Inside the Inside, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

Inside the Inside

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Inside the inside

Of her breath,

Where songs live,

And praise,

 

There is a space—

Round as the cup

Of a nightingale’s nest,

Hidden by a thicket,

Wing covered,

 

Where she lives—

This little one—

Holding the uncorruptable songs,

The unmolestable poems—

Inside, like water roots

Of lilies,

 

She sits, tracing spirals

In the sand, watched over

By Euterpe and Thalia,

Terpsichore and Polyhymnia,

 

They cannot keep her

From being invaded,

From years of her life

Being stolen,

From her innocence

Being crushed by night

Predators and shadow-

Dappled afternoon monsters,

Though they try with all

Their might to stand

Bracing against the door.

 

What they can do

Is protect the breath

Inside her breath,

Where songs live,

And praise, where poems

Sleep, like nightingale’s eggs,

Where drawings manifest, like

Treasure maps,

Where dances unfurl, like

Galaxies, where music flows, like

Ribbons and rivers,

Where rhythm lives, like

The wing-beats of every

Rising phoenix. That

They can do.  And will

Continue to do until she walks

With them to the seaside,

And points towards home.

 

 

 

 

 


 





Pockets of Solitude, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Pockets of Solitude

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

It’s easy to close your eyes

Surrounded by such stillness,

And the light from bright windows

Beyond which the day busies itself

With so many purposeful things to do.

 

It’s easy to stand in the middle of the living room

And become a winter tree, draped with a shawl

Of silence.

 

It’s easy to slip away into pockets of solitude

Where the keys to doors drifting away

Become little bird bones of a life lost

To a childhood of summer breezes filled

With fear.

 

It’s easy to let the quiet become your body,

To become as a cup in a cupboard,

A microscope in a dark closet, hunched over,

Like a monk studying spirals on vellum leaves.

 

It’s easy to never wish again, to can’t help

But noticing how fragile you are, fragile

And yet primed to become a leviathan

In the sea of your own life.

 

 

 


 


Trauma Returns V, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

Trauma Returns V

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

There is a way of never reaching out to be held again that is like a tree standing in a spring clearing, never to grow leaves. There is a way of living knowing no arms could ever fill the emptiness you carry that is like walking alone down an endless dusty summer road. There is a way of existing that precludes any sense of being comforted that renders one’s spirit silent, like an empty house.  There are times when pillows become the receivers of the kinds of embraces and tears a scared child should be able to share with a parent, or, in the best-case scenario, a dear friend, or even a stranger who completely understands such ambiguous and deep loneliness. There is a way of moving in the world with such grief and loss, that it’s like having undigested food sitting in one’s guts, and yet, still being hungry night and day. Today, the pillows are once again receiving hugs and the tears that come and go in aching waves, because no one can ever be trusted to hold this grounded falcon, this being of living fog, this feral heart that recoils—thrashing from the offered arms, this darkness that is like living in stone and yet somehow being able to breathe and watch, but never to soften again. All the while longing to be scooped up and rocked, like a nest in the arms of a tree in the light of the moon.

 

 


 




