Masks

Dear Readers,

This is a summer-rerun post–a story called, Masks.  It was originally written 3 years ago but is truer now than it was then–at least for me.  It was inspired by a post on Jean Raffa’s wonderful blog, Matrignosis, called, “Ruling the Inner Chamber” ( http://jeanraffa.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/ruling-the-inner-chamber-3/&nbsp .

 

 

Masks

by

Joseph Anthony Petro

Once inside a time, a child descended the rainbow spiral and slipped into the life of a troubled young couple. The child floated in its embryonic wonder, dreaming of eternity, dreaming of worlds within worlds, dreaming of creating the universe, as her little body formed–clothing those dreams in flesh and bone.


At long last she was born again and when she first focused her grey, oceanic eyes on her mother, she took the image of her mother, saw it form into a mask, and drop down onto her little face as lightly as a breeze. After a moment the mask took on the shape and contour her own face, and disappeared, leaving her seemingly unaffected. The same thing happened when she first saw her father. A mask lifted from his face, imprinted with his features, drifted down upon her face, and disappeared just below the surface.


One day, years later, her father lost his temper for the hundredth time, something about money and bills, and the image of his face changed, distorted, and another mask lifted and wafted through the room until it landed on her face where, like the other masks, it took the shape and form of her face and then disappeared.


One day her mother flew into a rage and slapped her around the room, because she had broken her cellphone, and the child took on the mask that lifted from her mother’s wild, anger-blinded face. Her tears acted like an extra strong adhesive as that mask stuck itself down to stay.


Another day she was assaulted by an uncle in the basement of his house on Easter Sunday. His mask burned as it grafted to her face. As did the faces of everyone upstairs when she was finally able to move and go upstairs, in shock, somehow their gazes told her they all knew what a horrible, ugly person she had suddenly become. And they looked away but their masks hung in the room and followed her as if suspended on invisible strings, to where she sat rocking on the floor in front of the TV, her arms wrapped around her knees, like stunted wings.


Still another day she was humiliated in front of the entire school when she forgot the words to the song she was singing at the Christmas assembly. It was quite a feat, but she managed to assimilate the masks of everyone staring at her; everyone who laughed and pointed their fingers.

Over time and over years, she took on mask after mask from those around her.  She would watch other children get praised for something they did or said and she took on their masks as well. She took on masks of bullies, victims, the wall flowers in the corner; heroes, heroines, pop stars, movie stars, lovers, therapists, friends, and even imaginary people she made up in her mind. And with every mask she forgot who she was. Sure she knew the name her parents gave her; sure she knew things about herself. But her real name; her true identity, that became increasingly hidden under layers and layers of micro thin, but nonetheless nearly unbreakable masks.


Until one day, in her late thirties, she broke down while looking in the mirror. She no longer knew who she was. She didn’t know what to do with her life. She didn’t have a purpose, a direction. She didn’t know anything except that she hated herself, that she felt ashamed with every step she took. And as she stood, hunched over the sink, sobbing into her hands, a raven slammed into the bathroom window with a horrible thud. Broken from her trance, she ran downstairs to see if the bird was still alive. Outside her door, flapping miserably, but looking a bit embarrassed, was a raven. Its eyes looked dazed, one of its wings was bent in a way it shouldn’t be, but otherwise it seemed OK. She bent down to see if there was something she could do when she fell backwards screaming because the raven, as a-matter-of-factly-as the rising sun said: “It was worth it.”


After shaking her head and staring at the raven for quite some time, she stood up, trembling.

“You heard me,” said the raven, “now pick me up and take me inside, I won’t bite. Yet.”


The woman gingerly scooped the raven into her arms, surprised at the size and weight of this night-colored creature.


“What do mean, it was worth it.”


“I had to get your attention somehow. I didn’t mean to hit the window so hard, but at least it broke you out of your trance.”


“You-you smacked into the window for me?”


“Yes, a few more minutes and you’da been lost forever.”


“Lost?”


“In the swamps of pity. Once people get lost in there, they almost never make it out alive. But you’re OK now,” he said as she gently placed him on the couch.


“What do you need,” she asked, “What can I do for you?”


“I just need a few minutes to rest before I ask you to stick my wing back into its socket. It’s just a bit dislocated.”


She cringed at the thought. “It’s the least I can do after you saved me from the swamps of self-pity.”


“I suppose,” said the raven, “but first we need to work on you.”


“Me? What do you mean?”


