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

ZENGETSU SNAPS HIS FINGERS 鐵笛倒吹 八十七


When two students meet
along the road, each
acknowledges the other
with the snap of fingers.
When a student walks the Way
to who does he snap his fingers
and who passes with a small bow?

If you happen across a teacher
and ask him the meaning of this
will you bow or snap
and how will you respond
to the silence
that enfolds his answer.

A reflection on Case 87 of the Iron Flute Koans

KOTEI STRIKES A MONK 鐵笛倒吹 八十一

Bow before a king
and you may be rewarded
but bow before a teacher
and expect to be shunned.
Which has something to offer?
Ask the teacher why he shuns you
and he will turn you away.

One offers a bit of gold,
one offers a priceless gem.
Gold can buy you many things
but the gem is worthless
to all but he to who it is given.
Pick carefully, for here
the fool and wise man
walk separate paths.

A reflection on Case 81 of the Iron Flute Koans

BOKUSHU’S BLOCKHEAD 鐵笛倒吹 語十語

Seeing your teacher on the road
if he says to you
Honorable Sir, what do you do?
You may turn, bow, and act the fool
or pass, eyes averted
without acknowledgement, silent
equally the fool.

Speak in silence,
face, bow without moving
greet him as you do yourself
in the morning mirror
and once past, offer gassho
and the fool is left on the path
dragging your shadow.

A reflection on Case 55 of the Iron Flute Koans

ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

Approach the master
sitting on his seat.
The fool will seek answers
having slept through the lesson
but the wise student will bow
silently and retreat
having learned all there is
and knowing absolutely nothing.


A reflection on Case 44 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Mind)

THE REAL WAY 碧巌録 二

Heed Joshu’s words
the real way is not difficult
look within the mind
come across words, thoughts
and cast them over
the edge into the abyss.

Continue searching until
no words or thoughts remain
and you are left with mu.
Then carry mu to the precipice
and cast it, too, into the abyss
make your bows and retire.


A reflection on Case 2 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record).

WRISTING

I used to think
that the key to a great crepe
was all in the wrist.
That was before my wrist was fused
by a doctor who explained
that no motion was better
than endless pain where motion
ceased to practically matter.
Now I realize that the forearm
is capable of so much more
that that for which it is given
credit, that the elbow is a joint
underappreciated, and that when
the crepe slides off the pan
and onto the plate,
the forearm can take a silent bow,
giving a wink to the crepe pan
for its nominal contribution
to the effort lying on the plate.

NARA

It was inside Nara
that it finally slipped away.
Its tether had grown
ever weaker, the first slip
was decades before, a book,
brief meetings
an answerless question.
It stretched further
in Tokyo, basin incense
under the watchful
third eye
and hung perilously
by fewer and fewer threads
until, with the monks’
gentle bow, it broke
and I found home.