the sum of small things — book release

It’s finally here and I couldn’t be more pleased!

the sum of small things

The booklet featuring photography and poetry on a wide variety of topics: creative, challenging, introspective, uplifting–much like you’ve read on my feed for some time! Order yours today for $US 19.95 + s/h e-mail me at poetryjpz@gmail.com for information on how to receive your copy!

***

Photo credit (background to book): Olesya Grichina via http://www.unspash.com

Stories of Home

On my recent travels I had the opportunity to hear many stories. Some were frustrated stories, others joyful, yet others wistful, recalling another time in life. 

Every person has a home; every person has a story. The universality of home is not defined by the structure in which we live or do not live. The universality of story isn’t confined to those narratives that are broadly known or frequently shared. 

Home and story are carried inside each human—sometimes explored and celebrated; sometimes troubled and buried. 

We cannot truly find the embrace of home until our story is heard and honored. The opportunity to talk about some area of our life, whether it’s a current snippet, a memory from our past, or an overarching theme, offers a place to belong. Home is belonging. 

When we take time to listen without judgment, with patience, suppressing outrage and resisting the urge to offer advice, we give the gift of home to another person. 

Let’s offer an extravagant welcome to stories of home. 

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2022
Photo Credit: John-Mark Smith, @john_mark_smith; Lviv Ukraine via unsplash.com

Rest! Now?

“Rest,” they say.

rest? now?

when the air
dissolves asphalt
and scorches
thick ranges and pastures,
when turbulent winds
topple ancient
structures
and uproot majestic
forests?

“Yes, rest,” they repeat.

rest? how?

when children 
are gunned down
in classrooms,
on playgrounds
on family outings
at parades
in shopping malls
in neighborhoods—
collateral damage
inexplicably deemed
legitimate in the name
of freedom in
an unfree world. 

how can we rest? 

our hearts beat erratically,
pumping too much blood
through pulsing veins,
lungs shriveling from
shallow breaths,
thoughts crumbling into
meaningless fragments.

where is there rest?

nothing is serene
as the face of
an empire grows
menacing and
maniacal.

“Yes, rest,” the sages urge.

the mantra feels hollow
out of step—as if
lodged in another time
altogether.
this is no time
for rest.
we cannot let go
close our eyes
clasp our hands
in our laps;
we will not survive if we do. 

“You will be lost
if you do not.”

rest is not withdrawal
detachment
retreat.
rest is CPR
for the soul
a transfusion
for the senses,
inebriation
for the spirit.

So rest!

bow at the shrine
of the full belly laugh,
the deep throated song,
the exuberant dance.
stride through
groves and gardens,
throw wide the gates,
lighten your gait. 

let the smile
of the heavens chisel
new contours
into your face.
wrap yourself
in the rainbow
instead of garments
of gray.

rest is fuel.
rest is hope.
rest is the elixir
for the human journey—
with no cost
no expiration date
not subject to inflation.

“So, rest.”

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2022
Photo Credit: Aline Nadai via pexels.com (open source)

i dissent

“don’t ever ask them,”
they warned.

you don’t dare ask 
them about their position
or their family’s activities
during the war.

“don’t make them uncomfortable.”

so i didn’t ask,
skirted every
possible reference
to anything
during the
dark regime
that horrified
the world.

but they talked
about it—
their people’s 
place in one of 
history’s darkest hours— 
their words ricocheted
through cafés
over rounds
of beer
after movies
at concert
intermissions
on public transportation
carefully crafted into
prominent newspaper articles.

their confessions were
woven into
middle school
civics discussions
and field trips,
included in
museum exhibit labels,
highlighted as
tourists gawked
from double-decker buses.

they lectured, performed and addressed,
authored, painted and carved,
planted commemorative gardens
and built granite memorials.

they refused to be
silenced;
the world would
never tolerate
amnesia.
they were not
comfortable.

no one was.

this is the price
we must pay for
the common good,
learning from history
and refusing to allow
malevolent players
to stifle
dictate
and adjudicate
speech,
suffocating
independent voices
while requiring
rote repetition
of propaganda
to bolster their
fragile egos.