“I was sent here to help you remember.”


“Remember what?”


“Who you really are.”


“But I know who I…” and then she stopped and remembered the mirror.


“Right,” said the raven as he tried lifting his hurt wing. He winced.


“What do I need to do?”


“Remove the masks.”


“Masks?”


“The ones you’ve been collecting since before you were born.”


“I don’t know what you mean.”


“You do not know who you are,” said the raven. “You don’t recognize yourself. And the person you see in the mirror you hate. You do not like who you have become.


“Yes,” she said starring at the floor.


“It’s the masks,” he said.


“I don’t remember wearing any masks.”


“I believe you,” said the raven, “now please, let’s actually do this to my wing first, I’ll be able to concentrate better on you. Pull my wing gently from right here near the shoulder and lift it ever so slightly and then gently, gently, press it in and towards my body.”


With a deep gulp she slowly did as he requested. He screeched sending her tumbling backwards.
And then he was flapping around the room, strutting with great glee.

“It worked!” he shouted, “Nicely done! So much better!” And for a few moments he preened his feathers starring at her with eyes the color of black blood.


“Now,” he said, “let’s begin.”


She tried to speak but he interrupted her.


“Just listen,” said the raven, “this is only a beginning, and there isn’t a finish line. This work is eternal. We are just going to make it so you at least remember your real name. That’s a great start. Most people don’t get to that point. Once you do that though, the other masks will lift off almost of their own power and you will become lighter and lighter, more you than ever.” And as he spoke, he guided her on a journey within herself, where she began lifting off the masks of the people in her life. As some of the masks were removed, she wept; with others she raged; with others she threw up into the trash can; with others she shook for hours. Mask by mask, she uncovered who she really was. She got in touch with her body, with some of the memories she had long ago hidden. She slowly began accepting herself as herself. She would look in the mirror and catch glimpses of the person she always wanted to be; the person she really was underneath all the masks. The person she loved.


The raven stayed by her side for the rest of her life. And wonder of wonders, with every mask she removed, he shifted his shape. First he became a horse, then a black bear. Then he became an owl, and then a panther. And one day, after she had removed a particularly old and worn out mask, one that crimped her skin with its brittleness, she looked towards her shape-shifting friend, and he was an angel—winged, dark as night, and yet somehow radiant as the stars.


“Now,” he said, “are you beginning to remember your real name?”


“I think so,” she said, “but if I’m right, won’t that be the end? I mean you said there wasn’t a finish line, but if I remember my real name and who I really am, won’t that be it? Game over?”


“Not at all,” said the angel smiling like a crescent moon, “it only means you can begin doing everything you always wanted to do. It only means you will begin looking at this unmasking work as a grace-filled, wonderful adventure and privilege. It simply means you will shine like you were meant to shine. It simply means those around you will begin to look at you with awe and reverence, for so few people know who they are, and when they get into the presence of someone who knows their real name, they will seek out your wisdom. So tell me,” he whispered as he stopped to look her in the eyes, “what is your name?”


After a few moments of luminous chills coursing through her body, and tears of gratitude streaming down her face, she said, “Freedom. My name is Freedom.”

 


 

 

 




Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog


It Is Over, This Beginning

It Is Over, This Beginning
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

storm clouds

 

It is over, this beginning,
This blossoming into the past;
It is over for the future
Is the spring in bloom now;
Believe it, for within the clouds
Storms are building to break open
The sky with thunder and you
Cannot do anything about it
Except stand tall letting the roar
Wave through you turning you
Into an echo of divinity;
Let the rain scour you clean
And draw you down into the earth
With holy heaviness.
It is over, this dying,
This unending end of not knowing
Your own worth, dignity, gold.
It is over, this lie
That you are not allowed to be happy,
That you are a victim,
That you have no alternative
Except to crumble slowly into dust.
Stand tall in power and bless your life
With your life without the need to ever
Again hold your breath or disappear
Into the ceiling. The ceiling is gone.
The hating yourself is gone.
The bed and floor you were pinned against
Are gone. You are limitless thunder
Plumed with possibility. Go and end
The ending, begin the continuation
Of your becoming you becoming you
Becoming an echo of divinity unfolding
Through the mountains and valleys
Of a life lived alive.

