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.