when they say, don’t ask—
ask.
when they demand, don’t mention it—
speak it loudly
when they chide, it’s inappropriate—
defy propriety.

speak!

when they wring
their hands urging:
we can’t make ourselves or
our children uncomfortable
with uncomfortable histories,
with human identities that make us squirm,
with candid admission of
a hatred so deep that it’s enshrined in
our nation’s founding documents.

when they regurgitate
pious platitudes
clucking their tongues,
warning this is not the time,
to call out this nation’s immoral
obsession with violence,

call out hypocrisy,
unholy alliances,
addiction to power,
privilege, prestige.
prioritize human
life
.

speak!

name names!
call foul!
promote discomfort!
dissent defiantly!
say all those things
that lie crumbled
on a deathbed
alongside banned
works of art,
candid story-telling,
invaded privacy,
curtailed human rights
and freedom of speech.

speak!

for we do not want
to circle over
bloody footprints
of those who’ve
left a stain
on history
before our time.
we refuse to
allow comfort for
those grasping for control
who threaten to tie us to the gurney
so they can inject lethal cocktails
for the promotion of
minority rule.

speak!

dissent with
your words
your art
your body
your finances
your votes
your prayers
your presence
taking up space
your unrelenting
vigilance.

speak!
dissent!

© Julia Penner-Zook / IG @julia_penner_zook, 2022
Photo Credit: Charles Fair / IG @charlezfair (open source)

Rage

do not hurry rage—
that boiling, seething
blood pounding through collective veins

cannot be tamed
or cooled or
forcibly subdued

any more than the sweltering summer heat that
burns and chars and blisters endlessly
until it finally folds into the autumn equinox.

do not dare call for temperance,
moderation, domestication;
hold your sordid speeches with foul platitudes, for

impropriety is the only currency
that outlasts, outfoxes, outmaneuvers
swords that bludgeon both body and spirit.

do not open your mouth to name involuntary servitude
a mild inconvenience—a blessing—
even god’s will.
chains suffocate; nooses extinguish.

stand back—be silent—let not one sound escape your lips
until you feel drops of sweat pouring from your brow,
body retching with pain, 

your whole being trembling, fearing
it will not see morning
because of who you are. 

we will not fear.
we will not flee.
rage* will be our fuel.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 24 July 2022
Photo credit: Klara Kulikova  (open source)

*”Rage protects that which is loved.” Valarie Kaur

uncharted

11 may 2022

i’ve taken up carving
which is more demanding
than you think

it’s a messy
imprecise 
art

shifting 
unfamiliar 
tools this way
and that

no position
creating the
precision 

i’d envisioned

it’s another
amorphous 
silhouette
carrying no
instruction

fumbling with
unwieldy instruments
that don’t fit 
neatly into
the hand—
don’t do my 
bidding

and threaten to
gouge 
instead of
shape
producing 
something
rugged
rather than
refined

thereby

fashioning
wildly shaped
anxiety
in place of
peace

i almost
throw down this
foreign object
utterly
disillusioned

i don’t have
time 
nor patience
for this
i mutter 
straightening
to assess
my progress

this piece
doesn’t look
carved as much
as it seems
gnawed
by invisible
jaw of an
unidentified
creature

gnarled
by uncontrolled
forces

scarred—
irrevocable
injury inflicted
upon
unwitting
surface

it will take time
i admonish
under my breath

but the time
is now

i argue
with no other
than myself

this altercation
rages on
back and forth

while

i bend over
the task
once again
determined
to continue
this rhythm of 

whittling
space 

in the calendar
of my mind
for my imagination

though the
tools of
dreams
visions
wonder
and 
expansive
possibility

lie like 
obscured
treasures
in my fragile
soul

out of place
and awkward
given this
point of
urgency
ferocity
menace
inhumanity
chaos

that crumples
our
human
landscape

i must go on

i see no alternative
but to continue 
carving
contours
of silent
creativity
which rise as
ragged
irreverent
revolutionaries
poised to birth

