For Lolo, who taught me how to be a father
After José Rizal

“Farewell,” I imagine you said to your adored daughter.
Though you had others I look at mine,
With her mother’s nose but my mother’s eyes,
And I can only imagine the way your
Heart must have fractured and the words stuck

On the part of the tongue that goes wide

And swells when you carry grief;

When you’re grieving.

And, Lo, I feel that heaviness now.

I’ll feel it forever, I think.

I pace the catacombs of my mind

Wishing I’d kept the memories filed

In an orderly fashion. Like you’d have.

Instead they’re tucked and hidden and

What I’d give to be able to walk across the ocean

Across time and right back into your arms.

To have you call me, Jay…
To eat the rice cake you bought me, together.

To ask how to do all of this cause

All of this seems to be just too much.

My daughter, your apo, is growing

Too fast and soon enough I’ll have
To learn to let her go

To love her like you loved my mother

To learn to say


And know that love sometimes means having to say good bye.

Me and Lolo. 2001. Photo credit: Lolo’s archives.

Me and Lolo. 2001. Photo credit: Lolo’s archives.


I heard a boy talk about
Traveling through
Three countries
Three separate times
By himself
At the age of 7
To be reunited with his mother.

And I sat wondering
How long we’ll ask people
To cut themselves open
So that we can confirm for ourselves
That they bleed like us.

Image of door from Mexican side of border wall with US. Photo credit: Abraham A. Joven, Nov. 2016

Image of door from Mexican side of border wall with US. Photo credit: Abraham A. Joven, Nov. 2016

Boy Meets World

I think a lot about the shows we watched.
Latch-key kids have a very special bond
With their TVs:
Windows to a world locked
Behind their own window.

I remember looking at Corey Matthews’
House and wondering:
Why don’t any of the
Houses on my block look like that?

My parent’s liquor store wasn’t on
Boy Meets World. The Cruz’s Dry Cleaners
And the Kim’s Hawaiian-plate lunch shop
Don’t exist
In that world.

Houses with front and backyards
Instead of apartment buildings
With cement foyers
Or duplexes back-to-back with
Tri-levels and bi-sected
By alleys.
Did Mr. Matthews ever worry
About parking at night?

But I think most about those
Big holiday episodes:
Thanksgiving or Christmas.
The whole family gathered
Around a table
With the breaking of bread
Serving as the breaking of resentments
And the sharing of joys.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have
The giant turkey or expensive ham
Though, I guess, our turkey was smaller
And we sometimes didn’t have a ham at all.

It was that the episode’s conflict
Was often solved
By a grandparent.

And mine were thousands of miles away
Connected by unreliable cables
Costing a week’s pay
For 10 crackle-y minutes
Of my *Lolo* softly listening
To all he’d missed.
For 10 crackle-y minutes
I got to forget
All I’d missed.

Valyermo, CA. 2018. Photo credit: AJ

Valyermo, CA. 2018. Photo credit: AJ

The Toughest Words to Write

The Toughest Words to Write

When I took my job as an immigrant rights advocate nearly two years ago, I knew it'd be tough. I would be doing this work as part of a faith organization and knowing the politics of the laity as a member this church, I would have the difficult task of not only having to convince people in power of the moral necessity and urgency of our cause, but often also have to speak to my brothers and sisters in the pews. I'd have to confront the fact that many people who share my faith do not necessarily see my whole humanity.

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Nov. 2016

I slept fearful but still
In the vision
Of us being close together.
Prickly to the touch
And tension thick as molasses
But together.

I woke up to a gaping chasm
Between us
And I can’t find a way around
Or over
Or past.

How far away are we?
How far away have we been?
Was it always like this?
Will it always be?

Astoria, Oregon. 2016. Photo Credit: AJ Joven

Astoria, Oregon. 2016. Photo Credit: AJ Joven

Darth Vader Could've Used Parenting Classes

Why are so many fathers in sci fi
Assholes? Like, just terrible, terrible men?
Vader sliced his son’s hand off and
Starlord’s Dad tried to turn him into a battery
Oscar Wao’s dad was never there.
And I guess I ask these things because
I watch these movies and read these books
And wish that, just once, Luke might say,
“I might’ve beat the Emperor quickly
If I had two hands!”
Or Oscar might finally find his father and ask,
“Why didn’t you stick around
And teach me how to throw a punch?”

That, just once, the chips might hold their
Rolling stones still enough
To see them
Hear them
Force them to reckon with the Dad-shaped holes
In their personal narratives.
To hold them accountable

For the rest of us.

Me and Baby M. Riverside, CA. October 2017. Credit: Carrell Jamilano

Me and Baby M. Riverside, CA. October 2017. Credit: Carrell Jamilano


Brgy. Batis, San Juan, Metro Manila

Dad had just got done unfurling the
Giant roll of firecrackers.
A roll so big it looked like the red cousin to our 40 foot
Garden hose slung over his shoulder.
He gave the thumbs up
And then you lit the fuse. 


