I’ve never been shown
Truer kindness
In a moment
So expectedly distant

With me sitting there
Growing panicked
When his hand reach down
Towards my back –

As if knowing
This pulse must’ve skipped,

Seeing sweat run down
Off these cheekbones

And watching both hands
Softly shaking
While telling him still
Its okay.

There was silence
Before he did ask me
How praying out loud
Might prove better
Than sitting there
Holding back panic
Or fighting this day
Gone awry.

From watching
You never would notice
How his burly arms
Fully covered
By tattoos he’d gained
Fighting battles
Obscured that soul
Facing God –

For me
At one vulnerable minute,

Allowing such fear
To run rampant,

Where the shock
Of assuming more judgments
Offered closeness
Now rarely perceived.

All I wanted
Was a haircut made easy,

Feeling scared
My heart would just flutter,

Soon embarrassed
But proving some gestures
Showing gentleness
Inspire instead.

  • J. Pigno

This town might become
My lost chapter
As that poem I just
Couldn’t write
Before finding our peace
Chasing sunsets
Behind mountains we’d pass
Driving home,

Merely trailing those skies
Warmly glowing
Where its canvas of light
Paints an opus
So the dusk itself
Offers meaning
If imagining hope
Had a face

After days spent now
Always waiting
Or pacing these floors
Needing answers
Within hospitals soon
Feeling empty
And acknowledging words
Lost their place –

Since death draws sticks
Over decades
Like God plays games
Taking measure
For another year blown
Blindly laughing
Still knowing full well
It can’t last

When reality brings
Certain darkness
Over county roads
Growing smaller
On paths towards fate
Seeming crowded
Seeing everyone sick
All at once.

Those Garden State dreams
Remain lonely
But tomorrow’s escape
Keeps your promise
How each evening fades
Into solace
Leaving Morristown far
Yet again.

  • J. Pigno

I don’t like talking about my faith outside the guise of poetry.

It brings with it too much of a stigma – a connotation and connection with negative emotions for far too many people.

That also includes myself, sadly.

Let me begin with an honest disclaimer.
I’m not here to convert anyone. Or say how important, special, and necessary a belief in God really is if you happen to feel otherwise.

I acknowledge and validate all paths to understanding the divine or lack thereof – culturally, emotionally, and spiritually from whichever background you come from or path you may pursue. The universe reveals itself in different ways to all of us. And that’s just too beautiful to deny or question.

This is just my story.

I can only share what happened to me when for the briefest of moments in my life, I actually doubted the “Smiling Jesus.”

You see, not very long ago, I stopped writing daily. Against all inclinations of my better judgement, the thought of having to be so vulnerable to the world once again was just far too difficult to bear.

So what was the alternative? Relative silence. Introspection. A lot of time with video games and isolating hobbies that kept me thinking about why I chose to walk away for a time.

The catalyst was losing my blog. After nearly 10 years of consistent posts, amassing nearly 5 thousand honest followers, and composing poetry almost constantly, I had no choice but to shut it down due to an influx of trolls who were incited by a poem called “Smiling Jesus.”

Originally, this was just a painting.

The particular picture known as “Smiling Jesus” hangs over my wife’s computer desk in an attempt to inspire her during her work routine each day. She sought it out purposefully, believing how Christ’s expression should never be one of sadness but absolute joy – a reflection of the truth that is His undying love even at our darkest hours.

When she initially purchased the print, little did I know that it would take on such extreme relevance for the both of us.

This image very quickly became a point of contention at first. Growing up Catholic, Christ was a figure that inadvertently incited fear in me. He was a paradoxical part of a wrathful Father – ready to punish, to chastise us, to be disappointed and threaten us with damnation if we should ever trespass against His teachings.

How could they ever both be one and the same?

My mental unrest kept making me explore this inquiry.

