Tears’ Task

I cry more than I used to,
……..about those hungry and destitute,
……..driven into torturous perils,
……..risking all for scant hope of survival

children alone, afraid of
war, neglect, poverty, loss of home,
still unable to frame the words,
yet choked by invisible strangleholds.

I weep more than ever for people hated
……..simply for the color of their skin,
……..the conviction of their heart,
……..the level of their competencies

for all caught, vice-grip-like,
in social disparity, mere pawns –
chess pieces – subject to
unbridled narcissism and greed.

I shed more tears than I used to
…….about dogs – cooped up – caged alone,
…….worse still, used for cruel sport,
…….or confined by metal chain

about marine life perishing in polluted seas
forests at risk, resources exploited,
water tainted, oil spilled, nighttime’s splendor
erased by light from torrid flame.

I’m grieved much more than I used to be,
…….by people believing
…….insidious lies of those bent
…….on forcing the vulnerable into servitude

women raped, the elderly shunned,
tribes disregarded, victims suffocated,
humans shackled, innocents gunned down,
rights revoked – a sinister Russian roulette.

But do not weep for me,
for one must choose between compassion
or bitter cynicism, which blames victim,
refusing to comprehend, denying culpability.

Only tears make it possible
to see in the dark, for they shield
one’s heart from searing blaze used to
systematically dull sensibilities.

I cry so much more than I used to.
It must be so, for tears’ assignment
is to deposit nutrients into
soul’s secluded sanctuary, sole hope

for birthing courage, integrity,
resolve, qualifying ingredients
to tread where few dare,
undeterred and undaunted.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo credit: http://www.pixabay.com



There’s always space in her heart
to house the mighty ocean,
though its raging could
………………………………..one day
overtake her.

She tackles the summer turbulence,
taming its tempest into tolerant
forgiveness, terror evolving
………………………………..one day
into communion as equals.

She balances a lighting bolt
on the tip of her tongue,
adeptly bidding it illumine
………………………………..one day
without destruction.

She never lacks the cold gray steel needed
to withstand demeaning assault,
yet resolutely melts deadening blow
………………………………..one day
into life-sustaining glow.

The stab of loved ones lost,
hurled into premature departure
from a life of hope and promise
………………………………..one day
assured for everyone’s children.

There can be no darkness light-less enough
no tentacles so suffocating
no struggle brutal to the point it
holds her under
wears her down
wipes her out
drives her away
colors her anything other than
………………………………..one day
a full participant in every freedom.


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: Clem Onojeghuo via http://www.unsplash.com


her entry was like many
at that time, no fanfare,
unspectacular, almost mundane –
this fair-skinned immigrant child

she learned the need for tenacity
and persistence early in life,
proving to herself that
she had skin in the game

she toiled, she scrambled,
refusing to allow treacherous
situations to defeat her, never
merely saving her own skin

the blows and battle scars
of misfortune, near debilitating
disappointment and disillusionment
served to toughen her skin

never quite sure she was
comfortable in her own skin,
she wobbled and reeled
precariously avoiding collapse

until one day, one bland,
numbing, toilsome day,
she no longer recognized
the skin she was confined in

she had always presumed
she would wear the
skin of influence, surrounded
by people from every nation,

of every skin tone, together
on a platform of justice,
equality, change – words
flowing freely and freeing-ly

until all were one, skin to skin,
hearts beating in unison,
inviting presence, humanity,
united in the unfathomable expanse

of the universe. but that day
was slow in coming, indeed
the possibility it may never manifest
drove her to wildly play out of her skin

yet another day, marked by no
passage of time, settled onto
her skin, as a clammy film
drapes itself onto an overheated body

that day she saw another
in her skin, in her place
with her voice, passion,
stunning contribution for greater good

and she could not recognize
the skin that now snaked around
her, attempting to masquerade
as her own.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com


She blinked twice, gazing toward the flaming orange ball which kissed summer’s western horizon, blue eyes, narrowed to half their usual size, partially hidden behind circular wire spectacles. She stood outside a freshly stained garden fence, and though she leaned lightly on a wooden cane,  everything about her frail form vibrated with vigor. Her white curls, cropped to within inches of her scalp, were a dashing contrast to the swirling emerald silk blouse, which draped daringly over form fitting denim capris. One would think this an odd fashion choice, given her age and diminutive frame, but those who knew her would tell you that none of her choices had been remotely conventional or predictable.