 

 


 

 

 





Listen Heart

Listen Heart
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

Go easy on yourself.
You’re working hard giving birth to the soul.
Allow yourself to rest awhile in a bed of light,
And in the coolness of the soft-winged darkness—
The one that cradles seeds and roots,
The one that carries starlight faithfully on its shoulders
All those millions of millennia.
OK, so the mind you’re with has made some mistakes—
Cut him some slack. He is learning to live unchained
While at the same time bound in God’s care.
You say you feel empty and yet full of sorrow?
Those are contractions from what I am told.
Try and stay steady. I know you’re young,
You always will be. But you and the mind
Must work together during this process,
And you must take the lead.
I realize he is often busy in some fantasy, hating himself–
Find a way, lean on others—the midwives
You know so well. Let them help you,
Hold you, coach you along.
You are doing precious, incredible work—
So precious you might want to call it play–holy play.
You are freeing the soul from waves
That course in and out of you–
The ones that toss even the mind
Up and down in swirling eddies,
So the more light-hearted you can be the better.
And the mind is helping you
By learning to stay present no matter what you are feeling,
And your light helps him for he lives in darkness
Much of the time. So play. Play in hands of light,
And let the soul go, dear heart. Let her go, like a song,
Like a breath, like a prayer wept when you have no strength left.
Let her go the same way you want me to let you go,
The same way I want the mind to let me go—gently, gradually—now
And perfectly, with grace, humor, and dignity.
And while you and the mind work together on this,
I will be here, wrapped in silence, trying to believe
What I tell you–trying to believe that no matter what happens,
I am worthy of love.

 

 


 





My Undoing

My Undoing
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

undoing photo

I do not want to be reborn
Or renewed, restored or reenvisioned.
I do not want re-anything. The before
Is filled with darkness and sorrow,
Learned fears and sickness.
There is no before to return to.
My birth is still happening
And for the rest of my life I will be being born.
When I reach death’s door,
I will still be being born.
Let my death, my spring, my resurrection
Be an undoing, an unfolding, an unburdening,
A blessed untangling, a sacred unveiling,
A gradual unloosening,
A gentle unhusking,
A tender unlacing,
A slow unraveling;
An unceasing, uncensored, unrestrainable joy;
Let my thoughts be unconfused and uncritical;
Let my wants be unclouded
And my needs unarguable;
Let my light be unshaded and my feet unshackled;
Let me be unharmed, untasted, unleashed, and unstoppable;
Let me be unbroken and untwisted,
My tensions uncoiled and my body uncorruptible;
Let union with the Beloved be uncoerced;
Let the unbuttoning and unbuckling of my soul—
The unclothing and unwrapping of my desires—
Let them be unconditionally accepted
And unequivocally wonderful;
Let our timelessness together be uncompetitive and real;
Let the passion be unabridged, and the shame
Unlearned, and the moments of bliss unhurried,
And the union unbreakable.
Let my soul be unchained
And my heart unlocked;
Let my spirit be unshuttered,
And the fence around my garden of words be unlatched;
Let the trap door of my compulsions be unhinged
And unnecessary;
Let the way forward be unthreatened;
Let my playfulness be unbridled,
Uncivilized, uncalibrated, unjudged;
Let my laughter be uncensored;
Let my hands be uncuffed;
Let my soul be uncrumbled;
Let the reasons for my being worthy
And beautiful be undebatable,
Undeniable, unbelievably obvious and clear to me.
Let my meditation be undisturbed;
Let my fists be unclenched and my heart
Undivided, and my thinking undistorted,
And my voice unedited;
Let my brow be unfurrowed and my stomach unknitted,
Let my wildness be undomesticated and unlabeled,
Untamed and unfeared;
Let the possibilities for usefulness and service
Be undreamed of,
Let my conversations, once and for all, be undramatic;
Let my death be an undying of everything
That died, let my soul be untethered,
Unencumbered, unfaded and unfallen.
Let there be space and time
To unfeel and unform,
To become uninhibited, unfurled, unjaded;
Let the warmth of breathing together
Be the unfreezing of years of winter;
Let being myself be unfamiliar, unfettered, unforced,
And unforgettable;
Let my sleep be uninterrupted,
And my creativity be unbound
And unlimited by what anyone says or does;
Let death be an unloosening,
A holy unmaking, a joyful unmasking;
Let my cries by unmuffled,
And my faith unmovable,
Let my rage be unmuzzeled,
And fears be unneeded;
Let my hours be unnumbered,
And my memories unrepressed and unoccupied with ghosts,
Let my dreams of success be unopposed,
And my poetry unorthodox, unprofessional, and shared;
Let my roots be unrooted,
And the Beloved’s love be unsearchable because it will be
Unavoidable, unending, and completely undressed, unserious,
And unseparated from me;
Let my purpose be unshakable and my sword unsheathed;
May my cities of wonder be unshelled and unobliterated;
May my wheels be unstuck and the road unspoiled;
Let me be unsliced, unsoiled
And the fabric of my pain unsewn
And unstitched;
Let my unspoken desires be sung and uninhibited;
Let any unsteadiness be steadied with unshakable confidence;
Let my innocence be untainted, untarnished, and unstolen;
Let my need to control be untethered and unmoored;
Let my self-hatred be unthroned,
And my soul be untrodden;
Let me finally be unwound,
Unwoven and unafraid;
A gift of an old life unlived–
Lived now and shared
In the land of unending acceptance
Of myself.
Let this be my undoing.
.

