Suggestion

Suggestion
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

Life isn’t like a rollercoaster with steep, anticipatory climbs
And sudden, exhilarating drops. It’s more like walking through the woods
Along a path that keeps disappearing and reappearing
At seemingly random points along the way.
The next time it disappears, walk only
Until you find a level enough space to pitch a tent,
And then spread out all your stuff—your current, new-fandangled (and unreliable)
Compass, your dented kettles, your books and journals,
Pocketknives and pieces of flint, and your old, crumbling
Provisions wrapped in old, crumbling tin foil, and hunker down
For the night, or the better part of a day or a week,
Or until you begin to feel like a caterpillar tired of its own cocoon,
And when that happens, wriggle out of your sleeping bag,
Crawl through the narrow, triangular opening,
Stand, stretch, look around, scratch your head, and you’ll find–there,
Where you hadn’t noticed it before, will be the path,
And today it might be inclining upwards, and just the sight of it
Will be enough to make your legs ache,
But slowly get down on your hands and knees anyway,
And start packing everything back up, stuffing everything
Back down in your knapsack, and then tie on the kettles
And hoist the whole kit and caboodle over your shoulders,
Where it will likely knock you off balance a little,
But then steady yourself, take a deep breath,
And start trudging again.
And after awhile of walking, looking at the ground,
If you keep your sense of awareness at the ready,
You will suddenly bump into another hiker
And you’ll walk, side by side, sharing stories,
Things you’ve seen and heard along the way,
And suddenly, without either of you even realizing it
The weight on your backs will have lightened,
And the path, no matter whether it’s clear or not,
Will be clear now that you’ve fallen in step
With someone else heading to the same place;
That place, over there, that’s really actually here,
Where you’re walking, together, on the journey
To yourself, to each other, to the wide open space
Called Freedom.


 

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What To Do

What to Do
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

If you fumble around long enough
Words will turn up.
The trick is to keep searching.
Look under the dusty cushions
Of old ideas,
Or in the loose pockets
Of worn out prejudices,
Thumb through the flat, leather wallet
Of your past accomplishments,
Reach for the every day,
Explore the every where,
Touch the faces of revelation,
Brush open the hands of wonder.
Most of all, allow your awareness
To settle into the moment, like
A butterfly settling on a flower,
Or better yet, like a tone
Blossoming from a bell.
Your life is brimming
With meaning. This moment
Is ringing with the One
Word that holds all words,
That lifts all burdens into sunlight;
This moment, this life–look here,
Look now.

 

 

 


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Insight

Insight
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

Today as I prayed, I imagined standing
Near a sandy beach, and as I did, fear vanished
And so did anger, resentment, jealousy, and shame.
All that was left was an ocean
Of sorrow, and an ocean of joy,
And I am convinced in this moment that the soul
Knows only these two emotions: joy and sorrow.
The rest of them belong to the mind.
And the body has the blessing (or curse,
As the case may be) of feeling them all.
Of course fear will crop up
Any minute now, or some ancient shame
Will appear out of nowhere
And turn my gaze once again to the ground.
That said, I hold to the idea
The beach inspired: the soul only knows two emotions.
A boat cannot sail across an ocean of anger.
Only over heaves of sorrow or
Buoyant ripples of joy can a vessel
As fragile as ours get anywhere.
And all the other emotions pass.
Only joy and sorrow remain—
Waves of sorrow, like wind
Through reeds, currents of joy,
Like fingers through harp strings,
Sorrow that wanders abandoned houses,
Joy that claps its hands with praise,
Sorrow, limitless, and dark as night,
Joy, shimmering, like a sea of gold.
The eternal dance of union and longing–
The substance and form of all we ever wanted
And all that we are, or ever shall be,
Is made up of the rhythms of joy and sorrow.
So I will hold still and I will sing,
For today I know the soul’s journey
Is sure, the soul’s journey is born
On waves of sorrow and currents of joy,
And ends on the shore where the Beloved waits,
In perfect peace, to welcome us home.


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Light-Hearted

Light-Hearted
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

Snow descends slowly and soft, like
So many hours and days; drifting
And banking up against houses
And closed garage doors.

And the silence with which it falls,
Lulls us into thinking it will last forever.

You go to sleep and the roads are clear.
You wake and they’ve turned into scrolls
Unfurling in a dazzling emptiness
And a blinding story you cannot make heads
Or tails of, and there’s no way
To even compose a coherent life or a song upon
Such vast, frozen pages.