Trauma Returns IV, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

Trauma Returns IV

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

We are all surrounded by invisible doors.  Every step we take one opens and we drift through a threshold.  Sometimes we pause outside unsure of ourselves, unaware doors are opening all around us.  Once we take a step, whether we pivot the foot and turn around, or we move forward confidently—a door’s there—it opens—we’re through.  Can’t we stay in a room, or a backyard, or place of worship for a spell, or do we just keep stepping through door after door—doors leading to other doors?  That all depends on the needs of the soul.  If the soul’s task is to guide a fairly whole heart, and a nearly unscathed spirit to their next living temple, then there will be stops along the way in living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens where banana bread is baking, and coffee is brewing, perhaps a teakettle is whistling, and children are laughing somewhere just outside, perhaps there will be walks through cathedrals and forests, farmlands, mountain passes, and around lakes and ponds.  In cases such as these, the doors wait nearby, open just a smidge, letting the light from beyond its frame slant through over your shoes that you’ve placed by the previous door.  Should the soul’s task be—as it is for mine–to carry a heart and spirit damaged by trauma, then it is more like door after door, searching for that peaceful place, that safe place, that breathing place, and sometimes it’s never found in this life—it’s just one threshold after another.  Despite the soul’s wisdom and depth of wonder, sometimes the hurts she is trying to help heal are too deep, too sharp and festering, that the only doors that appear—appear like blackholes with wooden frames—doors leading into darkness upon darkness—into damp and moldy basements, into jail cells made of bones of ghosts.  Sure, every now and again, a door appears, and it sails by like a strange boat, and light surrounds it, like a mandorla, and singing weaves through the key hole, but it’s soon gone down—down into the sea of inability to trust, handicapped abilities to feel joy, enhanced abilities to feel shame and terror.  Right now, in this moment, I am standing outside an open dark door—and even if I try and stand still or change directions—as shaky as my knees are—the door opens like a maw and comes to me—moves over and around me, and I have no choice but to be in the dark belly of the door—the belly of I-Hate-This-Life-It-is-Too-Hard-to-Breathe-All-Hope-of-Peace-is-Gone-My-Body-is-Not-Mine-My-Innocence-Was-Stolen-From-Me-Damn-Dammit-to-Hell-Door.  And yet still—I am born along as my soul searches, moving, like a winding river of light, towards the house of many mansions, believing the promise is true.

 

 

 


 





Trauma Returns III, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

Trauma Returns III

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

It’s hard to find a beginning when the end keeps moving away. Memories live—scatter-frozen—in each and every cell, like snow on each and every branch. Sometimes warmth comes—a little thaw—and healing rearranges the hurt into tears. Sometimes the roots of the heart are severed from the body, and the soul lets the roots and the heart live in her waters over years and decades, as she tries to graft them back together again. Until then the body exists with a mind that pretends to be a heart in that it knows what it should be feeling and doing and it attempts to be the way it thinks others think it should be. Except real hearts know the truth always, unlike well-intentioned minds. And the soul watches it all. And the monsters watch it all—snow shadows stealing towards bedroom windows. And the body searches for the beginning, while the heart longs for the end, and the mind wishes it could fix it all while spiraling into the dark. And the monsters slip through the cracks. And the soul moves the great folds of her waters around that heart and those roots, like a cloak of time and animal ferocity—making sure nothing hurts them again.

 

 

 


 

 


Trauma Returning II, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

Trauma Returning II

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Is it a longing for the divine that burns just behind every moment and interaction with someone? No, it can’t be. The divine is everywhere I turn and in everyone I see. This soul-loneliness then must just be there, like an underground abandoned and crumbling church lit by a single, ever-burning candle. No matter how it flickers in the winds of sighs and the passing of ghosts, it remains lit—an ever-present reminder of solitary confinement. There are friends aplenty in my life. There are people who love me and whom I love. There are times our voices lift together in praise. There are times laughter fills the room. And yet, the soul-loneliness lives just behind every moment and interaction. Trauma does that. It is a severing of lifelines, a smashing of lifeboats, a drifting away on the sea. This is not to say I am ungrateful for your company. It is to say: that lost look in my eyes is a shadow on the wall of that little candle in that underground church, and nothing, it seems, can ever fill that space with light and singing, community, and warmth. Please, I beg you, don’t ever stop trying. It is your persistence and compassion, and my limited abilities to be present in your presence, that keep me going. And sometimes I can stand in that church and feel triumphant, and maybe even sing in my weeping. Mostly, the soul-loneliness fills me with dust, as the church slowly crumbles. Trauma does that. It defines a perimeter where wounds cannot be reached. And the divine is everywhere. Even in that church. I know that in my mind. Trouble is—all sense of comfort and safety from that holy, living light were stolen, and so the divine feels more like a wind from somewhere far away, trying to make a wish and blow out that little candle. Trauma does that. May the birthday one day come.

