By Al Robles
Al Robles is a co-founder of Kearny Street Workshop and has been a community worker in Chinatown Manilatown for 40 years. His poetry has been published in many works, including the following poetry in RAPPIN WITH TEN THOUSAND CARABAOS IN THE DARK poems by Al Robles, published by UCLA Asian American Studies Center 1996.
Reprinted with permission of the poet
Rappin’ with Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark
International Hotel—in the mongo heart & isda mind of the Philippines—where old & young Pilipinos live, hang, & roam around all day like carabaos in the mud: eating, sleeping & working. Pilipinos scattered all over—brown faces pied high, moving like shadows on trees, concrete doorways, pool halls, barber shops. Guitar music echoes thru— down deep in your mongo heart & isda mind. Chinatown across the way. Sixty-thousand or more live in rooms the size of tea pots, stretching east, west, north & south. Thousands are crammed in damp basements, alley ways, behind run-down barrels of ancient Chinese mountain wine. Thousands of Chinese children run along soy sauce streets— long black hair glistening like a cool stream—a quiet moon watches. Short crop of hair—morning spring faces— underneath fresh-soaked clouds. All those tiny footsteps keep the winter belly warm.
All night session—ocean of words
Legaspi—Frank—Bob—-Bill Sorro—Mee Har—Me
& somebody else.
Early start at Legaspi’s UFA mountain fortress
Put down your white mind
with your eyes behind brown skin
brown =brown =brown=brown
fallen coconuts on a cold
cold winter day.
in the hot summer sun
Bill Sorro: “You know, when I go into the pool halls
& see my Pilipino brothers, I want to say to them:
‘you know I know how you feel; I know how you think.’ I want to say to them,
Manong, manong, manong, don’t you know
you are being fucked.”
“I am brown, I am together, I am beautiful”
Come down from those white flaky hills
the smell of the carabao shit stills
keeps the pampano swimming
in your belly.
Put down your knives & forks
and eat rice & fish
with brown winter-soiled hands.
jump and wallow
in the mountain-grass heap shit
of the carabao.
IF you only knew how brown you are
you would slide down
from the highest
you would whip out your lava tongue
& burn up all that white shit
that’s keeping your people down.
Don’t you know
you smell like
the deep brown earth
if you only knew
if your eyes were
you would see the sun