After the pandemic, division and hatred became commonplace. I kept feeling like we were becoming increasingly abandoned by our Creator. The world grew prejudiced, bigoted, spiteful towards any act of kindness and skeptical of the souls trying to bring about genuine change. Everyone had to pick a side and take a name. I couldn’t help but feel like God was being mean. Aggressive. Punishing us into oblivion for failing to come together when the world needed it most.

The violence and injustice continued on the TV. Inside me, my words were dying.

And thus “Smiling Jesus,” the poem, was born of a writer’s desperate gasps.

I couldn’t see Him. My wife swore He was there, but for me, that was a supreme fallacy. All I could perceive was a system out to divide, money becoming even more of a deity than it already was, and brothers against sisters in an all out war on human compassion.

Decency didn’t exist.

But there was Jesus, watching me everyday from that wall and seemingly grinning to mock these catastrophic states of affairs in the most offensive display of irony I had ever witnessed.

Where was God’s hand when economic, racial, gender, and class/social inequality ran rampant alongside a killer virus that was never going to go away? Where is the radical hope in a country falling apart at the seams and a world following suit?

That was all I asked in my poem.

Some people apparently didn’t understand. My blog got flooded with numerous negative comments and even threats.

I did the only sane thing I could have said possibly done.

I left.

And with leaving came the emptiness and vapid idleness of losing my expression. In turn, I started to veer my hatred towards God even more.

I wanted to believe how my wife did again – to have that purity and innocence once more , to truly cherish the numerous blessings in my life leading up to this point.

Well, I learned the hard way.

Anyone who reads my work knows how much Danielle, my spouse, actually means to me.

She is more than a partner and best friend – she is evidence of a miracle. She has saved my life in ways I didn’t even think possible.

For many years, I believed I was undeserving of even having a woman marry me, let alone an angel who looked past my inability to be like everyone else and accept me just as I am (talk about selflessness and unconditional love).

I never thought so early on in our marriage that I would have to help her find a way to literally save herself too.

In the last few months, Danielle has been diagnosed with a severe cardiac illness. It is congenital. She was born with it and never even knew she had it despite being tested.

We are at a crossroads facing decisions that have impacted our future in a manner that has ripped many choices from us.

Our autonomy as a couple has been compromised – we didn’t even have a chance to try and have the things many other marriages take for granted. Though surgery and major interventions will help her survive for what we are being told is a long life, we may not ever be able to lead that life how we expected.

Hearing this news, attending doctor’s appointments almost every other day, facing my own declining health at the same time, and finally not having my poetry to cope just became too damn much.

I gave up. I quit believing.

I yanked the picture of the “Smiling Jesus” off the wood paneling and threw it down on the ground.

I was fed up.

God just wasn’t there.

Until the day came where I started feeling even sicker. My rage, anxiety, and outright negativity caught up to me. I was growing mean and selfish, aggressive and vengeful towards whatever good things remained in my life.

My heart couldn’t keep up. I started having arrhythmias daily. This body that was already prone to an irritable heartbeat now was facing a doomsday scenario in the period where my wife was needing me the most.

I started to pray.

I never felt farther away from God, but it was all I could do for help.

I would take my medication and just pray I would survive another bout of these insane flip-flopping, dangerous episodes.

I prayed that Danielle will be okay, that I will be there for her to grow old together as we vowed.

I prayed that the world can heal just as we are attempting to heal, that somewhere out there an answer exists and maybe (just maybe) that Jesus Christ is more than a story told in a church but a testimony to the collective good in mankind that’s just as powerful as the bad.

I prayed that time can bring me back to my words, to the joy of sharing who I am with all of you, and once again to my God and Savior who continues to share His grace and redemption even after I punched Him in His proverbial mouth and threw Him down on the basement floor.

They say some acts can never be forgiven. But with Christ, that isn’t true. He just kept on smiling. Even after hitting the tile.

Last week, Danielle got me a surprise. Another canvas of the “Smiling Jesus.”

I tried to replace hers anyway (even though it didn’t break interestingly enough). She beat me to the finish line.

