Tony Robles

Tony Robles, “The People’s Poet” was born in San Francisco and is the nephew of Filipino-American poet, historian and social justice activist Al Robles. He was a shortlist nominee for poet laureate of San Francisco in 2017 and the recipient of the San Francisco Arts Commission individual literary artist grant in 2018. His two books of poetry and short stories, Cool Don’t Live Here No More: A letter to San Franciscoand Fingerprints of a Hunger Strike (both published by Ithuriel’s Spear Press) take on the issues of eviction, gentrification and police violence in communities of color. He is also the author of two children’s books, Lakas and the Manilatown Fish and Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel, published by Children’s Book Press and Lee and Low. Based in North Carolina, Tony was named the 2020 Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence and is currently pursuing his MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Poem on Belonging

WHITE AMERICAN (A deli counter encounter)

The customer approaches
the counter

She looks as if she
has had more than her share
of trips to the make up
counter

I offer her a
hello to go with my
brown face

Working the deli
counter, slicing turkey,
ham, salami, pastrami
chicken and cheese

scooping potato salad,
cole slaw and ambrosia

I want White American
she says

a half pound

White American? I ask

Cheese, she replies

I search the meat
case

I search and search
and come upon it

White American
cheese

I had been somewhat
familiar with the government
variety, a big block with an
orange tint

I didn’t know White American
cheese existed and I am
thankful for the extended
education I am receiving from
the deli that employs me

I slice that
block of cheese

White American

Wrap it with
my brown hands

in plastic

to go with the
words: Thank you, come again

Copyright © 2021 by Tony Robles. This poem originally appeared in Migozine Summer 2021.