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.

DRINKING TEA IN KABUL*

Rockets flash briefly
across the chilled sky,
plumes of smoke, ash
carried off
by impending winter.

Over the lintel of the entry
to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago,
carved deeply into the marble
Es Salamu Aleikum
staring implacably
through ponderous
brass framed doors
onto the Miracle Mile.
Countless guests
pass below it
unseeing.

My son and I
sit across a small table
spilling bits of tapas
onto the cloth,
laughing lightly
at the young boy
bathed in a puree
of tomato, his shirt
dotted in goat cheese.
My son explains
the inflation of the universe,
gravitational waves
cast off
by coalescing binary
neutron stars.
His words pull me
deeper
into my seat.
We speak somberly
of the jet engine
parked haphazardly
in the Queens gas station
unwilling to mention
265 lives
salted across
the small community.

We embrace
by his door, the few
measured hours run.
He turns to call
his girlfriend,
I turn my collar up
against the November night.

The Red Line train
clatters slowly back
into a sleeping city.
In my room
I brew a cup of Darjeeling.

*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.

First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

DUST AND ASHES

Between Scylla and Charybdis
they cower amidst the ruins
fearful to look skyward
lest they encourage
the rains of hell.

Now and then they visit
the corpses, hastily buried
grief drowned by the sound
of the laugh of the gunner
peering down from the hills.
It is always night for the soul
and lookout must be kept
for Charon, who rides
silently along the rivers of blood,
that flow through her streets.

In the great halls,
far removed from the horror,
self-professed wise men
exchange maps
lines randomly drawn,
scythes slicing a people.
They trade in lives as chattel,
reaping a bitter harvest,
praying there may only be
but seven lean years.

They offer a sop to Cerberus,
three villages straddling the river,
but the army of the hills
knows they will take that and more
and waits patiently for the winter
when the odor of sanctity
no longer arises out of the city
to assail their nostrils
and Shadrach is
no more than a ghost.

First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.

TIMELESS

The wonder of clocks in old towns and cities
is that few actually care if the time
they portend is accurate or an approximation.

The importance often seems inversely
proportional to the size of the place in which
it is called upon to render a temporal verdict.

Best of all are the clocks whose hands
have ground to a halt, or gone missing,
for they are the philosophical seers,

sent to remind us that time is our construct
and in the grand scheme of things
exists only because we demand it to do so,

and long before the clock we got along
sufficiently well by being always
and forever in the present moment.

APPROACHING

The perfect time of day
occurs only as the dead
of night approaches, that
moment when the heart
of the city falls almost silent.

In smaller cities this moment
is protracted, arising as the moon
reaches toward full expression
and such as pass for tall
buildings settle into sleep.

In the great cities, those
that claim never to sleep,
the city reverberates, echoing
off the endless walls of glass,
and silence never fully
arrives, so we cling
to moments that approximate
what we imagine
silence sounds like.

WIEN

We were walking around Vienna, Wien,
the river cruise boat arriving early,
dropped off into the city center, told
we had precisely two hours to wander,
or we’d make our own way back,
and risk missing lunch and the formal tour.

We wandered, following instructions,
looking in vain for a café where we
could get an Austrian cappuccino, and perhaps
a pastry for which the city was famous,
even though we swore off deserts, but
before noon it could be still breakfast
and well within our supposed rules.

After several wrong turns we ended up
the Schauflergasse, still searching when
we heard the rhythmic clopping of hooves
and stepped quickly from the path
of the regal white stallions, as they
proudly pranced by back to their stables.

We asked the rider in the last rank where
we might find a café and pastry,
and he shouted back at us, “After
seeing us, Vienna has nothing more to offer.

We did find a café shortly after
and sharing an order of powidltascherl
and sipping our melange, we begged
to differ with the Lipizzaner rider.

STRANGE NIGHT

It was a most unusual night
in the city, and a surprising number
of its residents took note of that
which in itself was unusual.

By 2:00 A.M., those awake and
those who had awakened
strained to hear it, but there
was nothing at all, no sounds

to which they had become
so accustomed, and some imagined
they had been transported
from the city to its suburbs.

The EMTs grew nervous,
the trauma center staff laughed
nervously at the lack of gunshots
and the shock of the silence.

A CITY LIKE ALMOST ANY OTHER

somewhere within three blocks
of here a limo is disgorging
or swallowing up passengers

a child is dreaming of taking
lessons on a piano or violin
of Carnegie or Alice Tully Halls

a woman is remembering
what the touch of his fingers
felt on her cheek, tracing

her jaw, not shattering it,
a tagger prepares for battle
carefully loading his makeshift

holster after clearing
each nozzle, plotting which walls
will be an evening’s canvas

but across from here there is
the same red brick building
five store fronts, each with

barred doors drawn tight
staring, with no hope of parole
a green grocer, two bananas

rotting on the stoop,
a tailor’s naked mannequin
head turned backwards in shame

a locksmith whose lock
dwarfs the others though
there is nothing within to hide

and two vacant hollow spaces
like eyes of the dead
rheumy, semi-opaque voids

and eight neat rows
of six sooty windows each
behind which others hide

from the anger and fury
they would unleash on the city
if they could overcome their fear.

Published in The Raven’s Perch (August 3, 2020)
https://theravensperch.com/a-city-like-almost-any-other-by-louis-faber/

HOLY VISIONS

Night has swallowed the city
and in the laundromat, dryer 42
decries her loose drive belt.
The young girl turns, “can you see it
the Virgin Mary, in the glass porthole”.
No, I think, only white cotton panties
and several pair of jeans
in endless rotation.
“She speaks to me, asking
for my forgiveness for the burden
she has delivered to us
and though I try to give her absolution
she will not listen. Talk to her,
maybe it is a male voice she needs
to ease her mourning.”
I stare fixedly at the washer
as the light for final rinse snaps on,
“she knows you, she is waiting,
so talk into the camera, that one
with the red light, and tell her
that you forgive, as your forgave
the other Mary, who you redeemed.”
The dryer slowly grinds to a halt
and the young girl grimaces,
“she is gone, so perhaps she heard
what I could not, and I thank you”.
She wanders out onto the street
and fades into the shadow
outside the penumbra of the streetlight.


First published in Prairie Winds (1999)

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