 

 

 


 




Trauma Returning, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

Trauma Returning

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

It’s there, outside my window. I’m standing still looking out into the dark yard. It’s there, by the early-frost-eaten-fallow garden. It moves, like a loosened piece of the night. It might be human. It might be a walking tree. It is most likely another monster. It leans towards the shed, lurching forward, it’s face sideways watching me as it goes. It’s also inside the house—coming down the hall to my bedroom door. I could crawl under the bed. I could hide behind the clothes in my closet. Outside, it turns fully towards my house and is at my bedroom window in one great, terrible stride. It crosses the threshold into my bedroom. My heart strains to not burst into pieces. I can’t breathe. There is nowhere to hide. They’ve found me again. They always were going to find me again—from within and without. I shut my eyes, clamp my mouth closed as tightly as I can. And then it happens. My body is no longer my own, and years of my life disappear into the ceiling and up, out into the late summer night never to be seen again.

 

 

 

 



 




Interdependence Day, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Interdependence Day

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

vigil photo 1

 

I love this country.  I really do.  I will never forget, however, that it was, and is, being born from violence—genocide, slavery, and corruption.  It was also born from a deep thirst of religious freedom and the ideal where anyone could come to live out their lives the way they chose.

Yes, we have a terrorist imbecile in the white house.  Yes, it has a barbaric administration.  We also have you.  We also have many who will resist and fight, and care—maybe not in the ways you think they should, but they are do, and in their own ways are living out their lives the way they choose—a life of generosity, compassion, kindness, love, and humor.

And yes, there are those who have no choice in how they live—those who have no independence.  There are the oppressed, the marginalized, the hated, feared, the hungry, the homeless, the people without healthcare, or enough money to live on no matter how many hours they work at a minimum wage job.  And of course, this must change.  The dangers of capitalism, the patriarchy, white supremacy, the attacks on the environment, racism—these all must change and be dismantled.  And it is hard.  Most days it seems impossible.  I truly believe we can do it though.  I truly believe we can, and are, rising up as never before.  The powers of good are getting stronger every day, and you and I are a part of that energy.

Yes, this country is deeply flawed, and we can look around and see those flaws, and rightly so, everywhere we look. And we should.  We need to be awake to what we can do to help make positive, lasting changes in our country.  We need to bear witness to each other’s pain.  We need to listen to each other’s stories of sorrow and victory.

Yes, there are people living kind, compassionate, good lives—I  daresay the vast majority in this country are trying to do so.  They love their kids.  They do good in their communities.  They offer you a hand when you’re down.  They do amazingly inventive, hilarious, useful things.  They do their best to live in such a way as to promote basic, human decency.

Yes, this country is a mess.  It is also a tapestry of wonder and of good people creating peace and a safe place for all.  There are many people who do not let hate live in their homes.

And no, I am not going to say we are the greatest country in the world.  There is no greatest country.  There is only a world of souls woven together by threads of hope in the face of great, unholy darkness.

I am a trans woman….I have tasted oppression and marginalization.  I have received death threats, and been the target of hate.  I fear going out of my apartment every day.  And yet I go.  I go with the faith that the good people will always outnumber the ignorant, misguided, brainwashed, hateful, hurtful people.  And it has never failed to be so in my experience.  For every act of hatred aimed at me, there have been a hundred acts of kindness aimed at me also.  The vast majority of my days I go out into the world, and while afraid, realize I am OK.

And no, I am not free.  I am not truly independent.  I am held back by my gender, by my mental illness, by my not being able to pass.  I also can share many gifts and strengths by being trans.  My mental illness may prevent me somedays from getting out of bed, but it also helps me see the world in magical ways, and it heightens my desire to be more and more compassionate to myself and others.

Yes, I am free to fight, and I do.  I am an activist by my very existence.  I am free to let you help me, and I do, and you do.  I am free to help you. I am free to troll the world with beauty, courage, compassion, and humor.  I am free to be me even as, in the same moment, I am not.

Today, I am going to change the name of this day to Interdependence Day.  We all need each other.  We all need one another.  And if today the best you can do is post a meme about justice, then you have helped the world.  Today I might need to be carried.  Today I might be able to carry.  We are all inextricably connected.  We even share the same air as trump.

I believe in us.  I believe in you.

