DOGO’S GREATEST DEPTH 鐵笛倒吹 六十六

If you walk into the room
and many are meditating
how will you know which
is the teacher, which the students?

If one sits on a higher platform
will you assume him teacher
and ask the depth of his Zen.
If he comes down to you
and says he has no depth to offer
do not think him a fool.
When you sit at the bottom
of the ocean and look down
the water beneath you is shallow
but the surface of the sea
cannot be seen.

A reflection on Case 66 of the Iron Flute Koans

PRAYER

We bow our heads
and utter words
not to the cicada
speaking through
a spring night
or the beetle
crawling slowly
across the leaf
searching for the edge.
We bid the crow
silent, the cat mewling
his hunger and lust
to crawl under a porch
awaiting morning,
the child to sleep.
The stream flows
slowly by, carrying
a blade of grass
and the early fallen leaf.

Published in The Raven’s Perch (August 3, 2020)
https://theravensperch.com/prayer-by-louis-faber/

UTEKI ASKS BUDDHA 鐵笛倒吹 四十語

While out for a walk
on a sun filled Spring day
if you happen across the Buddha
how will you recognize him?

If you offer gassho
to Buddha surely
it will be returned, but
is it he or merely
your reflection off
the surface of a still pond?
Does this matter to you?

A reflection on case 45 of the Iron Flute Koans

HEAVEN, ONLY SLIGHTLY OUT OF REACH

God is fixed in the firmament
seen as puppet master by some
patrician uncle, small child
endlessly shifting blocks
in new, transitory universes.
All things recede from a point,
have since the creation
and that point, dimensionless
is God, vast and infinite.
It swings lazily, back, forth
a needle in its cusp tracing
lines in the bed of sand
in constant motion as we
and earth, and all of our
universe spin slowly
around its focus, it swings
lazily back, forth, tracing
an ever-shifting path
marked in displaced sand
ponderous from its fine
steel tendril which rises
to a point without size,
shape, or time, frozen
a singularity from which
all else emanates. God lives, bat-like
on the ceiling of
the San Francisco Science Museum
and the Hayden Planetarium
and countless other buildings
given to science,
omnipresent yet fixed
dimensionless and infinite
always a ladder’s climb
just out of reach.

Published in The Raven’s Perch (August 3, 2020)
https://theravensperch.com/heaven-only-slightly-out-of-reach-by-louis-faber/

UNCLE

My uncle writes his journal
in cramped Yiddish, English
will not do, it lacks the words
he says, to describe his world.

He describes the flavor
of the capon left to stew
on the stove, the sweet taste
of carrots and prunes.

He carefully notes the thumb
of the butcher sliding onto
the back of the scale, applying
just a dollar of pressure.

He writes pages of her
monologue, the slow twisting
of words stuck under his skin
like so many shoots of bamboo.

The language is sweet, he says
and when it is lacking, he
can reach into its roots
and graft a new word.

His journal sits on its shelf
gathering dust, its words
lost on my tongue, a tome
consigned to history.

First Appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, Fall 1996.

CATHEDRAL

Images inviting tears,
ancient steeples falling,
the evening sky uplit
by flames dancing devilishly.

They all say it cannot happen
that we must stop it, that
we are powerless to act
in defense of a symbol

to the omnipotent, the all
knowing, who dare not intervene,
for our tributes are only that,
beautiful offerings never

requested or required, and more
to appease our conscience
but we both know that from ashes
will eventually arise a phoenix.

BROKEN TRAY 鐵笛倒吹 九十

If you accidentally break
a wise man’s possession
do you leave him
with one that is incomplete
or two awaiting completion.

If he asks you to replace it
you may search endlessly,
bring him a thousand replacements
but expect him to reject each one
as never being the same
as the original.
If you grow dejected, remember
he still has the original
in the cupboard.

A reflection on case 90 of the Iron Flute Koans

JOSHU MEASURE THE WATER

When your mind is raging
thoughts flowing, eddying
when you enter the zendo
what do you do in sitting?

Do you take your stick
and measure the water
to insure a safe fording,
or do you sit amid the stream
and let the flood
wash over and around you
dry and silent within?

A reflection on case 47 of the Iron Flute Koans

CALENDAR

As a child I lived next door to a calendar,
but not the kind mother always hung
on the wall next to the refrigerator, two,
one for school events and the obligations
attendant on parenthood and the other
for holidays, and adult social events,
the important one she’d say when
she thought we couldn’t hear.
My calendar was Mrs. Kanutsu,
the woman next door, or more accurately
the aromas that would waft from her kitchen
foretelling the Greek Orthodox holiday
about to arrive, only a few hours
after she insured that I approved
of her latest creations, all of which
were replete, redolent with spices
my mothers would never dare use.
I liked Christmas most of all, even
though I was wholly Jewish then,
for it meant she would let me help
make the phyllo, knowing I would
soon enough be rewarded with
a large piece of baklava that strangely
never seemed to make it all the way next door

IMPENDING DEPARTURE

They finally used the word
or one near enough to it
and she was not surprised,
she almost welcomed it.
You can grow jealous of those
with a depth of faith
that a sentence of months
or perhaps less is received
with grace and a smile, a nod
and a statement “I’m more
than ready to go home now,
back to my husband.”
I hope I will show such equanimity
when I am told my time
is quickly drawing to an end,
but I am left with great faith
in myself, and that may not suffice
as I prepare to slip away
into oblivion.