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

Dear John,

I’m afraid to admit I forget how your struggle alone should remind me that death itself is a catalyst for changing life on a whim.

I chose prose instead of careers, idle daydreams over real toil.

I do not regret fleeing labor, as your pain made passion my goal.

It’s embarrassing doubting these words, every time I seek motivation from an outside source reading excerpts of a gift so few would enjoy – or appreciate and acknowledge as fair, like the ways I’m forced to relinquish each moment we’d spend trading reasons for moving past how we eventually split.

The irony of trying your best is a man whose curse was his blessing, believing cash your vocation and passing young despite hope.

I’m not that good of a worker, and lazier still than you hated – calling me out on my bullshit even though your anger was fair.

You ended each phrase with a smile, your freckles bright when you giggled, always mentioning pain was a virtue as you wished my views quickly changed.

At your bedside, your mother had asked if I’d be there after you left us, to which you replied how we’re different though friendship will linger if true.

She said of course I’d be “weird”- after all, I was always writer, and you a skeptical genius who understood what hurt made us tough.

We survived a similar rearing, a trial by fire of loneliness – opposites in ways that were obvious, kindred through means we endured.

I recall that summer distinctly – the one just before you had vanished, when the weeks dragged on playing music and video games signified cause.

Your disease was never that cancer but the plague of a world begging jadedness, and its only cure was enjoying another night laughing loudly with friends.

We ate so much we got sick – burgers and fries before nachos. Then brownies and sundaes at parlors which closed not long after that.

We wandered the parking lots driving, doing circles and chasing new sunsets as the dusk set in over strip malls where again I might see your face – waiting for me by your car, electronics in hand as you tampered with a gadget you swore was important and anything else was just trash.

You strived for the promise of “soon” or tomorrow being mankind’s constant with potential mounting towards progress you’d agreed was faith worth belief.

Our last conversation between us had me mentioning God every minute, telling you none of this mattered except Him where your soul would soon go – high above me near angels in heaven, mocking every choice I would muddle with women, jobs, and then poems I suspect you read to this day.

See, John, that season persists – for me it never quite ended. I’m 20 and reading bad comics, afraid no girl may appear – not 33, married and scared, scouring lies for some meaning in the midst of an ongoing virus that’s ravaged what world we had known.

You insisted I’d find my true love, though she wouldn’t be quite what I’d pictured. That joke perhaps was your funniest – she’s here now, and better than dreamed.

I’m certain you sent her while watching, seeing me beg as I stumbled through relationship to wayward relationship where parts of my being stay lost.

How I wish I could tell you much more, but then what’s the point of expressing how your entire journey inspired me inadvertently while dealing with grief – praying silently under my wails, thinking back to times staying innocent, held inside me shielded from numbers or statistics claiming your fate.

The purpose of art is reflection, to perceive how mirrors are fluid and shift with age through experience to encapsulate stories long gone.

This letter’s need is just that – allowing me space to recall you, to honor and convey whose legacy brings tears with sparks which redeem.

Most people abandon their fire, or forget how embers are kindled.

I don’t worry about truth ever fading.

You’re burning with stars.

I’m beneath.

Your buddy behind you on Earth,


Has anyone actually heard our demise beyond the static?

Listened closely to such chatter which we translate by excuse?

The ending feels so close, but alas, I cannot seize it. I’m allowed to merely suffer while depression leaves me deaf.

I’m noticing indifference building lies amid confusion self-imposed by sheer denial or the fact some suffer less – which I doubt was God’s intention, though our laws and actions structure how society begs compliance based on answers hate has sown.

Across the board we’re greedy, even when it means existing alongside one whole damn planet slowly choking from these pills – what bad medicine nature swallow’s off the hands still claiming order held in place by business ethics shallow spirits think are fruit.

Their hunger means much more, without context they could fathom – such true needs are only serviced through creation left untouched.

But that wouldn’t count for excess or what joy this arrogance peddles as successful, though deliberate, while pursuing aimless thrills.

That radio keeps on blasting every song God warned was dangerous, rousing tunes which vie with envy for what chart their bias tops.

And the anchors keep on speaking as their hair waves in that picture, with long faces shown on TVs during hours spent at work – eating frozen foods accepted without family near but calling via cellphones placed on tables so they multitask at death.

We’re teeming with statistics to the point they’re actually screaming – eliciting cries now whirring in the background of our pride.

Forgetfulness murders reason by what language whines delightedly over discourse still acknowledging human shrieks that no one stops.

That’s the truth, as loud as it gets – a roaring cannon of ignorance drowning out those low-pitched demons while we raise our voices loud and pretend that silence lingers when tomorrow feels too heavy or our burdens grow existential beyond quotas fear upholds.

People die and pray for quiet. Not for change, but faint suggestions for improving easy bias on those terms their comforts yield.

I’m sick of white noise roaring before every powerful speaker. It’s time some colorful music yells it’s melodies long unknown – shouting anthems all can trust and enjoy without distinction drawn from stories shaped by limits across borders ballads break.

Simultaneous conditions aren’t how these strains were written, yet our harmonies soon supported helps agreeing orchestras play.

Melodies then prevail.

Improvisation triumphs.

We’re sounding better together, though behind us cymbals crash.

Tackling everything, all at once. For some songs are hard to focus.

I say we’ll always have to if we long to dance again.

  • J. Pigno

I remember that lost New Year’s Eve of my youth, staring amazed out of those tinted hotel windows into a vast night littered with raging starbursts and glittery, gunpowder salvos.

