lost

a man drops
a dollar into
her hat

she smiles
a smile that
is the perfect
note

slightly
bent, but
hers

a smile
hitting the
right note

among the
missed ones

(c) 2017 Tony Robles