Your Soul is Rooting For You
Joseph Anthony Petro
Searching through veins
That branch like blue trees
And sinew strung purple and tan,
Singing, like the fragrance
Of honeysuckle fingering
Through the billow drapery
Of a moonlit room—
Your soul is looking for you.
Through marrow and bone,
Through flashing neurons,
And the twisting bridges
Of firing synapses, your soul
Is on a quest to find you alive.
Ferreting through the fallen leaves
Of countless conversations,
Ransacking the rooms
Of your childhood,
Sifting through handfuls of tears,
Foraging through jungles
Of the unraveled skeins of unused desires,
Your soul aches to know what it is
You truly want.
Rooting through the dark soil
Of your dreams your soul
Will turn your life upside down
And inside out until you learn
To breathe and to focus, until you become
Unstoppable, until you finally
Ask for help, until you discover
Once again, and once and for all,
How beautiful you really are.
He’s been with me since the beginning.
I’d look in the mirror and he would be there
Staring blankly at my chest or arms,
I’d slip into my pajamas and he would be waiting
To chase me in my dreams,
He would mock me from the corners
Of rock star posters and porn magazines,
I’d see him in the backgrounds of cigarette ads
And truck commercials shaking his head and frowning,
He would stand looking over my shoulder
When I drew pictures or wrote in my diary
Whispering the words or tracing the lines
He felt were out of place or too sensitive,
And yet I stuck with him–following him
Just as much as he followed me,
I would carry his shoes and try to fill them,
I based my carriage on how he walked,
I built up a story of what he expected of me,
How he thought I should look, speak, and move,
I noticed how other people saw him
And tried to be him in their eyes;
And even though he lied and shamed
He was there when no one else was—
He never left me, never tired of offering
Advice on how I could better myself—
His lies were loyal, his sarcasm tinged with fraternal care.
Yet I cannot say I loved him
Even though he led me this far,
Even though in certain respects
I chose him as my shadow.
All I know is the more the truth is revealed
Of why I am here and who I am meant to be
The more he fades away in the illuminated fog,
The more I listen to the angel calling my name
The more he grows distant and small,
The more I move towards her voice
The more he vanishes in the light of her song,
The more I adopt her freedom and beauty
The closer he comes to scattering into a thousand drops of ink
And finding himself being absorbed into the fabric
Of the merciful, moon-swept night.
Living Among Roots and Shadows
Joseph Anthony Petro
My soul is caught
Among roots and shadows, like
A piece of silk caught
In the branches of a tree
Or in a bush of thorns.
Of its trappings
By so much sorrow,
Tethered by a thread,
A thread of presence and of hope,
The end of which is wound
Around your outstretched hands,
It streams from the fragrance
Of your spring-blossomed words,
It is spun from the loom
Of your compassion.
And the reason I know this
Is because I stand among roots
And shadows, like
A piece of silk
Caught in the branches
Of a tree or in a bush
Of thorns, and I am still living,
And my soul, blown out
Of its trappings, remains tethered
By a thread of presence and of hope,
The end of which is wound
Around my own hands and streams
From my own spring-blossoming words,
It is spun from a loom of compassion
I built and work at by candlelight
In a moon-drenched room alone. And the reason
I know this is because I weep
Among roots and shadows,
I flail among roots and shadows,
I panic among roots and shadows,
I shake and I scream and I die
A thousand times among roots
And shadows, like a fledging bird
Caught in a storm and is still alive,
My blown out soul tossed
By winds of shame and terror, remains held
Somehow, someway beneath the wings
Of a great and terrible love
That will not let me blow away.
I know this because today I rest
Under the shadow of his wings
And among the roots of her beautiful, all-
Weep tender heart, weep.
Every tear you cry lifts the crushing weight
From your chest and drops away
Chains from your hands and feet
Weep, tender heart, weep.
Hold my hand and dive into the folds
Of the dark waters of your pain.