 


 

 

 

 





Living Among Roots and Shadows

Living Among Roots and Shadows
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

roots and shadows

 

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.
Still living
My soul,
Blown out
Of its trappings
By so much sorrow,
Remains
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-
Holding earth.

 

 


 

 

 





I’m Not Supposed to Tell You

I Am Not Supposed to Tell You
By
Joseph Anthony

 

I am not supposed to tell you
How steeped I am in self-hatred;
How I feel like a sand mandala slowly
Blowing away grain by grain;
This heart you think you know
Is not mine. My heart is an albatross
Lost at the bottom of the sea.
A dark angel shifts heavy, smothering wings
Inside my chest. A wind-tossed night sky
Searching for morning, blankets
My basic, human sense of self.
Breathing
Feels
Wrong.
I am not supposed to tell you that.
I’m supposed to worry about what you
Think of me; what will happen
Now that you know—
I’m not supposed to tell you that either.
You tell me: this too, shall pass.
I am not supposed to tell you:
Those words enter a man’s ears but are heard
By a child’s—a child who hears you
But cannot help looking passed you
At the storm gathering behind you—the one
Unfurling like a monster made of smoke—
The one heading this way.
I am not supposed to tell you any
Of this. But I know you.
You are already diving into the dark waves
With underwater flashlights and lifelines,
You are exorcists of demons—loving
The dark angel until he flies away
To the mountains of God, and turns
Into a baby goat.
You are ushering in the dawn
On strong, generous shoulders,
You are out there patiently collecting bits
Of sand and handing them back
To the mandala-maker,
You are looking in my eyes, you see the reflection
Of the approaching monster and still
You’re reaching out your hand, still
You are standing steady—braced with faith, still
You’re saying, “Dear Heart, it’s true.”

 

 


 





On Being Held, an Ode in Prose to the Common Chair

On Being Held
An Ode in Prose to the Common Chair
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

We do trust falls every time we sit down in a chair. It is similar when we flop down on a bed, except in the case of the bed, we see the surface we are about to fall on. With a chair, our subconscious might maybe, maybe notice for a millisecond where the body is going—however, for all intents and purposes, we simply drop ourselves into the chair, and rarely, if ever, imagine crashing to the floor. We just suddenly renounce our verticality and allow ourselves to fall and be held in a uniquely folded position. Sometimes we lower ourselves slowly and let the chair rock us as we doze off after reading a few lines from our favorite book. We waive our right to gravity when we sit in a chair. We resign our mobility, and simply stop, trusting the chair will do its humble task of holding our butts no less, and supporting our backs. And aside from an occasional creak, chairs hardly ever complain. Yet there they are–ordinary servants in ordinary moments, standing at the ready for when we relinquish our desire to do it alone. Chairs are there when we collapse, yielding to the pressure of living, succumbing to the fatigue of grief, or to the deep relief of gratitude. Chairs are a steadying force when we let our guard down or lose our way. They let us fall only so far, keeping us from sprawling across the floor. They are as complete an image for faith in the care of God as any can be. Chairs, like God, want us to take them for granted. It’s what they live for. They want us to have perfect faith in their ability to set things right if we would only let them. “Come, sit down,” the friend says after we’ve heard the trajectory-changing news. And so we do, allowing ourselves to wilt in the chair, like a wounded bird being healed in the hands of God.

 

 


 





No More

No More
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 
No more, he begged, crumbling to the floor, curling into a ball,
No more.

No more, he said, standing, fists clenched, shoulders straight,
No more.

No more, he whispered, gathering the frightened children in his arms,
No more.

