Rest in Peace, Al Robles


San Francisco poet Al Robles passed away last week. He was loved by many, for his Zen vibe, his talk story, poetry, and his community and political activism. The author of Rappin With Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark (UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 1996), he documented the lives and voices of the Manongs, the West Coast Filipino laborers of the early 1900's who experienced institutional racial violence in their youth, and whom America had subsequently forgotten, in his poems.

Robles was a community activist, popularly associated with the movements against the evictions of the elderly Manongs from the International Hotel in 1977. It was there, in the shadow of North Beach's Beat Literature scene and the encroaching financial district that the Asian American arts organization, Kearny Street Workshop, with which Robles was involved, was born just five years previous to the evictions. Robles dedicated his life and work to serving San Francisco's low income elderly communities.

As a poet, he influenced younger generations of poets and activists, reminding us youngbloods that art and activism are not and should never be exclusive categories.

In the words of his nephew, author Tony Robles, "The influence of my Uncle Al on Pilipino-American poetry is akin to Chuck Berry's influence on Rock & Roll, it is far reaching and ever growing, from established writers to the hip hop generation; his words have touched their hearts and inspired them to get involved in serving our community."

To find out more about Al Robles, here are some links:

Poor Magazine, Manilatown is in the Heart.
Manilatown Heritage Foundation.
Rappin With Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark.

Jazz of My Youth

I remember jazz of my youth
In the streets of Fillmore
Crossing over
To cousin Jimbo’s Bop City
Where the green between
His dark ebony fingers
Flapped in the cool Post street wind
Take the "A" train & slide all the way down
Listening to sounds close to the ground
Fillmore street bound
Jazz comin’ ’round
Conga tight skins crack
All day & all morn’
All night session
How high the moon
Laying down in the back room
Horns blowing to stars fell on alabama
As the night fog squeezed in
Wailing sounds echoed in the air
The streets sparkled like stars
All the things you are

Jazz of my youth
Cruising over to Soulsville
Stepping over cords
Guitar strings cutting loose on Tenderly

Jazz of my youth
Jack's on Sutter
Jackson’s Nook
Step back & be cool
Head to the back room
Thick smoke curling round
A brown pilipino man
Blowin’ it’s almost like falling in love
Hunched over a piano
A gray sharkskin overcoat
Dark shades
Brown fingers runnin’ up & down
The ivory keys
Dark black hair gleams
With three flowers
Charlie Abing
The jazz man from Stockton
Blowing sax & piano
What a rare mood I’m in
It’s almost like falling in love

Jazz of my youth
Runnin’ the Mo'
The cool streets
Talkin’ deep & sweet
I remember you...
You’re the one that
Made my dreams
Come true

--Al Robles, from Rappin With Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark (hear podcast here).

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