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 unsplash.com
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 unsplash.com
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 unsplash.com
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 unsplash.com
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 unsplash.com 
Twitter: @J_Pennz
Instagram: @j_penner_zook

it’s our choice

the same ingredients,
the same tools,
24 hours every day
are open to us all.
the same air surrounds us,
the same sunsets
paint our western skies.

yet our response is up to us.
what words will we choose,
which symbols use?
the alphabet invites us
all to select letters which
evoke a blessing or spew forth a curse,
to express love or loathing.

even young children
distinguish the difference, learning to
connect words and action,
words and approach,
words and attitudes
of the heart that beats
within every human breast.

so, take a simple combination
of letters from wide array of
possibilities. let’s take
e – i – l – v.
four letters with which to play
pray, shape realities,
retreat or retrench.

the four letters can create




which will it be?
it’s our choice.
will we create surroundings
unlivable and inhumane?
pass along malevolence
to our fellow human traveler?
or will we choose to create

spaces for us all to
live — to breathe,
laugh, run and play,
recreate and pray,
dancing heart-to-heart as we pay
our blessing forward?
it’s our choice.

what erupted at our
southern border today
(and for many days
over many months)
has yet again displayed only
2 of the options:

this shall not become
simply another news report,
another noise, offensive smell, gruesome picture
which quickly fades as we jostle
through overcrowded shopping malls
which feed our greed
at the expense of their need.

for when i do
my heart’s rebirth
contributes to the dignity of
every other member of the human race
longing to live in love.


This poem comes in response to US Border Patrol agents firing tear gas at a group of people seeking asylum in the United States today, November 25, 2018. 

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