Inside of the package was a picture – a free gift with the image. It was another illustration of Christ holding a baby lamb over his shoulders, with an even bigger grin spread across his beaming visage.

On the backside was a note:

“For you, Jonathan. Forever radiant in Christ,” signed by the artist.

Danielle didn’t plan this or ask. It was just there, as if he knew I needed that – to hear that even when we stray and engage the very darkness we fear or might even become, we are all just little lambs trying to find their way back to the one who promises genuine happiness.

It’s hanging now in 2 places – in my den and in her office again too.

Throughout the day, I stop and take look at the picture of my God shining down His joy – dented from the many wars in which we all endure wounds, but eternal in His smile that carries the weight of our battlescars and burdens regardless of what dissent remains.

That smirk sits steadfast high above me.

For the first time in a long while, I actually smile too.

Keep the faith. Whatever that faith may be.

  • J. Pigno

I have purposely
Silenced my voice
After feeling these words
Become useless
Against constant fears
Always proven
Having pains
Travel down my left arm –

A relentless threat
Stealing meaning
From remaining lines
Missing passion
Once abundantly held
Deep inside me
Before science itself
Replaced God

And seeking relief
Never near
Or an answer in tests
Like potential faith
Being stifled
By data we’ve gained
Needing hope,

Trading talent
For restless beliefs
With sleepless nights
More disturbing
Than any such hate
Thrown at writers
Still failing their craft
Every time

As tomorrow ensures
Shorter breaths
Despite empty saints
Getting worshipped
Where medical tools
Erect altars
To kill each muse
Growing dull

Yet save this shell
Drawing blanks
Knowing frequent aches
Martyr verses
So recklessly scared
Nothing matters
But jotting one phrase
Left behind.

Some poets
Become such defeat
Described through death
Quiet beckons
Since muffled speech
Assumes illness
Has muzzled what life
Once implied –

Attempting true art
While enthused
Now running away
After learning
Our hearts cannot last
Any longer
Demanding new blood
If there’s none.

  • J. Pigno

My God,
My benevolent tether,
My rope made of
Wavering faith –

How I dangle
This chain of reason
With a cross
At its lowest point,

And engage
Such doubtful bliss
For the times
I never can wear it

While believing
In sacrifice certain
Like thread
Having gorgeous appeal.

How that bondage
Offers us gifts
And portrays new hope
Which shimmers

Below these throats
Left choking
From their thirst
For divinity’s drink –

Christ’s tears
As suffering rains
Cascading life
Beyond sadness

Yet conquering fear
Through disaster
Where judgment kills
What remains

Of impending death
Seeming free
When existence binds
More clearly

Since experience hurts
More than endings
Only final
If questioning hell,

Knowing heaven
Must balance all grief
Endured each day
Digging gemstones

Or adorning jewels
Holding meaning
Hardly felt
But often assured.

  • J. Pigno

I can’t trust
In Occam’s Razor
Because things are just
Never that easy,

Like a truth
Without any meaning
Just because proof
May exist

For explaining
Those easier reasons
In miracles seen
Almost daily

Where life itself
Carries purpose
Outside those roles
We assume

As dreams endure
Despite doubts
Or losses earned
Facing silence

When accepting
The science that’s given
Rather than testing
Such faith –

Our man-made hopes
Falling short
With each choice
Some synthetic acceptance

Of expired drugs
Feeling hollow
While new ones numb
Every sense

Under data
Imposed by afar
Though up close
Defies every number

If engaging God
Lost inside us
Whose presence alone
Breaks their rule,

Always certain
But hardly believed
Since evidence fails
Deeper purpose

No dull blade
Could eviscerate
Too readily learned
And defined.

  • J. Pigno

“One’s never been
Truly themselves
Until put behind
A controller.”

