Community Poem:

If Everyone Had The Chance
To Tell Their Story,
What Would Happen?

Participants at the PAWA+TAYO+MAGANDA Writing Workshop
at the SFPL on 02/16/2014

(Alyssa Antonio, Hazel Cartalla, Aleinea Alcantara,
Edwin Lozada, Barbara Jane Reyes, and Melissa R. Sipin)

Who do I owe this for? 

When he was 87, he told me this: you must write, you must write about your world. You must write. When I am gone, how will you remember any of this? Your words will make people remember. There were stories. He always told stories. And most of the time, I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe they were truth. It’s not that I thought he was a liar. I thought he was making everything up.

So I wrote books. Because he knew so many things. Because the things he knew were true. Because once I did, others would just say: he’s making this all up. That never happened.

When he was 94, he slipped into a coma and then he died. I wasn’t there. But I wanted him to know I believed him. That I knew he was telling us the truth the whole time. That I would make others believe him, too. I owe him this. That.

Who do I owe this for? 

My mother is a religious woman. Her family back home is religious. I am religious.

The Statue of Listo has been in our house since my mom immigrated to the United States. January 1992.

The statue is from my mom’s eldest sister in the Philippines.
The statue is my mother’s reminder of her life.
The status has been my reminder for the past 21 years of my faith.

Who do I owe this for? 

As a kid, I always neglected the important things around me. I lived carelessly. I never thought of the consequences it could bring to me. Ever since my parents’ presence was no longer visible. I carried on as a good daughter but I didn’t know what that really meant. I kept on day by day on my own but in some ways, it haunts me: the family I yearn. But now, as I look back, I was such a kid, throwing tantrums that never really made an impact. I learned so many things. I grew up.

Who do I owe this for? 

Purchased in 1970 by my grandfather, the El Camino no longer runs today. Passed to my father in ‘95, countless of repairs, paint jobs, new parts. But it is hardly used anymore. Now it sits, run-down, eroded leather, cobwebs in all the crevices. It comes to its final rest, finally being used as nothing more than a placeholder: stuffy air and the memories that pass us by.

Who do I owe this for? 

I owe this to my family. My parents. “This” is a dream that my parents came to America for. The dream of having opportunities. My parents worked and worked and worked to give. There are moments when I complain about the most materialistic things: why is the Internet so slow? How come I’m not allowed to drive the car today? But then I catch myself, reminding and reminding myself that I shouldn’t be complaining, but rather be grateful for what my parents have given me: “this.”

Who do I owe this for? 

My mother’s terno of fine island piña threads

                        Woven and brought to life many decades ago

 baro’t saya with butterfly wings graced




            My mother hydra’s figure in a photograph with Marganta, my lola

                        mellowed to a tan color

                        many decades later in another continent

                        was given away, no longer relevant but

                        to me, after they had gone

            My mother’s terno of fine island piña threads

Who do I owe this for? 

There is a photograph of my father and mother. It sits among the others, scattered and arrayed in confusion and years passed. It’s a picture of my mother and father sitting on a white couch, a couch so white and gold. I sit between them, sunglasses green, and I’m smiling. My dad is too. My mother: yes.

This photograph is locked away in my brown treasure chest that sits upon my brown drawer nearby the large window, a little box for my memories. It sits alone in the sunlight and watches the rain. The photograph sits under pictures from other years, all things taken from my lola’s red albums, photos I stole after she died and my family raided her room and took her lost things. This is what I took: a reminder that my mother left when I was two.

Across the years it’s seen over ten apartments, over three states, has traveled across land and sea and trees that interlock to separate us. It’s seen us together and apart: laughing eating singing kicking crying being. 

This photograph looks back at me now, as I tape it onto the wall of my eleventh or twelfth apartment where the sunlight still rushes in.

I’m 26 now, the same age my mother left. I look back at it and ask:

Who do I owe this for?