I believe in our capacity to help one another, to see the good, to assume the good in one another.  I believe in our desire for justice, equality, and the genuine acceptance of one another.  I believe in our power to fight, to speak out however loudly or softly we can. I believe in the good people doing acts of kindness every day. I believe in love.  I believe in the collective power of our vision and that it will one day prevail.  It is already spreading.  A fire is burning in our hearts.  A light is shining from our eyes.  We can rise up, lifting one another, and learn how to help change the things that so desperately need changing.

I am going to celebrate Interdependence Day by bringing a meal to a family in need.  I am not bragging, but if I was, who fucking cares?  Announce your goodness for all to see.

Happy Interdependence Day.

I love you all.  Thank you for all you have done, and will do to help me survive the illnesses I carry.  I would not be here today were in not for good people like you.

 


 

 

 


Donations go to medical expenses, groceries, and medicine.

Thank you. <3

Dream, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Dream

by

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

pool

No One was there when I opened the door after being awoken by a frantic knocking.  I stood there, afraid, and yet, by some miracle, invited No One in.  I cleared off a chair and invited No One to sit down.  I asked if they needed a drink of water.  They nodded yes.  I turned to get some water and No One started weeping.  I stopped, knelt at No One’s side, and took their hand.  No One wept like a torrent of rain.  They collapsed off the chair and into my arms.  They started to try to speak through the sobs.  I couldn’t understand what they were saying.  I caught pieces of words and phrases:  Lonely, please, it’s chasing me, afraid, tired.  I rocked No One in my arms and they wept for a long time.  In fact, Time stepped aside and let us be together for as long as No One needed.  I was grateful for Time for letting go of control and allowing No One’s pain to be witnessed in the kind of timelessness they reserve for dreams.

No One gradually wept into a deep sleep.  I stayed there, holding them in my arms on the floor.  My legs started tingling and falling asleep.  I got up slowly and lifted No One into bed.  I stroked their hair and pulled the blanket up over their deeply breathing body.  I sat down in the chair and wondered why No One had come to me.  Who, or what was chasing them?  What could I do to help?  And with those thoughts drifting through my heart like wisps of mist, I too fell into a deep sleep.

Inside (or outside?) my dream, No One had risen from the bed and stood radiant and strong, alive. I watched in awe as No One began to change their form.  Their body shifted and fluttered, lighting up like a million fireflies, taking on other shapes and forms, until, at last, No One had transformed into Everyone, and it was then I understood why they had come.  But then, Everyone too began changing shape.  Their illumination settled a bit, and their form, a moment ago like a sun that somehow fit into the space of my apartment, began to shrink in size.  As Everyone continued to distill in form and intensity, their light became focused and channeled to a specific spot in the room.  It was then I understood why Everyone had changed.  They had changed, wonder of wonders, into myself.  And yet somehow, Everyone was still there.  We were one being, one light, one heart.  And No One suddenly flickered into the room, never to be alone again. And I let myself, wonder of wonders, be embraced by Everyone, as they rocked me in their arms, for I had collapsed from the chair weeping like the rain.


 


All donations go to groceries, medical bills, and medicine. <3

Thank you. <3

A Star is Born–One Way I Know I am Transgender, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

A Star is Born
One Way I Know I am Transgender
By
Jennifer Angelina Petro

me looking up

People ask me a lot: How do you know you’re transgender? How do you know you’re a woman? Sometimes I reply: Well, how do you know your gender identity or your gender preferences? It’s like knowing the color orange is orange—you just know. Other times I wax poetic and answer: How does the bee know it’s a bee, and how does it know to do its honey-making dances? How does spring know its spring and how does it know when to wake up all the flowers and the aforementioned bees? There is, however, no real way to describe the indescribable. Something happened to me recently though that speaks volumes to my own, personal affirmation of my revelation of being a transgender woman—an affirmation that struck me with such intensity that it rocked my world with joy. It’s personal, as I said, but you might relate to some of what I am about to share. My guess is it could apply to many life circumstances, not just being transgender. On a cold winter’s night, as I walked down Chestnut Street in Center City, Philadelphia, I realized the movie had stopped.