You will not drown in sorrow;
You will not drown at all.
You will blossom in the depths, like
A manta ray, like a rose of white light, like
A lotus of moonlight with roots of life-giving blood.
Weep, tender heart, weep.
Let your tears become one with the darkness,
Let your tears shed the layers of hatred
For your body, for your existence,
For the false reasons you came to believe you were born.
Release them. Release them and weep,
Weep, tender heart, weep. Know there are many
Weeping with you; there are many blossoming
With you; there are many loving you
Until you can love yourself; so weep
Fierce heart, weep.
And when you surface from the shadows,
Bursting forth with hope, and the earth-given-
For unity, wholeness, and the arms
Of your Beloved, your tears will be tears
Of joy. For you will be free,
And you will be alive, and you will be a child
With the heart of a man.
Last night my dear friend Mindy sent me a quote by Mary Oliver (the best poet in America of the last 100 years, maybe even ever):
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
I read that and as so often happens, words and images started flowing. Sometimes they come like a flood, right away, rushing and gushing–exploding all over the page; other times it’s a more gradual build, images and words finding their way into me slowly, like the dawn. Last night it was the former. It all came out in one brief, satisfying, healing torrent of images, words, and insights.
I went with the current on Twitter. Sometimes the constraints of the 140 spaces is a perfect discipline to channel the flow. Other times it’s silly to even try. Last night, the Twitter format worked fine.
So thank you Mindy for the initial share; thank you Mary Oliver for writing your wildly luminous poetry; thank you Muse for coming to me in the form of Mindy and Mary; and thank you also, Dear Darkness, of whom I am learning so much from, thank you for being full of light. So many times the depression feels only like utter and complete blackness. I am learning, little by little, the more I simply keep walking, that as soon as the darkness begins to feel overwhelmingly isolative (isolate=from the Latin: to become an island), that exact moment—if I tell someone, find a way to share the hidden pain, the secret suffering, then the darkness blooms into light, into lessons, into invaluable help for myself and others, and I can breathe again. For deep depression is nothing more than the suffocation of the soul.
Last night, I didn’t drown in the darkness. I was able to swim. Thank you everyone who helps me to do this. The trinity of diseases: addiction, depression, and isolation, often go hand in hand and can lead to the final darkness. I needn’t go through anything alone again, ever. You don’t either. May my journey through the heart of darkness bear witness to this truth: bring others with you—not dragging them into the chaos, no, bring them with you into your heart, invite them—the safe ones into where the secret hurts live, and the burdens, whatever they are, will become light, the yoke becomes easy (easier). For wherever two or more are gathered–there, in the midst of them, is salvation from the fears of being vulnerable, of showing one’s weaknesses, of being so-called-perfect. There, in this place, this holy space of breath and of embracing–the common experiences, the threads of compassion, identification, love, and eventually ultimately wonder, creativity, and dancing, weave us together into the shared fabric of humanity.
Thank you all.
The Poems in order of their appearance:
Wherever I go, I carry a box of darkness handed down by generations. Inside are echoes of sorrows; and light, beautiful, hidden light.
I speak, the box of darkness closes; I am silent, the box opens. I weep, the box closes, I sleep, the box opens; I sing the box disappears.
I reach inside the box of darkness and find a key. A door appears. I stand, set the box down, and go, go to fall into the shimmering light.
Three words: “Box of darkness,” open secret passageways to the soul. I’m going, take my hand, let’s go find the way back to now.
Where are you? I cry. Here, says the Beloved. Where? I demand. Here, says the Beloved, Where you left me, inside this box of darkness.
One day, I slipped the box of darkness under my bed, not wanting to see it again. When I got home that night, my room had become the box.
I never know when it’s going to come, this rush of images. I only know to slip into it and allow it to river through me to wherever it goes.
Goodnight. I open the box of darkness, slip inside with a blanket. I close the lid. And when I open my eyes to the darkness, I see light.