HOLDING ON

There comes that one moment for each who lives
when he steps out onto the silent stage,
speaks such of the lines as he recalls, gives
a half-intended bow, and in his rage

curses his lost youth like over-aged wine,
that is now a shadow of its promise
and he knows that somehow this is a sign
not of what he was but what he now is.

In the evening mirror he doesn’t know
the white bearded face that stares back at him,
a far older man who hates the coming of night.
He searches in vain for a way to show
that the spark that once burned did not grow dim
but holds even more tightly to the light.

First published in Grand Little Things ,Vol. 1, No. 1l, July 2020
grand-little-things.com/2020/07/21/two-poems-by-louis-faber

HISTORY

We only see the present as history,
by day history is a matter of minutes,
by night of seconds, years or centuries.

There is no future to be seen, only
imagined, the mind writing a story
that can never be read, never told.

It is only when we close the eyes
that the present truly exists,
independent of the past, free

and the past is merely waves
washing over and around us,
and the mind can find freedom.

FOR SALE

For a reasonable sum,
I can have a star named after me,
and get a certificate suitable
for framing declaring it so.

I’d like to buy a group of stars
in relatively close proximity
each to the others, and rather
than naming each after me,

I’d name the lot with one name,
my personal constellation,
perhaps Buddhist, the sky could
use a Bodhisattva of Absurdity.

But with my luck, the only thing
my stars would frame would be
a sea slug or a millipede and
I’ll pass on that for eternity.

NO BACKS

As you age, your vision changes,
and not merely that of your eyes,
for you necessarily become
near sighted about many things.

Of course you dread the fact that you
could be myopic if circumstances
conspire against you, barely able
to be IN and remember the moment.

Even those healthy take to mythology,
and astronomy, wishing they were
Titan, living life in retrograde, but no one
has yet managed to become Benjamin Button.

STATISTIC

Today, now many,
yesterday, tomorrow, how many?

We have grown tired of counting
the mind cannot deal with numbers
of that magnitude, Stalin was correct,
it is all statistics now, and bodies,
always more bodies, never enough,
always too many, by violence
in the street, in the economy,
in the courthouse, in the COVID ward,
there are too many places now,
where the dead gather, and we
cannot bid them farewell, for we
do not want to be counted
among them, to join them, to admit
that we in some way have led them
into disease, into poverty, into death.

FOSSIL FUEL

It should give you pause
to consider that, in the midst
of boundless greed, enmeshed
in the near cult of self, rushing
always to go nowhere quickly,
certain the problems of the world,
can be solved tomorrow, using
resources that may never be
replenished or substituted for,

when we are dead and buried,
we will be the fossil fuels
that future generations
rightfully shun in horror.

RECALL

As you sit in your suburban homes,
by the pools at your country clubs,
in your vacation resort villas, try
for the sake of the patriarchs
and matriarchs of our faith, to remember
that we were the poor, we were
the huddled masses, we yearned
to breathe free, we the tempest tossed.

Remember the tenements
of the Lower East Side,
the sweat shops, the struggle,
remember all of this, remember
where we came from, from the sthetl,
from the pogrom, from poverty,
recall we were the wretched refuse
for whom a door was opened.

Remember all of this now, as you
so willingly wish to slam the door
to those whose only wish is
to follow in our now dusty footsteps.

HUP TWO, MY ASS

WARNING: A SHORT STORY, SO A LONGER READ THAN USUAL. BUT WORTH IT HOPEFULLY

He wondered why he allowed himself to be in this position. He
knew that he didn’t actually allow it, he courted it. But you could
claim allowance when you chose the lesser, by far, of two evils.
As a child, his mother always told him he was fragile, that he
should avoid overly strenuous activities and drafts. With the
Vietnam “conflict” waging, that was one time he thought his
mother right, one draft to definitely avoid. So he enlisted in the
Air Force. “Choose the devil you want to dance with, if you have
to dance with the devil,” a friend said. He didn’t think it would be
all that bad. Sure, he’d heard stories, but who didn’t tell stories,
other than him. He would learn. Lesson one was the large sign on
the gate, “Welcome to Lackland Air Force Base, Gateway to the
Air Force.” Gateway to limbo was more like it, though it seemed
a bit like hell.