They scattered their sparkling ashes out onto the sandy, Vegas floor like some kind of coveted salute – a ceremony held more often there than perhaps anywhere else in the world, but far more rare in its poignance than my childish mind could ever have comprehended.

Through the glass I could see the last remnants of what was once The Hacienda casino, or as I’d eventually understand it, a lingering monument to the days of yore when kids weren’t welcome on The Strip and maturity meant being old enough to bet your entire savings away in one bad hand of blackjack.

I didn’t know it then, but it was approximately 11:45 that late December evening when I was touched by what could merely be described as the specter of my generation’s future – a ghost all parts Hunter S. Thompson and Mortal Kombat, coupled with years of internet addiction and spiritual neglect.

It is only now I realize how the phantom of Raoul Duke himself came to me just before the blast, whispering in my ear the sad disillusionment from his own mythical Vegas journey and the fact how drugs aren’t always needed to see the true distorted mayhem being peddled as facts in front of our bewildered faces.

For it was on that day one of the last true pieces of old Vegas would be blown into oblivion, taking with it a generation of corrupted dreams and frivolous excess that paved the way for decades ahead, ushering in an era of fallen debris mistaken for useful parts called the post-9/11, Millenial wish.

It was what my generation would inherit, what I am forced to sift through daily and contemplate as I mock the shattered pieces of what they claimed would be a future, now no more indistinguishable than the broken smithereens of an aging hotel long past its prime.

They said there would be jobs at the end of our pointless schooling. They wanted us all to work. They guilted us when we failed. Our efforts never seemed enough.

They believed it would be easy, and if it was wasn’t, we were always lazy.

The children of perpetual debt – “snowflakes” far too precious or fragile for the world around them which they agreed was best kept mad.

Or unjust, as times have proven, with innocent blood still lining the streets – men killed from bias and arrogance, both two things our forebears loved.

None of us wanted to gamble with these lives so wracked from evils built on bricks bad fathers told us would sustain what house they left.

Slot machines stacked against us were our options chasing happiness, choosing chance and probable misery over dreams we’d barely earned.

Sadly, soon, our odds grew worse.

I’m not sure their hope was worthy of enduring months gone missing among plagues such guilt has wrought.

Before The Hacienda fell, there was 15 minutes of waiting – a quarter of an hour spent thinking somehow none of this seemed quite right.

Perhaps it was just the lull before bombs brought down that building, or the notion somewhere out there those loud echoes would continue to ring.

Like they have until this day, deep inside my mind so weary from awaiting God’s good fortune so my words might still be heard.

I’ve traded every verse for the hands my wife provided, what true solace fate has gifted while instilling fear towards death.

It’s that panic which insists I should keep these memories naked, write them down and claim significance where I fear there might be none.

I stand by what that winter trip has provided me in hindsight.

The smoke I watched spread thin from the suite my parents rented had dispersed and left me visions of our legacy burnt too soon.

We didn’t even stand chance.

On top came another hotel.

I’ve visited Vegas since, but nothing trumps that memory where today and tomorrow whimper while they clash with continuing sins – an ongoing penance mentioned through its scene of spectacular chaos, an image of collective demons being traded for ones much worse.

We went from champagne toasts and controlling demolitions to fake news with dangerous rumors fueling deaths by pulled-down masks.

I’m still wandering that dark desert with my eyes half-closed in horror, hearing cheers of countless people so oblivious to what comes next.

There I shall dwell confused, without closure but explosions – remaining sick and surely doubtful while my faith’s oasis dries.

Forever yesterday’s neighbor – noise eternal beyond those borders.

Nevada 96’. One hell of a place to be.

  • J. Pigno

Our struggle is not against words,

But the lies and misunderstandings of a world whose fear kills freedoms in the pulse of hearts who speak-

The ones which dare obsess and defy that erroneous cadence at the core of bodies tethered by what strings our art can snap.

Their continuous, maddening rhythms pulsing still with beats expressive are indicative of sheer
potential that will prove our masters wrong.

Amiss, much like our roles inside vacuums called existence,

Playing jobs unlike our forebears working hard by embracing life.

This joy seems out of touch, vaguely sick and strangely nauseous, as our poems grow redundant seeking paths towards shedding shame

How such pleasures could endure within spaces man inherits where our loss itself feels welcome as each term inspires death.

Torn, from limb to phrase –

But ignored, as every sentence misses marks of punctuation hanging corpses margins pose.

Though I’m privy to such ends, its perhaps the other doorway swinging open out of blankness which appeals to fading breath –

Empty slates that just appear during memories least expected since unlocking shuttered portals hinged on moments gone too soon.

Feelings almost find me warm beneath prose I’ve sewn like blankets, fighting frigid air exclusive to an atmosphere so cold –

My page, a fallen tent,

Among lines of ruins scattered

Where the snow of dreams writes wishes between trees of forests thick.

Some men build camps for fire.

I destroy them without question

After spending nights enduring every thought that shows me home,

Far away, beyond these fears made of saddest whites encountered any winter’s touch should sully raining soot upon those drifts.

For Bohemia, my sun, melts this path which morning beckons and tomorrow’s gift of promise slowly guides through trusting faith –

Believing God has plans better loved than daily torment of our middle roads we travel from complacent hopes they mark.

What war we wage with beauty is that battle for transcendence, fought by idle prophets begging and impoverished saints who sleep –

Who fuck, who eat, who dance,
who in laziness bear wisdoms,

And by victory usher daylight

Bringing dawn upon their gifts.

  • J. Pigno