rhapsodies
sculptures
pathways
horizons

the energy of which
would forever
remain
untapped

were a new wind 
not to blow
to sweep
the chips
from uncharted
terrain

© julia penner-zook, 2022
pc dominik scythe

a human condition



we are the exhausted majority*
struggling to hold pain
rather than become numb

calloused
casually distracted
cynically distorted

our breaths shallow
our eyes dull
our lips quiver
our minds scattered 
our souls hollowed out by

the terror of children
images of exploding homes, playgrounds, schools, maternity hospitals
shattering horror forced upon humanity
by ones sharing our humanity 

above the roar
our ears hear
doors slamming
to mute the groans of those whose
bodies are beaten

denied humanity
dignity
inclusion

relegated to barbarism
stigmatization
dehumanization

chokeholds imposed to bolster
another’s insecurity
insufficiency
insufferability

injustices we cannot 
conceive of

our faces drenched
with silent tears
soaking the fabric of our frayed lives
remembering one million no longer here

one million

a loss so great we
allow words to
die unspoken along with
the dead

we have lost one million—

one million and counting

we as people of justice are not well
we as people of freedom witness its extinction
we as people of compassion drown in grief
we as people of hope thirst for relief
we as people of integrity refuse hasty platitudes
we are people of exhaustion

and

we are pro-choice

choosing to open our arms for embrace
choosing to open our eyes because of darkness
choosing to soften our granite hearts
choosing to fight foes of freedom
choosing to demand justice
choosing to err on the side of grace
choosing to envelop all into expanding tent
choosing to love against all odds

exhaustion does not extinguish great love nor great action

* term used to describe a current human condition; not original.
© Julia Penner-Zook, 2022
pc: Anthony Tran (public domain)

in search . . .

we are people of hope—
we hope we are people of hope!
we’d better be people of hope, 
	given the event of uprising we commemorate this season

we lose hope, 
	then struggle to regain it, 
		then despair at not having it, and
			then we pretend that we do.

why?

because we are people of faith. 
people who’ve donned the mantle of
	presence, encouragement, light and
		hope?

some are cast as 
	professional-hope-bringers, pray-ers,
	          channelers of resolve and courage and wisdom, 
	                     those who can navigate all things.

yet . . . in the darkness of the cavern 
		after all lights have been extinguished,
	when the final choral note has drifted upwards,
	       a decisive amen has been pronounced upon yet
		          another homily 

	. . . in the thick, fragrant air that
	         saturates wooden beam, 
		           is one with the cushions of the pew,
		                    and floats as cirrus cloud above stooped shoulders, 

it is here we wrestle alone with a contender 
as Jacob of old.  

we search for an anti-slip mat,
	a handrail to steady us in times we rock and reel. 

we find none. 

what is offered instead is a voice to proclaim
	we want an audience with—
	         a blessing from—
	                    our name spoken by—

the Divine!

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2022
Photo Credit: Stacey L. Rhoades

Lament For The Innocents

Last week they had Hopes and Dreams,
they laughed and played,
argued and competed, hollering as
they chased around the
frozen playground;
they were anxious for
faint signs of spring.

They were inseparable,
good-natured,
frustrating their parents
with constant chatter,
as children do!
They played sports,
obsessed over rivals,
sang in choirs, learned instruments
and languages,
designed new inventions
in- and outside of school.

Until the day all went dark—

the day that draped a thick
curtain over faces:
grandmas hit by
rocket fire in the street;
brothers taking up arms;
school buildings shattered
with countless children inside.
Not their school—yet—
but when?
Grownups glued to
television screens,
whispering long into the night,
sometimes until dawn.

Quickly schools are shuttered,
children hidden—from what?
And why?
Sometimes the streets seem
normal, inviting another
game of street hockey,
but that doesn’t last.
Sometimes they sneak out,
meet behind buildings
still standing; their parents scold
that it’s not safe.
Furtive glances left, then right—
and up.
They must part—
go to their homes not knowing
if they will ever emerge—
will they see each other again?
Shudders ripple down spines.
Why is this happening?
Why them? Why now?
A cruel nightmare
from which no-one awakens.

