free fall

what can outweigh
the comfort granted by
connection to

i try to convince myself that

being associated
with people of prestige,

owning something of value,
proudly strutting achievements

will inevitably impress,
and thereby

insulate me from
being just another formless

apparition in a long
procession of those disfigured
by the scars of

it’s hard for me to grasp

why i should
clamor to escape the
tumble into the
ranks of the


strategically unselected,
minimally protected,
while others flaunt
their graces, unnatural
faces masking

traces of pain.

much more terrifying is the
smooth seduction,
sneering suppression,

sanctimonious subjugation
of the swirling river
of domination.

i’m not sure 

i can ever
bear the blithe
banter of those

immersed in a
purposeless plot. 

i hear disbelieving gasps,

palpable horror,
superficial condolences
without tangible expression save
half-hearted lifeline thrown.
but i also hear
affected laughter

behind my back as
i fall, fall, fall,
landing – alive and

supremely satisfied –
in an oft disparaged
but intensely inviting couloir

without security,
yet bathed in the warmth
of generosity,


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: Sebastian Voortman via
Twitter: @J_Pennz

Instagram: @j_penner_zook


faces in the room


slippery as an eel, pain
slides into the crevices of the soul
while no one is looking —

we’re too consumed with life,
light, and love to notice.
it introduces itself surreptitiously
demurely, feigning politeness,
yet entering unbidden into every
inner space it finds. 

without announcement
it shows its face brazenly in

the classroom, the cloakroom,
the dorm room, the locker room.

we expect it in
the emergency room

the recovery room,
the hospital room;

even the birthing room
is no sheltered space,

as birth cannot survive without
some element of death.

but can we see it in
the boardroom, the situation room,

the courtroom, the green room,
the ballroom, the bedroom,
the club room, the playroom? 

it gains entry without media
pass, security clearance, or

fingerprint identification. 

it simply is. 

we can armor up,
power up, ban it,
subdue it, belittle it,

even try to
hide it. 

but this will be an all consuming fight;
one which has an assured outcome.
we cannot conquer pain, cannot
win against it, cannot
eradicate nor deny it. 

it simply is. 

must pain be feared, avoided,
circumvented regardless the cost?
must we cower in a corner

when its draped features appear
in our room, at our

 or can we pull back the veil,
study the contours of its
shape, tracing its wrinkles,
its jagged edges, its jarring
lessons laced with venom? 

can pain have another face other than
the one we hurriedly dismiss, deny,
numb, disregard as deadly?

can it be a window into another
realm instead of a bed of nails which

utterly destroys, devouring
those innocent or guilty
in one mammoth swipe? 

can we bear to
offer pain a seat at our table,
resolving to stop denying
our own shadow, no longer

hiding our vulnerabilities, always
pretending to be above the fray?

can we examine pain
like a researcher, dissect it
as we would in a laboratory?
maybe we can dialogue with it

to lessen its grip on our being,
paying heed to its origins,
objectives, feeling its


when we do,
we find we are not consumed
nor minimized,
we can stand tall, even if

we cannot avoid every room
infiltrated by pain any more than
we can participate in life
while holding our breath.

we either
embrace or eschew,
deliberate or disparage,
shrivel in fear
or resolve to rise with
fortitude, gaining
sustenance in life and death.


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: taha ajmi via
Twitter: @J_Pennz

Instagram: @j_penner_zook

there are five…

five basketball players
on the court,
five fingers on each hand,
five senses to bless our
days with sensual delights, 

five interlocking rings—
proud olympians’ coveted symbol,
and five golden rings
adding verse to merry
holiday tune.

there are five sides
to a geometric figure,
five gleaming points
to artists’ star which lights
velvety sky.


they lie face down
soaked in blood still warm
as SWAT team storms
the door of a bank
in a sleepy town.



five women who
loved their work, were

pillars in their community,
devoted mothers, grandmothers, partners –




five at one time,
in one place,
without warning

without time to bid farewell.
taken — without cause 


except that hate is
strong and mocks the

song of peace on
earth. five. gone.
because one man


wished to fulfill
a dream to kill —
one man chose to
don protective armor

which no victim could access,


and command women
to do his bidding
one final time –
so he could maim
and destroy. 





© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: Steve Johnson via
Twitter: @J_Pennz
Instagram: @j_penner_zook


at the edges

i complain, lament,
because i know we can do
so much better than 

have children murdered
in parking lots or die on
borders without cause.

my soul is tattered
by stories of girls in dread
fear of parents, or 

partners, priests, pastors —
all of whom could choose to bless,
believe, bestow wings.

my troubled spirit
cannot rest until convinced
that we can heal each

faded, fragmented,
frayed dream, now dormant, suppressed
within once wide-eyed 



© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: Bhaskar Agarwal via
Twitter: @J_Pennz
Instagram: @j_penner_zook




new depth, new light

crystal waters spill
from deep wells, collecting in
darkening caverns,

to superficial searcher
faltering without

glimpses into those
eternal spaces, leaving
wisdom unattained.

ineffable light
compels, lures, surrounds as it
draws sojourner in

to discover glow
of tiny flame, glistening
near cascading flow.


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2019
Photo Credit: Dope Squad @jayphoto via
Twitter: @J_Pennz
Instagram: @j_penner_zook

pinnacles’ offerings

rounded loaves of lava need not
compare themselves to
neighbors’ renown –
they turn no wistful eye t’ward
half-dome’s stunning drop,
the general’s massive girth,
ocotillo’s spindled allure –
each one offering singular
pleasure to reverent
sojourner seeking sustenance.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2018
Photo Credit: Julia Penner-Zook 
Twitter: @J_Pennz
Instagram: @j_penner_zook

equal opportunity

words, images, melodies:
the most profound
artistry employs
the same building blocks
as a casual offering—
the masterful distinguished by
the interplay of perseverance and élan.


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2018
Photo Credit: Susan Holt Simpson via 
Twitter: @J_Pennz
Instagram: @j_penner_zook