 
Ever since I can remember I lived my life as if I were in a movie. Better put—I was the movie. It wasn’t just the sensation of being watched, although that was there, it was also a deep, penetrating awareness that everything I did was fake—fake and acted. I was an actor (I am not going to say “actress” here because growing up I did not know I was female) par excellence. Everything I did, every word I spoke was fiction. And no, I wasn’t a liar in the sense of not speaking the truth. I was being filmed in one long, rambling drama. My life was a movie about an actor—and an actor playing an actor within a movie that was really an unlived life filmed as a movie—sort of like when you hold a mirror up to a mirror and the reflection goes on forever. There was no truth to the story. Everything I did or said was pretend and all of that pretending was being watched by a part of myself that knew somewhere, somehow that what it was seeing, was acting.*

 
I do not suffer from Truman Syndrome, nor am I a victim of derealization, or any other type of schizoid disorder. I am not paranoid. Yes, I suffer from hyper vigilance and PTSD. I didn’t need to learn how to dissociate when I was being beaten or molested. It would just happen. Repeated abuse does that to a soul, to a brain. This sensing I was in a movie was altogether different, and began several years before the sexual abuse. This sensing I was in a movie happened twenty-four-seven. At school, at church, at the toy store, in my room, at dinner, and all throughout my life, from the time I was four, five maybe–I had the unmistakable recognition that I was being filmed. My life was a movie. My life was a lie.

 
Who was filming? Who was behind the camera or in the director’s chair? Everyone. Everyone and no one. And myself. Who was watching, who was the audience? Everyone, no one, and myself. This is hard to put into words, but it was like my own life watched my own life and didn’t know what to do about it or how to stop it, or why it was happening, or what the ending was going to be like, or when. I wasn’t looking for attention, nor was I narcissistic, I wasn’t even delusional. I simply lived in a movie filmed through my own eyes, my own brain, and I hadn’t a clue as to why. It wasn’t like thinking god was watching or Santa Claus. It was more like just walking, following the steps of myself, yet knowing they weren’t mine, knowing they meant nothing. I remember looking down at my feet as I walked and wondering where they were going. I remember looking down as I puffed out my chest because I was obsessed with trying to look tough and “manly.” I didn’t care if god or Santa watched me. I didn’t even care that I was a constant actor. I didn’t know anything else. All I knew was that my everyday life was a fiction, a pseudo- documentary with a subject that didn’t even exist and that no one cared about.

 
My eyes were the camera lenses; my own head both the camera and the screen. The world was the screen too and the camera. Everywhere I walked or stood or ran I was acting, pretending–even while sleeping. It’s no wonder I never had a restful night’s sleep. I was pretending to be asleep as the world snuck into my room and silently gathered around my bed to watch me dreaming of real life.

 
I laughed when I was supposed to. I cried when I was supposed to. I learned how to fish and ride a bike and get angry on cue. I moved from one scene to another never quite feeling like I was in the right one or saying the right lines, but I was there—I showed up. Yet somehow the background and the staging were all wrong; somehow the other people in the movie could never get close enough to me to wonder how I could be there, and yet not be there, all in the same scene. I was being filmed and I was also, somehow, inexplicably covered in a thin film made of dust and shadows.

 
Throughout my movie life, I did what so many other people do with a history of abuse–I turned to addictions—pornography and food mainly. Ever chasing some sort of moment or flash of reality, yet never finding it for more than a fleeting second, and those fleeting seconds were always steeped in shame, ugliness, and remorse.

 
I suppose some people who relate to this experience of sensing being filmed and watched might imagine it must automatically mean they’re transgender. That was only the case in my life. Why you might resort to unconscious hiding in your own life might happen for a myriad of reasons. The only difference perhaps is that I know now that I was hiding, and I know now that I am not.

 
While on some twisted level this survival mechanism was the work of a child-genius attempting to create a world of safety, this being filmed over decades eventually became a burden. I began to sense something wasn’t right, something was being hidden in the process of being filmed. I hadn’t a clue as to what it could be. I kept associating it with my abuse or my shame. However the truth was far more surprising than I could have ever imagined. And the strategy of stepping out of one’s own life by pretending to live it and have it filmed all at the same time eventually lost its efficacy—if there ever was any to lose.