The heat from the light
Forced us the shield our eyes
And we yelped with
Amazement at the miniature explosions
Happening like gunpowder dominoes.

It’d be 4 hours until the first news reports
Of accidental deaths and massive dismemberment
And all of it on show with either dogged determination
To assessing the real risk of such actions
Or understanding the fact that even if I’d wanted to
I couldn’t look away

And neither would the rest of us.

Outside in the portico
Our Lolo - well, not our Lolo
But that’s what we call everyone
Our Lolo’s age - held the
String on this contraption:
Like the top of a crab cage
But it was our claws stretching up
Towards the aguinaldos tethered to it
Which is ironic because we are Aguinaldos

And inside, our Titas who aren't our titas 
Served up tequila and karaoke
And said: “This is our tradition!”
Holding up shot glasses
Commanding us to toast.

I took a beat
One worthy of the 15 years
It’d taken to get here
And knew
In the marrow of my bones
That I was home.

A  Lolo  who  is  my  Lolo . Ninoy Aquino Airport. Manila, Philippines. December, 2009. Credit: AJ Joven

A Lolo who is my Lolo. Ninoy Aquino Airport. Manila, Philippines. December, 2009. Credit: AJ Joven

Our Tears

After Clint Smith III

This morning I received a call from
A woman at the end of her rope:
A husband threatened with deportation
And a newborn just brought home
A car just impounded
And rent nearly due
And her other child crying
And the groceries nearly used up.

Our tears are shed for the patriots draped in flags
Boots dusty and tracking sand from a foreign land
Our tears are shed for the sentinels behind badges
Working long nights in neighborhoods we’ve long abandoned
Our tears are shed for the incandescent ones
Who’ve made us laugh or cry or whoop or holler at screens
On fields on courts on canvas on pages

But her story was not nearly American enough
For us to grieve.

Mexican side of the US-Mexico Border. Tijuana, Mexico. November, 2016. Credit: AJ Joven

Mexican side of the US-Mexico Border. Tijuana, Mexico. November, 2016. Credit: AJ Joven


"They don’t love you like I love you." - Karen O

But what to make of these new ones here
Who only seek to fashion your heart after theirs?
What can I do w the rippling of envy
The seething of anger as I watch them
Tear and rip at your garments
Tsk-ing at your hand-me down shirt -
The one I found on that day the clouds suddenly opened up from above And wasn’t it just like me to have forgotten the umbrella
So I picked up the only thing I could afford:
A 1983 CIF Championship track shirt
For some high school we didn’t attend
But it somehow all felt right.
And though I’d outgrown it I couldn’t throw it out
So you kept it.
Can they remember the time they looked on you
From the 105 interchange - the highest spot in our neighborhood. Lights twinkling
And stoplights churning and, yeah, my
Heart racing in the mix of a fear of
Heights I hadn’t quite realized and the sadness
Of my first heartbreak.
I went to you first.
You held me there.
And now I don’t know what to do
As these people set up their own
Homes inside of you
While I look outside knowing I’d
Loved you first.

Pershing Square. Downtown LA. March 2017. Credit: AJ Joven

Pershing Square. Downtown LA. March 2017. Credit: AJ Joven

Nov. 2008

For Carrell

It happened, I think, at Ayala Triangle
In the back of a cab that said *Aircon* like
All the others. A necessity on a typically muggy
December day in Manila. Throngs of people
Released for lunch, 
Moving in-between the idling
Cars that make Roxas, Makati, and
Ayala look more like that Disneyland parking lot
We'd lost our car in during our first trip together
Than the three main arteries
Trisecting the heart of
Homeland's financial district.

I wish I could bring all of this home to you.

The hanging lanterns in the garden trees
Gleaming bright white against the
Verdant leaves in the sun.
The sharp smell of diesel mixing with the
Sweet scent of steamed rice
From the restaurants crammed with workers.
Cataloging the cart with the daffodil painted on the front
Selling the best *espasol* I'd ever had
On the way to Tagaytay
And the street vendors I’d met near Araneta
With these barbecue sticks laid thick with
That sugary-savory combination
Unique to our people
And the Sari Sari store my aunt owns
Where they all say it’s past time for me to
Find a wife. 

I choke back the melancholy of
Your absence with the silent promise to
Bring you back someday.

And so, it was there, 
In the back of the cab
Stopped in work day traffic at the foot of
The Child of the Philippines
That I realized I loved you.

St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church. 2014. Photo Credit: Melissa Mustafa. http://advtrcollective.com

St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church. 2014. Photo Credit: Melissa Mustafa. http://advtrcollective.com

Teen Atlas


I see his pained face,
Sweat beading at his temples
And muscles rippling under his
Navy blue hoodie.
Impractical fashion to hoist
Such a load but, then,
When I was his age I wore
What I wanted, too.
And now he’s stuck in that
Heat colluding with the gravity of his
Burden to force the clothing to
Stick to his skin. I’m slightly better off in
My moisture-wicking material,
But my Burden still chafes.

