The Day After Filipino American History Month

it came and
went like a slippery
fish in my hands

i had no time to
celebrate or
contemplate

on November 1st i
looked at my Filipino
face in the bathroom
mirror and it looked
back like it’d never
seen me before

and i remember
how my grandmother
would speak over the
phone in Tagalog

i didn’t know who
she was talking to
or what she was
saying

i was just
a kid

and i walked down
Mission Street the day
after Filipino American
History month

a homeless guy
lay on the ground
like he was shot

and the firemen
pulled to the
curb

they approached
the man’s prone
body

One of the
fireman had a
Filipino face, blue
shirt and badge as
big as his body

he put his
boot on the
man’s back and
pushed into it

“Hey, you awake?”
he said

the man awoke,
startled and took
off towards the corner

the firemen got
into their truck

i walked over and
looked up at the guy
with the Filipino face
and said, “You Filipino?”

yeah, he said

yeah, me too
i said

You know, i said, you
shouldn’t put your
foot on a guy’s back
like that

he’s a human
being like you,
you know

You’re making
us look bad,
i said

and the man with
the Filipino face
looked at me, without
anger, without emotion,
without anything

and the fire truck
eased away from
the curb and took
off

one day

after Filipino
American history
month

(c) 2016 Tony Robles

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Heart and soul in Makati (For Equipto)

In Makati the
Vendor scoops the
Meat from coconuts

In rows the coconuts
Sit, exposed as the
Vendor bends his ear
Towards the sun

The picture is burned
Into my skin, my memory
My blood as I remember
Walking the streets of
Controlled frenzy towards
The jeepney

And in the jeepney
The pesos change
Hands, moving back
To front and back again

I pass the peso, pressing
My finger into it so as
Not to drop it

and the faces in
The jeepney press
Into me

They read me as I
Try to read them In
The absence of eye
Contact going both ways

In this metal shell of
Color and religious
Icons and parts welded
Together I lose the part
Of me I cannot hide

I get off the jeepney
Realizing I have left
My heart and soul
Inside

I chase after
It

Some 7000
Miles away

(C) 2017 Tony Robles

Manila Faces

Every face carries
A thousand
Stories

Feet that climb
The stairs, a
Thousand stories
Into the sky

Your face brings
Down the skies
And strips naked
The stars

In your face
You hold a
Thousand stories

In your eyes
You carry a
Thousand mountains

One drop from
Your eyes fills
Manila bay

Your mere gestures
Break the chains
Of silence

The slight tilt
Of your head
Turns a question
Mark into a musical
Note

Your face is a
Map of a thousand
Maps

Your face is a
Cracked porcelain
Pothole city of
Corrected caricatures
The remnants of
Canons

Your face holds
Sunken eyes that
Look into the deepness
Not seen with the
Naked eye

Your face

A clutter
Of gestures
Floating

In a glitter
Of traffic
Smoke

(C) Tony Robles 2017

Ampalaya

Nothing grows in
This room but
Debts
Swallows of beer
And stretches of
Time bending both ways

Stretched out
Waiting for the
Darkness to cover
Makati

And the elevator
Defies gravity

Sometimes
Failing

And we climb
The walls with our
Eyes as houseflies
Scale impossibilities

And she came
And spoke about
The ampalaya that
Her Lola grows

And things started
Growing in the
Room

And her tongue
Tells ampalaya
Stories

Her ampalaya
Eyes turn the
Soil over in my
Mind

And the fresh
Sweet ampalaya
Grows, its perfume
Leaving traces on
My skin

She speaks of
Slicing the backs of
Fish and filling them
With mountain vegetables

She says she
Doesn’t like her
Ampalaya nose

She says it’s
Ugly

But everything in
This room grows
Since she arrived

In this
Short

Season

(C) 2017 Tony Robles

My People

My people are
Great mimics

Just the other
Night I saw them
Swallow up the
Night, becoming
The night, wearing
The stars in their skin

A pinoy waling into
A microphone taking
The shape of a Philadelphia
Singer, chords plucked from
The Philly streets until the
Club became Philadelphia
And Then Pinoydelphia
And every color bird became
That other place where feathers
Were preened and glasses sat
Stoically in their ice

My people tap dance
On water and become
Water, moving, even
While still, at every pace,
Becoming the pace, the
Hop skip and jump

My people can
Pop wheelies on
A unicycle while
Popping popcorn
And the pimples on
Their faces

My people are
Great mimics, taking
The shape of an hour
Glass and turning it into
24 hours

My people are great
Mimics with their share
Of gimmicks, becoming
Ideas that do not sit
Still, cutting loose like fire

My people are
Great mimics

They become the
Tires on the road,
The nightsticks, the
Cars whose lips
Point towards you and
Away from you

They mimic the
Clouds, the lava
And the lizard

They mimic mirrors
That deflect any
Memory of mimicry

They take the shape
Of the wind as it
Collects in their
Palms

My people are
Great mimics

They mimic the
Flute with cavernous
Throats that pop off popcorn
Melodies, coughing up
Peanut shells and candy
Wrappers

My people are
Great mimics

But they do
Not mimic
Pain

Pain mimics
Them

(C) 2017 Tony Robles

Manila Walk

Walking the
Fault of your
Back

Tempting the
Turbulence of
Your spine as I
Tiptoe the taut
Tightrope that is you

Your wide canal
Spaces, a suppression
Of smiles

Your steady
Simmering stoicism
A procession of
Porcelain disarray

Maintaining the flow
Of marrow that
Navigates the stars

Walking in
Manila

Bumping into
Ghosts, bumping
Into bumper to
Bumper iterations
Of the self

Touching nothing
But warm air
Held hostage

And released

In the slow
Crawl

Brushing against
Time

(C) 2017 Tony Robles

Customs

What are
your customs?

How do your people
celebrate
mourn
sing
dance
worship
teach?

what do they
observe when the
sleep has collected
like cobwebs in
their eyes

it was a custom in
my family to knock on
the door of a friend or
relative with your
elbows when visiting

how do you
knock with your
elbows?

My father explained
that one knocks with
their elbows because
their arms are carrying
food

that’s about as
Filipino as he
got

and i walk
through customs
coming back from
Manila

what do i
bring back?

what do i
leave behind?

i make it through
customs

welcome back
home, the customs
agent says, to my
surprise

i proceed out of
the airport with my
pockets stuffed with
fish heads and Filipino
feelings

my feet head
towards Frisco

My eyes look for
a door to knock
on

with my
elbows

(c) 2017 Tony Robles