So why rise at all? Why not
Sink back into bed? Why get on
All that gear and clear off the cars
And shovel the drive when there’s no place to go?

Truly I haven’t a clue, except winter casts
A spell that draws us out of our warm
And familiar lives and into another world,
Another planet called Wonder or Hush.
There is white magic in the steadiness,
In the hypnotic piling up of flat, geometric
Prisms—each one different, infinitesimally small—light—
Hearted and easily dissolved into the ground.

And when we wake to the brilliance
Of such an elaborate, albeit cold opportunity,
One in which we can freely choose to participate, or not;
One in which we bring our own warmth
And sense of adventure, and we step out of our safe space
And into the holy silence, all geared up and as prepared as we can be,
And we trudge in the knee-high drifts until we find a place
Or until a place finds us, and we feel compelled to fall
And make an angel out of our lives; out of the one, geometric,
Light—hearted life of who we really are.

 

 


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It All Starts With a Question

It All Starts With a Question
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

It all starts
With a question.
Somehow, someway
It gets spoken
Or simply lifts
Into your life, like
The dawn.
Either way
It appears
And your life changes
Because of its presence.
Perhaps it sings
Into your life, like
Morning birds that say:
“Flock! Tree! Let’s Go!
Stay! Sun! Fly! Wings!”
And gets puzzled up
In chatter.
Perhaps it crashes
Into your life, like
A tree branch
Through your roof.
Perhaps it stands
Unspoken for years
In a corner of the room, like
A lamp without a bulb.
Perhaps it drifts
Into your awareness, like
The fragrance of rain,
Or morning coffee,
Or mold discovered
In the basement.
No matter how or when
It arrives, the thing to do
Is remember:
There is a quest
In every question.
And sometimes questions
Need to be followed, like
A child on a walk in the woods
On a summer day, and sometimes
Questions need to be pursued, like
A runaway train. And sometimes
Questions simply need to be
Acknowledged, and the answers
Pale in comparison
To the fact that you were finally
Able to ask whatever it was
You so desperately needed to say.
Of course, sometimes
The answer is so utterly everyday
That we miss it, like
A stop sign or a dandelion.
Sometimes the answer and the question
Arise together, like
The butterfly in the cocoon,
Or the bird in the egg,
Or the acceptance in the sorrow,
And sometimes,
Sometimes, it all ends
With a question,
And when it does,
The thing to do is to remember:
There is a quest
In every question,
And no quest is ever deemed unworthy
Simply because the end
Winds up being
Another beginning,
Or the “X marks the spot”
Ends up being the very place
Where your knees
Touch the ground
And your eyes search the sky,
And no quest, no matter what
Any staunch individualist says
Is ever meant to be traveled alone.

 


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On God, Tightropes, and Wheelbarrows

On God, Tightropes, and Wheelbarrows
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

There’s this old story still going around
About a tightrope walker pushing a man
In a wheelbarrow across a tightrope
Suspended over Niagara Falls.
The story is supposed to illustrate
How we, if we truly have faith in God,
Need to get in the wheelbarrow
And allow ourselves to be pushed
Across the tightrope in the wheelbarrow.
Belief is thinking the tightrope walker can do it,
Faith is getting in the wheelbarrow.
Of course we’re all supposed to say:
“Well, that sounds hard, but yes, I’ll do it.
I want that kind of surrender-faith.”
May I give you my slant on this whole idea
Of wheelbarrows and tightropes, and Gods
That want us to do this sort of thing?
Any God that requires someone
To get in a wheelbarrow on a tightrope
And be pushed across, is not God.
Any God that tells Abraham to tie
His son to a rock and sacrifice him
Is not God. If he is, then join me up
With the local Atheist Society.
My God, works on the ground,
In a garden, on a bright, spring day.
My God doesn’t need me
To prove anything to him
Or anyone else. My God
Isn’t a performer of feats
Of audacity and sheer stupidity.
My God’s on the ground, working
In a garden, and one day (every day) says to me:
“Hey there, want a ride in the wheelbarrow?”
And I am free to get in or not. My faith
Is not tested one bit regardless
Of my answer. If I want to stay out of the wheelbarrow
That’s fine, I can putz around the garden
All day, all life, looking for bugs and rocks and other treasures,
And God will just wave every now and then
As he goes by and I can go over and show him
The praying mantis I found and he’ll say,
“Wow, that’s really cool. Now let it go.”
But for the sake of this discussion, let’s say I get in,
And God begins pushing the wheelbarrow,
And it’s still got a little dirt in it and I like that,
And the sides are hard and cold as I hold on tight,
And I like that too, it feels safe and solid,
And God pushes, slowly at first, but then
Picks up a little speed, and is soon
Dashing along the border of the garden
And the wind is blowing through my hair,
And I am laughing, and a kid again—
A kid the whole time, forever, in a wheelbarrow.
And maybe God keeps walking–slows
To a steady gate, and I drift to sleep,
And God, being God, just keeps walking
And pushing the wheelbarrow,
And whenever I choose, he stops,
Lets me push, and maybe even,
On real, heretical days, gets in himself
Lets me push, or at very least, give other people,
Other kids, rides around the garden.
Or maybe he gets in, and because he’s God
Can make the wheelbarrow go without
Anyone pushing it, and so we can both
Ride together, and I can allow myself
To sink into his arms as the wheelbarrow
Sails across the field, and I can stick my hands out
And brush the tall, passing grass, or the nodding
Sunflowers, and maybe the wheelbarrow can
Grow and grow and grow and fit
As many kids as want to get in.
That all sounds much better to me,
Than getting in a wheelbarrow, on a tightrope,
Over Niagara Falls, and being pushed across.