Friends disappear—some on trains,
others into mass graves as
shelling engulfs the city.
So many homes, a hospital,
a theater, a church.
Should they stay?
But until when?
And the children!
The elders!
The sick!
What of them?
Nights bring terrors; daylight
punctuated with air raid sirens.

No longer carefree,
never innocent again.
The once dancing cities
and villages now wailing.
Laughter strangled
by endless weeping,
fists pounding,
voices hoarse,
arms hanging limply beside
stricken bodies.
Fertile Mother Earth strewn
with wreckage and bodies
inside buildings,
on the streets,
behind groves of
naked trees.
Charred.
Twisted.

Blood. Too much blood
where it does not belong.
Blood crying to heaven from the streets.
Blood-soaked ground flinging its
curses up at those who shed it.

Oh, what have they done?
Where is our brother?
This blood will forever cry out;
it cannot be stilled.
But until when?

Oh, what have we done?

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2022
Photo Credit: Alexandre Boucey via unsplash.com (open source)

She Is Woman

This is for our sisters, friends, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, granddaughters, nieces, grand-nieces, cousins, mentors, cheerleaders! To those still with us and those who’ve passed on ahead of us: I honor you during this Women’s History Month. Everyone of you who make (have made) the world a better place. 

She is woman — a woman of
courage, purpose, perseverance.
She does not buckle before
those who tell her to keep
still.

She may never appear in headlines
or walk a red carpet;
she’s not signed a tantalizing 
contract, crooned on local radio,
or been verified on Twitter.

Yet her voice holds authority for 
she has embraced life — not hidden from, 
denied, or vilified it, but filled her
bosom with its lacerations and losses 
without shame. 

Grit and grime have etched deep
canyons into visible surfaces,
gouged ravines into the caverns of
her soul creating a permeable silhouette 
of hope

which invites all to  
lean in, listen closely, 
choose the wisdom she 
carries within her humble
breast. 

She may live with a stigma
foisted upon her by others which
she relentlessly rejects, for
no aggressor will wield such
power

over her. She will rise; she will square  
her shoulders, draw from her sisters,
call for her tribe and together they 
wrestle and struggle, weep and cry out 
until the heavens weep, too.

Drenched with the tears of angels
she will turn her face into the storm, 
welcoming the ugly force which 
sneers at her davidic frailty against its
bloated power,

— power that is insignificant
in the presence of strength.
When strength, borne of adversity, 
fashioned in the crucible of the
night 

meets power in the arena,
all hold their breath. Power preens,
struts, taunts, humiliates while
strength stands its holy ground
without fear.

© Julia Penner-Zook 2019
Photo Credit: Julia Penner-Zook

She Is Not Here

She 
is not here,
and I do 
not know
where they
have taken her.

One tangled in
capricious moments,
ever-shifting landscapes
of movable pieces—
toggling between
love and laughter,
tears and terror,
has been
moved.

I do not know
where they
have taken her.

Personal belongings
are easily removed
leaving behind gaping spaces
that once offered shelter—
in whole or in part.

Countermoves, 
covert operations,
clandestine 
conversations
to outmove
and outwit
fabricated 
threat.

She is 
not here. 

But where
have you taken
her?

All is still. 
Unmoving. 
Immovable.

Weeping
clouds vision,
disguises movement
in melancholic dawn, mistaking 
the gardener leaning upon a spade
for one tasked to
guard her crypt–
she, who is
considered
a flight risk. 

Every move is
scrutinized to keep
the captured
comatose.
commoved into
secrecy

until

until light pierces
the haze shrouding
the imprisoned;
dazzling illumination;
an uprising 
becoming a
tumultuous rumble
of resurrection
to defy
captor
seeking
her
servitude. 

She is. 

© Julia Penner-Zook, February 12, 2022
Photo Credit: @surface via unsplash.com (open source)