NANSEN CUTS THE CAT 無門關 十四

Thirty blows of the stick
if right, thirty blows
if wrong, or Namsen’s sword
and a severed cat

a half to each
a whole to none

Be thankful you
didn’t argue about a man
for with a shoe
on the head, your feet
may touch the sky.

A reflection on Case 14 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

TE SHAN CARRYING HIS BUNDLE

Enter the room slowly and look carefully,
since you are here to find something.
There is much within this room, but you
can see nothing save the old man,
sitting calmly, staring at nothing, staring
through you at nothing in particular.
You know he is the teacher, the one
for whom you have been searching,
Still, he ignores you, staring at nothing.
You walk around the room, from end
to end to end to end and he does
not move or speak, and so you leave.

He has given a great lesson, do you
appreciate what he has taught you?
You walk away angrily, say that he
is no teacher at all, that you are no
closer to enlightenment leaving
than when you entered, for you
found nothing but yourself.
As you leave the old man bows
as teachers do to Buddhas.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Hekiganroku {BLue Cliff Record)

NO BIALYS TODAY

No one looked up when the Buddha
walked into the deli and took a seat
at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and
lean, with mustard on the side, and two
slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”

As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream
Soda, the waitress smiled at him,
asked, “Are those robes comfortable,
winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”

Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm
said, “It all depends on what you wear
beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend,
but some I know want only organics.”

As he finished, a younger, swarthy
man entered, his robes bleached white
from the sun, his dark hair long,
sandals worn down, and came
over to Buddha, sat down with
a nod to the waitress, and instantly
a corned beef on pumpernickel
appeared, at which point Buddha
muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”

First published in Bengaluru Review: Spring, 2021
https://bengalurureview.com/bengaluru-review-spring-2021

IBIS SEEING YOU

They pause
in their foraging in the lawn
to peer up at us,
strange looking interlopers,
but they are used 
to us by now
and return 
to the task at hand.

We no longer 
find them strange
though we never quite
get used to the curved
salmon colored beaks,
and we do wonder
why the ancient 
Egyptians held 
them sacred.

It seems that they
have never forgiven
their Egyptian ancestors
from affixing
their head 
to a man, god
or no god, he
couldn’t find
a grub if his life
depended on it.

THIRST

A man stands on the peak of a hill,
staring down into the valley below him,
but it is not clear what he is staring at.

Standing in the valley, by the bank
of a slowly flowing river, I stare
up the tall hill to its peak, and see

the clouds gather around the man
as if soon to swallow him, and I wonder
what it is like to be eaten by a cloud.

The river flows slowly by, ignoring
the hill, with the man standing atop
its peak, ignoring me standing

on its bank, and ignoring the man
atop the ignored hill, staring at
the clouds, awaiting a hearty meal.

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/

OVA

She says you should not put
all of your eggs in one basket.
I remind her that I’m not
terribly fond of eggs, and only
rarely have more than one, and
in any event, I keep them in
the refrigerator to avoid spoilage.
She says, so why is it we
have no TV, no phone, no Internet,
tell me that, wiseguy.
I steer away from eggs and baskets
and simply respond, because
we have yet again been stranded
on that barren, fruitless island
known to all, hated by them, as Comcast.
We both shrug our shoulders
in resignation to our fate.

MORNING READING

You read the obituaries every day
not only for the affirmation that you
are not listed among them
The key five words there are
not only for the affirmation, particularly
upon hearing the gentle man you liked,
that you valued as a friend and craftsman
is gone, but you didn’t say goodbye,
that you thought “better him than me,”
that you hated that thought,
that you hated yourself for thinking it,
that nonetheless you are glad
it wasn’t you, was someone else
just not him, just not someone you knew.
You weren’t in the obituaries today
and when you are gone, you won’t
be here to read it anyway, and you won’t
think “better him than me,”
and you promise you
will forgive those that think it.

APART-IAL EXPLANATION

It is all to often debated
what sets humans apart
the other species, and that
will not be agreed any time soon
(which a cynic would note
is one such thing itself).

Freud would claim it is only
our ego, our sense of self,
which may explain why people
are so capable of being self-
ish, and I suspect he was
certain he was wholly correct
but I would give him only partial credit.

It is far simpler than that: record
your voice, record a Sandhill
crane and play them back
and I assure you that you
will say you sound nothing
like what the recorder heard
while the crane will nervously
look all around for his unseen kin.

GOD HAS COME, OR NOT

It is the wet season
when the rains wash the village
carrying off the detritus of poverty.
On the adobe wall
of the ancient town hall
some villagers say
a face appeared one morning.
To some it was
the face of Christ
to others that of an old man
a former mayor, perhaps,
to most of the tourists
from the nearby resort
no more than random discoloration
of the aging plaster
that clung to the beams
by the force of will.
They arrived by bus
and rusting pick ups,
bowed to the wall
and reached out gingerly
like children touching
the flame of a candle.
To the mason it was
a job that would feed
his family for another week.


First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2019, Pg. 40