No more, he wept, looking at himself in the mirror,
No more.

No more, he prayed, kneeling by the grave,
No more.

No more, he shouted to the sky, to the endless road,
To the silently falling snow,
No more.

No more, he cried to his nightmares, as he entered them
With handfuls of stars,
No more.

No more, he said to his tears, no more pretending
You are laughter. Fall. Fall without shame or censor.
Fall and water the roots of this moment.

No more, he said to his rage, no more thinking you have no place.
Do what you will—the world was created in fire.

No more, he said to the memories, no more hiding.
It is safe to breathe here, and to become light.

No more, he said to his heart, no more denying our brokenness—
Let us fall to pieces. There are those who will help us reassemble a way to live
And to love.

No more, he said, taking his soul by the hand,
No more going it alone.

 

 

 


 





Flood

Flood
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

Days, weeks, months, and years
Can go by without a flood. Oh, I know
The river’s there, and the storms,
And the groundwater saturates so much
Of the foundations, but the floods
Are something else entirely.
It’s like this: I wake in the middle of the night
And without warning the water is already
Spilling over my bed, and even as I wipe my eyes
Trying to make sense of what is happening,
I go under–my chest and guts fill with bone-
Crushing pressure; the ceiling disappears and the walls
Close in and there’s nothing but dark water
And a faraway distant night sky—way up there somewhere,
And if I don’t call out for help no lifeline appears,
And the walls close in to the very edges of my bed,
And the water keeps rising and I can’t swim
And I can no longer see and some part of me dies
As the night sky fills my blank, staring eyes.
And then, I am floating, gone, part of the nothingness
That comes with deluges like this.
And little by little, over days, weeks, months, and years
The walls will slip back and the water recede through the cracks
And into the basement and through the ground–
Soaking the surrounding roots. And I will suddenly
Be able to see, and water will gush from my eyes and mouth
And I will gag and cough and grab my stomach and chest
And retch. And somehow, somehow, somehow,
I will step from my bed and it will be morning
And the sun will be shining, and I will begin moving
Through my life, water logged, heart-soddened
With terror, mind drenched with ‘why’
And I will eventually make it, things will dry
As I move in the light, and I will go around
With secret sorrow dripping from my every funny word,
Until days, weeks, months, or years later, there’s another flood
And I will wake in the middle of the night
Water spilling over my bed

 

 

 


 





Runner

Runner
By
Joseph Anthony Petro
I am a runner. I have spent my whole life
Up to this point running from things.
Pain, for example. I run from pain,
And the past, the future, and the truth
Of myself. Sometimes I run long distances
Before even realizing I’m running; but there I am
Running—things flying by in my wake and there’s no time
To lose. Sometimes the road gives way
And a ledge or a wall suddenly appear
And I find myself collapsing out of nowhere
Into a ball of exhaustion and shame.
Sometimes I run headlong into the very things
I am trying to avoid since they feel
So strangely familiar. And sometimes
Time does the running for me, like
On the days I lose myself staring at the ceiling
As the summer afternoon runs by my window, like
A ribbon of light filled with the sounds
Of children playing and lawn mowers
And passing airplanes.
Lately, another more tragic truth has revealed itself:
I also run from things no one should ever
Feel compelled to run from. Things like
Joy—pure, unadulterated joy. Joy that encompasses
Pleasure both earthly and heavenly—joy
That doesn’t know the difference between the two;
Joy that includes perfection and imperfection,
Fullness and emptiness and once again,
Could care less which is which. Joy that’s comprised
Of puddles, whimsy, praise, and just the right amount
Of mischief. And most of all a joy constituted
With divinity—the steady, ringing divinity
That shimmers just below the surface of all things.
Sometimes I run from that very joy.
Today I see and accept that I am a runner,
And in this moment—this one, this one right here
I choose to pause, collect myself, breathe and focus
And hone in on joy. I see it up ahead,
It looks like a field of darkness illuminated by a carnival of fireflies,
It looks like a horizon blooming with light and song.
I see it. I breathe it. I taste it. It’s there.
So here I go, I’m running again,
Only this time I am going to run straight towards joy,
And I am going to keep on running
No matter what anyone says or does not say,
No matter what anyone does or does not do,
No matter what happens or does not happen,
No matter what appears to be or actually is—
I am going to keep on running until the running
Becomes dancing and then I’m going to run some more
Towards what I was and what I am created for.
I am a runner and I am going to run towards joy.

 

 


 


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