His eyes, brown and
Warm and worn,
Meet mine.

I’m sorry, brother,
For the yoke on you. We, your elders,
Should have known -
Should have done - 
We should have raised our voice
And when that failed, Hell.
For you. 
For us.
Your shackle was forged by our
Silence and your lot was cast by
Our red hands.

And as we labor here, 
Fates tethered,
I pray our revolution
Brings liberty before
Your young eyes fade.

US-Mexico Border from the Mexican side. Tijuana. November 2016. Credit: AJ Joven

US-Mexico Border from the Mexican side. Tijuana. November 2016. Credit: AJ Joven


It didn’t come haloed in gold
But it felt like it.
Warm in my hands
And crisp
As it was given
To me
Or maybe I just imagined that
But it felt like a

The number of places after the comma
Struck me then: we’re not
Going to worry about rent tonight.
We can breathe with our bellies loose
And sleep with the AC on
And get the steak instead of the ground chuck
And maybe you won’t have to worry
About falling asleep on the drive home.

St. Joseph, Oregon. 2016. Credit: AJ Joven

St. Joseph, Oregon. 2016. Credit: AJ Joven

Sometimes, The Bad Guys Win

Sometimes, The Bad Guys Win

So, on Sunday night, while rocking my newborn to sleep, I felt bereft because I know what it’s like to be called chink and Jap and to have people slant their eyes at me. I felt bereft because the governing body of this sport that I love had the opportunity to send a firm message that this behavior is not only unacceptable, but that the presence of people like me - including the very people they employ - are welcome and protected in this space. I felt bereft because it wasn’t the first time. And it won’t be the last.

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Hometown Glory

For Hawthorne

I envision you in the glow of the rising sun.
Framed in gold and hands turned up
To receive these gifts and dispense them to
Black and brown faces meant to

Live grace.
But denied it
Too often outside
Your limits.
Find grace. 
Between Prairie and Imperial.
At Inglewood and El Segundo.
Saved for us ethereal

The blessings and sorrows, trials and narrow
Escapes - we’re scraped up but safe. Tomorrow
Was never promised us but you
Held us close.
Nurtured us to full grown artists -
Tending us to full bloom harvest.

You loved us; imperfect us.
You loved us. Hometown gloried us.
You loved us. And we love you.

Hawthorne, CA. 2011. Credit: AJ Joven

Hawthorne, CA. 2011. Credit: AJ Joven

Irreconcilable Differences

Job? Yeah, I knew him.
Nice guy, I guess. It’s just...
Look, I’ve gotta be honest,
We all make mistakes, right?
And, I mean, all things being equal
He *was* vindicated. So, I
Mean, you’ve gotta understand:
Eli, Bil, and I were just calling it like we saw it!
And, ok, he turned out to be innocent
But how could *we* have known?
If you ask me, he’s just
A bit sensitive.
What? I’m sorry -
I missed what you said.


We don’t speak anymore.

Asilomar State Beach, CA. 2017. Credit: AJ Joven

Human Capital

These hands are tired, 
Friend. Weathered after
Years of picking
Under the Delano sun.
A life spent setting your
Table that I might set mine.

This back is broken,
Friend. Weary and sore after
Decades stooped over fields
Of spinach and vines of grapes.
My health given for 38 cents a pound
To get my children educated at 50k a year.

I am too old,
Friend. With knees meant for
Treading on soft, moist earth,
Now creaky and sallow
From kneeling in dirt - in the shadow
Of your benign allyship.

Who will do the labor?

You value this work
But miss Me.
A history left across the ocean
Of schools and books and family and




Sunset at Asilomar State Park. 2017. Credit: AJ Joven

Sunset at Asilomar State Park. 2017. Credit: AJ Joven


Out here, I feel a shift;
Familiar, but in the way of an old friend
I haven’t seen in a while.
Solo drives through deserted roads
Have a unique feel:
Therapeutic, calming, healing,

But this feels different

Because the only thing I’ve broken
Is the physical proximity to you
Our little one.

There was a time when this
Made sense to me:
A life spent living
Out of a suitcase
And staring out from
Behind a steering wheel.
When once I thought ‘itinerant’ and ‘ascetic’
Were synonymous with ‘prophetic.’

A life spent away.

But hearts, I’ve learned, are healed
In other ways. And ‘missionary’ doesn’t
Have to mean a lonely death
On the doorstep of
A far-off place.

I am restored by the familiar shape
Of your body next to mine.
Even as it has changed along our
Nine month wait for the arrival of
Our newest member.

I am healed by the soft to LOUD, s l owtofast
Chime of your laugh that
Comes in response to your own

I am found in the warm
Recognition, the softening of your iris,
As I walk through the door.
30 hours away was once a small ask.
It is now on the edge of too much.

Cliffs of Moher. 2015. Credit: AJ Joven

Cliffs of Moher. 2015. Credit: AJ Joven