These words I’ve learned
Are my birthright
Without explanation
Or choice,

Much how this poetry
And art like faith
Means believing
An invisible path
Where we stumble
Along tangible sins
Best ignored –

While hearts remain
Seeking that screen,

The vision where hope
Is created

Once defined
By variables written
Pursued in skill
Building trust

Over countless days
Spent at home
Chasing aimless dreams
Merely finite,

Always finding life
Behind coding
Not big on choice
But explained.

For between each save
Death remains,

Yet beyond
Exists second chances,

Loading challenged states
Simply blissful
Before powering down
Every night.

God bless those souls
Playing still,

Long after youth
Grew indecent

Where weary eyes
Witnessed heaven
Only future minds
Could perceive –

Their cartridge
Beckoning fate
From earliest years
Soon remembered
As innocent times
So inspired
No jaded adult
Could enjoy

What quivering hands
Might exceed
Through destiny
Testing such limits,

Imagining worlds
Purely virtual,

Letting childhood
Forever endure.

  • J. Pigno

I keep each piece
Near this bedside –

The jewelry you gave
Every birthday,

To remind me how
Some things are sacred
Even when
Bad blood exists.

Perhaps our rage
Isn’t hatred
But similar fates
Facing distance
Drawn by days
Feeling stifled
That manhood compels
Even more.

Fathers like sons
Are obsessed
With finding their means
For existing
As kindred souls
God entrusted
Forced to be strong
Despite pain.

Do you see me now
Grown despite doubts,

Or autonomous
Despite such dependence –

Married and whole
Wishing children
Were a possible dream
Of my own?

Dad please know
I’m not wrong
Getting mad at life
Always hurting,

Crazy from stress
Stealing meaning
Before illness had killed
What is left.

Fear throws
Terrible punches
In hasty bouts
Between family,

Believing all
Differences matter

When instead
Love’s bond only breaks.

  • J. Pigno

On the night
I had nearly died,

Things just
Slowly made sense

About living this down
To my parents,

My wife,
And family at large –

There were traces
Of building resentment
With truths
Like lingering judgments
In accumulated sparks
Now fires
Never put out
Though we tried.

I heard how
Relatives laughed
And cursed my mom
Over phone calls,

Telling her
She was the failure
For creating a son
Who was worse.

All because
I never held jobs,

Or can’t make dimes
Fighting illness,

Not even one cent
With these poems
Which I’m glad
Such greed hasn’t touched.

But with pride
Comes death via art,

Their gaze
And hatred through silence,

A cost of pursuing
These muses
Who killed me by words
Getting hard

For the fuck of prose
Chasing whims
Where God hides life
Seeking beauty
Behind all lies
Making money
Until sickness comes
With its wrath.

Just wasn’t my sin.

To them,
It was suffering madness
Since abandoning ways
Better practiced
For securities
My spouse should’ve had-

Yet doesn’t
But loves me the same
At least until pain
Becomes steadfast,

Obscuring our love
Due to changes
These aging shells
Have imposed.

Is a limited gift.

I feel that now
Between heartbeats
Skipping so much
They might end this

While people around
Think I’m nuts.

You know,
Perhaps that is fate.

Poets should fall
Being crazy.

The ambulance called
Never gets here.

I’m forever
The man who won’t work.

  • J. Pigno

There were days
I used to write poems

So meaningful
Ugly and bold

As examples
Of honest expression
Only time without hope
Could convey

Or enjoy like wounds
Leaving stones laid bear
Over distance

To walk across rocks
Trailing nonsense
Though beautifully said
While they cut

In jagged approach
Facing death

Knowing pain finds God
Standing ready

Beyond those paths
Seeking wisdoms
Every artist alone
Wanders down

Until grace itself
Offers proof
On my mind made clear
Through believing
How privileged men
Doubt their dreaming
If faith gets lost
Every page

Where life fails truth
Better told

By fearful prose
Bleeding gorgeous

Letting lethal lines
Whisper context
Between peace obscured
Silence brings

Since inspired work
Never passed
Behind closed gates
Become doorways

Into bedrooms now
Being conjured
Long before dusk
When it thrives.

  • J. Pigno