 

 



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Allowing Birdsong

Allowing Birdsong
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

There is a softness
In the pain
Just big enough
To crawl through
And cry, like
A baby.
There is a softness
In the pain
That opens
Just wide enough
To allow birdsong
To filter in.
There is a softness
In the pain
That you can
Sink down into
Without any thought
Or care of what anyone
Thinks or says or does,
Where you can surrender
Deeply into the coldness
That is a broken heart,
Knowing it will end,
It has to end. The pain
Cannot last forever.
And the softness–
The softness will gradually
Begin to radiate out
Encompassing things, like
Love, mercy, self-acceptance,
Determination, other people,
And the growing ability
To allow yourself
To be happy.

 



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Owl

Owl
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

Somewhere
In the night trees
You ask the question
While at the same time
Bragging that you know
The answer.
And you glide
Around our houses,
Drift through the moonlight
Over our backyards,
Confident in your silent wings,
With the night
Coursing through your bones
With sheer joy
Above us all.

I lie awake
Listening.
When I am finally able
To sob the same question
Into the darkness
I am racked with dread,
And I frantically try to avoid
The turn of your head,
Desperately try to blend in
With the surrounding shadows,
Wildly try to pretend
I have not been left out in the open—
And so I run, or I freeze,
Hell-bent on avoiding the talons
You close around those
Who do not know
The answer.


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The Burial

Burial
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

The spirits gathered around my bed
Hooded, cloaked in darkness,
Arms like terrible branches
Grasping and hungry.
They wanted the child
I was holding, and yet I
Was only a child myself,
Unable to protect myself
Or the child from their frenzied hunger.
And yet they wanted the child.
And in the blackness of that midnight,
In the utter aloneness of that moment,
As the spirits tore at my arms,
I wouldn’t give them what they wanted.
I held on to the child.
But not out of heroics.
For the child I held was already dead.
And I simply wouldn’t give him up.
I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. And my life
Became a shrine to this baby,
This baby dead from as far back
As I can remember.
And just as the spirits from the darkness
Surrounded me, and just as I sometimes feel like
I have become one of them,
The spirit of that baby lives
And guides my every movement.
I cannot bring the child back
But I can live in his honor,
And bury him at the roots
Of the Tree of Life, and believe
He will rise again, transfigured
However he will into my life
And yours, informing us all, like
Breath, like a garden, like
The wide open sky.

 



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Birthday Verse

Birthday Verse
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

Dream into the day
Of roads and rivers
And paths winding
Through sleepy woods,
And fields draped with butterflies
And honeybees, and time,
And a summer evening blessed
With cricket songs and a carnival of fireflies.
Keep these things, tuck them away
In the pockets of your life.
They are yours forever.
And then awaken.
Awaken into the joy
Of discovering the purpose
You were created for,
And be yourself—
Full of treasure, full
Of blessings, full
Of an emptiness never meant
To be filled—an emptiness
That sings: I am a river
And I am a fountain,
And I am the day,
And I am your life.
Share me with the world.

 


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