They had been in line for what seemed like hours. In San Antonio
in April, when the humidity is up, minutes seem like hours. They
looked reasonably absurd, hair of all lengths and colors, a motley
of pants, and all in the sickly yellow t-shirt with U.S. AIR
FORCE across the chest. They entered the building in single file,
emerged moments later as motley as ever but each and every one
skin headed, courtesy of Lackland’s finest barbers (though he
doubted they had taken a single class in cosmetology). And they
looked none the better for effort.

The one thing you could trust was that if you felt the least bit
insulted by the Air Force, the injury that had to accompany it was
just around the next corner. At least they knew he was coming,
had the correct names on his uniforms. And the sort of fit. Save
the combat boots. “We’ll fix those tomorrow,” Sgt. Leal bellowed,
“just put the damn things on!” Then it was time for the ID Photo,
and a string of “stop smiling, moron, just look at the camera.”
And magically, moments later, he had grown four inches. When
he told Sgt. Leal he needed a new ID, Leal scowled, “No, dipshit,
you need to grow four inches. Get on with it!”

He’d always been a night person. Uncle Sam cured him of that in
about two days. 9 to 5 was once a working day he assumed. The
Air Force taught him that it was a sleeping night. And the alarm
wasn’t a trumpet call like in the Boy Scouts. It was the bellowing
of Sergeant Leal. Fifteen minutes later, they were showered,
dressed in the uniform of the day, always the OD’s, and in
formation outside the dorm. Yes, dorm, although the same
building across town at Fort Sam Houston was an old WWII era
barracks. A short march later and they were at the chow hall, it
was only amess in the Army and Marines, and with his daily dose
of SOS (shit on a shingle) and a silent prayer for the pig so cruelly
disposed of, then it was finally time to play soldier.

He remembered what it was like parading around in the Texas
sun. You didn’t use sunscreen, the asinine pith helmet was
supposed to protect you. It simply made you look stupid, you
thought, but one in a sea of stupid so you never felt out of place.
The uniforms were that olive that seemed to cry out “witness the
fool unable to avoid this drab outfit.” They gathered sweat as
would a sponge, but dried quickly enough since you would wear
them again in two days, and they wouldn’t be washed for a week.
You looked forward to night, when a hint of coolness arrived,
hopefully with sleep before the Drill Sergeant bellowed to greet
another day in the Air Force’s version of hell.

Far and away the worst duty in boot camp was kitchen work in
the Visiting Officers Dining Rooms. KP was never fun, but
usually it was dish out the slop that too often passed for meals,
scrape plates and load the industrial dishwasher, avoid the mess
sergeant or keep him happy and hide when you could. But the
VODR was a whole different world. You had officers from
countless countries who expected to be treated as invited guests
who wanted what they wanted when the wanted it how they
wanted it. And they dripped arrogance on a good day. It was
never a good day in the Visiting Officers Dining Room.

He was still four inches short of his goal when he made the short
hop from Lackland to Kelly, for his police training. He had be
told that since he would be trained for the Security Forces, they
would have to reissue his ID card. And this time there was an
even chance they would get it right. He held out hope. His hope
was misplaced, and when he was injured in a bar in downtown
San Antonio while still in training, we accepted a transfer into the
Air Force Reserves, with the stipulation that they wouldn’t expect
him to grow the missing four inches.

Be thankful you didn’t join the army, was his sergeant’s most
common refrain. Sarge was a lifer, or at least trying to hang on
until he could quit and never really work again. Wouldn’t know
how to do a real job, he said, and wouldn’t want to have to learn.
Nobody with half a mind joined the Army if they could get out of
it. He saw that at his physical with all the probable draftees
feigning this or that to duck service. Thing is, only real money
bought your way out, and he wouldn’t know that until years later,
once the war was no more than a faint memory to most.