She had left her hometown as a very young woman, filled with dreams, vision and a hefty dose of naïveté. Judged solely by  outward appearance, she could have been labeled a risk taker, a jetsetter,  possibly even someone who basked in the smile of the Divine.

With little apparent effort she achieved what many craved: marriage to a young man of endless possibilities, two beautiful children, opportunities for education, travel, and a career in a field heavily dominated by men. Her life seemed to float on azure waters toward an alluring destination, just as sleek ocean liners sailed away toward a dream world, created in the minds of those left to pine on confining shores.

Years plodded on. She visited on occasion, mostly to spend time with her aging, always doting parents, intentionally or quite by accident neglecting those with whom she had shared school desk, musical bench, science lab, church choir. Her steely focus and preoccupation stemmed from her drive to make a difference. Succeed. Survive.

This drive eventually deposited her at the edge – the precipice of more demand, more investment, more production, more nurture. The first time she found herself precariously dangled near the slippery cliff, she recoiled in terror at its cavernous depth. What was this? She could not move, completely dependent on rescue teams that swarmed around. All she could do was wait. Wait and fear. Quietly, over time, she reeled herself in unobtrusively, strapping an invisible harness around her soul, determined to secure herself in fervent devotion.

This experience left her guarded, however, ever watchful for signs of its return. None came, and slowly her body and soul loosed their grip on all protective trappings.

It was a cloudless night, the culmination of a midsummer festival when a jarring dissonance snaked its way to her again, first beguiling, then tearing at the protective layers of talent, humor and abandoned engagement. Her eyes darted from one to the next, trusting no one, retreating. She pulled an invisible veil about herself – an effort to create safety from the dreaded exposure the cunning trickster forced upon her. Nakedness! She could not bear derision and disdain, as one discarded as a fraud. She resolved to remain hidden behind grace, goodness, gentleness.

Again and again – without warning – she endured the rampage of the destroyer, each time wearing an unknown mask, as if on a medieval stage. With every encounter she feared the loss of yet another fragment of her soul.

Face down she searched what still remained of that soul. What had been the warning signs? Could she have seen, known, predicted? Why could she no longer recognize herself? Years passed; worry etched furrows into her once youthful face; the light of her eyes dulled to a gray haze.

There was no panacea, no respite, not even a random thundershower in a prolonged drought. The blazing heat of the emotional desert baked her soul, scorched her spirit and deposited fine sand into the once active gears of her fertile mind. She sat as one lost to the world – even to herself.

All was still. The oven-like heat was mitigated by cool nights, the shade of scant desert vegetation, and drastically reduced expectations. One season gave way to the next as her spirit grew accustomed to a lack of external nourishment. Her heart felt the burden of suffering, the magnitude of death, the embrace of loneliness. But nothing obscured the daily sunset with its kaleidoscope of color, the harbinger of a bejeweled nighttime sky which, strangely, she came to anticipate. Hot winds shriveled the extraneous from her soul’s skeleton, leaving her with only the core essence of what it means to be human.

Emergence was so gradual that neither she nor those close to her could re-create a timeline. It was a release, a metamorphosis, like a climb up a stone stairway into the brilliance of noontime, out of a dark underground space similar to where pottery is regularly carried for firing. She emerged in otherworldly color, mesmerizing simplicity, resilient texture, finally rendered indestructible. The ravine, the fire, the desert no longer carried menace. All that had fallen over the precipice, the ashes left charred at her feet, the stripping of the desert had done nothing other than create undying beauty and extravagant new life. Like the forest floor after a ravaging fire is filled with seeds, all willing to carry it forward into an eternity of splendor, so she held within her soul the life which only danger, pain and loss could have set free.

So here she stood, enchanted by the sight at the garden fence. They had come for her, though none would have been obligated to do so. They had come because of her. They were young. Old. Every color and creed. Big and small. Opulent and oppressed. Self absorbed and self abased. A vast chorus of etherial melody.

A hush fell upon them, until she flung the gate wide, propped it open with her cane, and threw her arms out in welcome. Or was it they who welcomed her? She did not know, nor did it matter. They were her people. They were one.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: © Stacey L. Rhoades. Used with permission.

A Spacious Place

What do you do when
designers of coverups and
corruption leave
you staggering
as if inebriated by
excuses, duplicities,
blatant hypocrisies,
denial of mounting evidence
pushed aside,
choked off,
drowning out
testimony that
is unwelcome to
oligarchs bent
on destroying all
that is sacred?