 
And so it went on, year after year. I was filmed on my wedding day, I was filmed pushing my babies around in the stroller, I was filmed while teaching, buying used books and records, I was filmed eating, I was filmed in the bathroom and the shower, I was filmed watching other movies, I was filmed making feeble attempts at playing sports, I was filmed drawing monsters and writing poetry, I was filmed when I learned to drive and bought my first car with my own money, I was filmed as relationship after relationship ended with unexplainable trouble. The burden of being filmed however was simply a weight I had to carry. I knew it was happening but never felt safe to talk about it. To this day I have never mentioned it to any of my therapists that I’ve had over the years.

 
At one point I thought I was being filmed by aliens. Perhaps they had kidnapped me years before and implanted a camera in my eyes to study a human life. Perhaps alien superpowers would eventually show up when I needed them most. Perhaps I had died as a child by getting hit by lightning and this movie of a life was really some sort of ghostly projection I was trapped in until another incarnation came around.

 
Thing is, I got used to it. It just was that way. It never stopped. I lived my life pretending I wasn’t pretending, acting that I wasn’t acting. I was an unreality-show being made into a reality show long before those programs existed. The experience of being filmed and watched was so inwardly part and parcel of who I was, that I never tried to stop it. I figured it was like that for everyone—everyone lived a fake life, everyone was pretending. “All the world’s a stage,” after all. Or worse, we’re all acting on karmic impulses from previous lives and none of us are free. I justified my perceptions of being filmed by blaming it on religion, the government, aliens, ghosts, spirits, elemental beings, devils, angels, and sometimes on the belief that I was an addict.

 
The long and short of it was that I didn’t really exist. I was an imposter pretending to be someone else who was an imposter. And that sensation carried itself through right up to the moment I realized I was transgender, only I was so enraptured by living the truth it took me a few months to notice it was gone.

 
So one night, walking down a poorly ploughed Chestnut Street near 12th street, I suddenly stopped—more like I was halted by some angelic, winged hand trying to get me to notice the fact that I was finally free. I was no longer being filmed. I was no longer pretending. My life was real. The film had dropped like a snake skin. I wasn’t an imposter in my own story. I was real. The filming had stopped. I was walking down the street a transgender woman and I was alive, liberated, present, unafraid of breathing. I was a pure, living soul–pure in the sense of being born, pure in the sense of the dawn, pure in the sense of the moon rising over a silver pond. The movie house was gone. The camera in my head was gone. The ever-present sensation of existing in a false life vanished.

 
I see the movie clearly now—now that it’s over. I see how impossible it was for the little girl to make herself known. I see how the little boy did his best to keep her safe. I see how the rest of the world knew something about me was askew yet didn’t know what to do about it, yet let alone admit I was askew. I see how the abuse only furthered the sensation of being watched and of being unreal. I see how, despite feeling like so much time was wasted, that this was the right moment for the little girl to rise, to grow, to blossom into a woman. The work I had done untangling the abuse and the addictions created a nest of safety for her to grow her wings and eventually to fly. The darkness I had gone through and survived had bloomed entire heavens of wonder. Finally, after all those years, my life shines in truth: I am a woman, a transgender woman of magnificence and power. And I am taking the script I was cast in, and all the costumes and props, and authoring and directing an entirely new story—a true story—an adventure story, a romance of the self, woven with magical realism, a mystery where there is no crime—where the only mystery is: how far will this woman go? It is a story of inspiration and hope, perseverance and courage, and the ability to rejoice in who I am—no matter how I transition or stay the same, no matter what I do or do not do, no matter how my body looks, no matter what anyone says or does. It is an ever unfolding story—it is my story–detailing what happens when a star is born.

 

 

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________

*It behooves me to address those who have known me personally over the years: You were always real. I was the fake one. Your interactions with me mattered and were genuine. My presence however was not there. I tried, but it was like being in a coma with my eyes open. I could see you, think I was communicating, but actually nothing was coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t speak or even move. I love you all for trying to see the real me.