Things went as badly in Security training as he expected. On his
first call, riding shotgun with two Security Forces officers, they
responded to a bar fight downtown where a half dozen Air Force
trainees decided to take on two Army Rangers. It wasn’t pretty,
less so when the last Airman standing decided to miss the Ranger
with the padded chair he was swinging and struck him. He knew
instantly his Security days were over. The Air Force agreed five
weeks later, transferring him to the Reserves. “And with a bum
wrist, we’ve got to change your assignment. You are now a Clerk-
Typist.”

That was the brilliance of the Air Force Personnel specialists. If
you have a bad wrist, they make you a typist. As one why and
he’s likely to say, “But your index fingers still work, right?” They
did, but the base doctor still said he wasn’t fit to type, so it would
be another day shuttling between the NCO club and the BX, with
a stop for lunch down the road at the Pig and Whistle. Even there,
the hot dogs had pork, but there was no shingle, so it was a major
improvement over his nightmares of Lackland.

Once in the Reserves, the rest of his service became a game: he
versus the Air Force. The Base doctor made it clear that he was
not fit for typing, the wrist continuing to be a problem. So his job
was to sit around and stay out of the way. But for most jobs in the
Air Force you could train by reading and passing basic test of
knowledge, not demonstrating any real skill. In short order this
clerk typist who couldn’t type (ironically though he could but for
the injury) became a qualified Medical Clerk, Legal Clerk,
Chaplains Assistant (a particularly useful AFSC on a base with no
Chaplain, and a Loadmaster Apprentice. Any job you could learn
from the books he did. He wouldn’t dare do any of them. That was
how the military always got into the messes it seemed to relish.
But it kept his NCO and commanding officer happy, and if they
were happy, well, you get the picture. But the wrist was no better,
and eventually the base doctor, a pediatrician by training, decided
it was time to get him help or get him out.

Then the fun really began. The wrist was still acting up so he
went to the V.A. Hospital. And that began the next chapter in the
Government That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (although it could shoot
itself in its foot with surprising accuracy). He filled out the
paperwork. He waited. It was like he was back in the Air Force,
the waiting, but no uniforms this time. Finally the letter. The
Army has no record of your service. A phone call, a patient clerk,
a “well that would explain it. I’ll put it right through. I can get you
an appointment Thursday in the Orthopedic Clinic. Don’t tell
anyone we fit you in.” No one would believe it anyway. And two
weeks after the clinic appointment, on his scheduled weekend
duty, the base doctor called him in to his office. The Captain of
his unit was there as well. He knew and smiled as he saw them.
“The VA says you need surgery and they have a doc who can do
it. Problem is they can operate on those still in the Air Force, so
you are being discharged. Honorably, of course. We’ll have the
paperwork ready by Sunday, so hit the Base Exchange (such as it
is) one last time, you will be a Veteran by Monday.”

First published in Green Silk Journal, Spring 2020
https://www.thegsj.com/spring-2020-.html

THE HALF TRUTH

As a Jewish kid in a small city
I suppose I had it pretty good, enough
of us that I didn’t totally stand out,
and it helped living a single block
from the Jewish funeral home, some
just didn’t want to travel all that far
when the inevitable time came.

But we soon moved to the suburbs,
the shtetl neighborhood was gone,
and I was a Jewboy to more than a few,
so the Temple felt like a safe place,
setting aside all the OT stories
which were wholly unblievable.

I took a fair number of lumps
for killing Christ and all other
imaginary sins freely attributed.

I wish I knew then that as an adoptee
I was really only half Jewish,
and that the other half among
my distant kin were kings and saints
as well as a fair number of sinners.

WRITING MY STORY

With the stroke of a pen,
they enabled me to write the story,
gave a framework on which
I could hang all manner
of dreams and assumptions,
inviting a search I never
quite got around to making.

I wandered the beaches
of Estoril in my dreams,
stalked the avenues of Lisbon,
looking for a familiar face,
but found only ghosts.

With the stroke of a swab
inside my cheek, a vial
of saliva mailed, the story
came apart, and a new story
slowly unfolded, gone forever
was Iberia, replaced by Scotland
and Ireland, Wales, Norway
and Germany, and my dreams
were filled with the music
of the bodhran and Highland pipes.