What is left
of the slow, bloody march
toward justice, freedom,
all humanity included in
rights of dignity and respect,
if monuments, symbols and
posturing salutes that breathe
oppression, threaten genocide
are defended,
even promoted as
worthy of reverence,
while brothers and sisters
are stripped of their
inalienable rights?

Where do you go when
violators of liberty
upend decorum, subvert
integrity, heap cataclysmic
conflagration upon
ravaged communities,
voiceless populations,
imprisoned masses, then
spew venom,
perpetrate violence,
divert funds
from those who are dying,
left gasping in
the grip of disease,
suffocating stranglehold, all
with impunity?

no effort seems
to stem
debilitating flood of
destruction and decay,
the deluge of reports on
never ending inquiries,
repugnant divergences,
when energy flags,
vision, grace, one’s very
lifeblood seeps
from weary soul,
…….deeper life calls from
…….the lonely places,
…….the wide open spaces,

where clouded spirit,
dulled heart, grievously
depleted body
where jaded dreams
and faded hopes
absorb the wind
of possibility,
where chest rises and falls
to inhale the expansivity
of light, the color
of inclusion, the fresh air of
abundance, rich integration,
connection with each other
as with nature, in
the DNA of the Divine.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: © Stacey L. Rhoades. Used with permission.

storm season

Unseen –
part of an
invisible majority
on the sidewalk, in the
classroom, office, she
failed to make the cut
with the agile,
mobile, tactile,
clutching her true grit,
gift in hand

Overlooked –
name omitted
from recognition,
missed the checklist, though
not the blacklist,
cunning twist,
the gist of which
hurls her to
ponder strategic moves
aligned with

Recalibration –
her eyes focused
on another prize, resolute,
unflinching and undeterred
despite those in myriad
sectors who
criticize, demoralize,
fixate on driving
intentional demise
of what is constructive, compassionate,

Humanity –
oh how you have been
protections and provisions
exchanged for entitled,
bastardly greed,
loathsome spread of
cancerous disease
destroying bedrock of
foundational respect, threatening faintest

Deflection –
backhanded distraction,
headlining soundbite,
intentional coverup,
nefarious, mounting evidence of
malignancy, invading
private spaces, holy
places, denying graces
to those ravaged by systemic
corruption, bent on

Come –
luring call of
gentler tone
seductive summons,
domesticated structure
soothes with duplicitous
intent, masking its
menacing confinement,
detainment for the sake
of a cause
not her own

Wild spirit –
never content with
useful endeavors,
righteous encounters,
fine appearances,
toiling to line
coffers of enterprises
embracing euphemisms
purposed to lull
the unwary into
unwitting slumber

No –
she needs air,
wings to soar,
not clipped to
aid their tiny schemes,
not restrained by leash
to do their bidding,
never contained as machinery
of either war or peace,
for human soul alone begets

Oh my dear –
you travel treacherous path,
this isn’t wise – quite unstable.
this reeks of resistance,
uprising, protest.
what are you thinking?
……………sincere words, well meaning,
……………yet gravel inside moving joints
what if you’re caught in the turbulence,
volatility, in the eye of
brewing storm?

Silently –
light breaks over weathered face,
eyes the window to miles traveled,
losses incurred, drenched cargo,
battered vessel,
her resolve reinforced to
bear witness, keep vigil,
there is no storm to be feared, for
she, indeed, is now the

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: © Stacey L. Rhoades. Used with permission.

The Shadow

This inviting playground, beckoning innocent children, stands as a beacon of hope; the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the background.

Selma, AL 

it’s been a myriad moonrises,
yet seems like just one
shadow has passed since
loved ones were
among those who
hoped and endured,
demanded peace,
fearing their fate
as evil’s heinous
fang forced its venom deeply
into tender flesh of those
who dared to
be black and yet
cross a bridge

once sole passage
to halls of power,
now an icon,
to this day bearing
on its forehead sinister
reminder of one whose
unholy memory, unmistakably
emblazoned on steel –
…………like branded contempt,
…………stark shadow of hatred –
hangs suspended over a nation
as bodies once hung,
brazenly suspended from limbs.

where shall we go?
wide swaths of citizenry
denying its culpability,
divided, and still one

vision of color, light
and dark, in the shadow of
bloody reminder,
now fresh with the vibrancy
of blue skies and laughter –
wee carriers of possibility,
no longer destined to
rage with hatred,
offered new fire to ignite
flame of justice and mercy in
exchange for brutality
and barbarism.

here is the breath of hope

shadows of bygone years
still poignant

where the brave once walked.


© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: © Stacey L. Rhoades. Used with permission.