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

TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory. Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare. The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver. My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.” I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space. She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul. She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.” I ask questions. I need to know more about the giver of names. She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting. She is a striking blond. I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is. I deny that I am fifty. As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over. “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather. She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see. “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.” Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both. I snap the picture. I am not captured on the film. Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue. She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.” The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture is removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun. Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks. She is a footnote in my father’s obituary. She is cast off by family, an unmentionable. She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room. It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced. I need to visit, to assure myself of — what? Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST AND VOID

You want holy teachings
boiled down, synthesized
digestible in bites

so dine on the holes
nothing, emptiness
is sustenance
enough

look at me, at a window
as you do a mirror
no knowing,
a familiar face
but whose

the face will depart
yours or his
you will awaken
to endless absence

learn no
thingness
overflowing void

A reflection on Case 1 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

UMMON’S THREE DAYS 鐵笛倒吹 六十八

What were you doing
three days ago
and what will you do
three days from now.
Are you the same person now
as you were, will be?

While your face in the mirrorKoan
seems much the same
each day you die a bit
each day you are reborn.
A thousand days
a thousand years
a passing moment,
how do they differ?

A reflection on Case 68 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

ON THE WALL

Each morning, once I have completed
the often unpleasant task of dragging
myself from the womb of blankets, I make
my appearance in front of the mirror.

I stare closely into it, and am unsurprised
to find it returning my stare,
and on every occasion, I notice
that the mirror has once again
chosen to wear the same clothes as I,
albeit not as well or stylishly, no doubt
the result of its limited sense of dimensions.

It is odd that I know so well what
the mirror looks like, how it masquerades
as this or that until it can no longer
hope to avoid me, and yet despite
its familiarity, I have no idea at all
what I really look like anymore.

MIRROR IMAGE

Each morning when I look
into the mirror I imagine
I see me, but of course that
is impossible, for in that moment
only the mirror sees me
and I see the mirror.

How deluded I must be
to assume that I look at all
like the mirror, but it is,
I know, just such delusions
that enable my sense of self,
and that is the grandest illusion.

A morning will come when I
look into the glass and nothing
is there or a face I have never
before seen and the mirror
will laugh, as will I, at this
game we have played for years.

PARENTHOOD

Two headstones
Name, rank, branch
of service, dates.

One New Jersey, one
Virginia, both Bittle
neither certain.

An email from
another Bittle, never
knew my father

but his was
William, and in
that moment,

James Owen became
a father yet again
and I complete.

And later still
a single picture
he in the back

row and the mirror
agrees that we
are truly family.

THE FUTURE HOLDS

It should be more of a surprise,
on this day that you turn ninety
but the mirror, as you see it,
has you looking as you did twenty
two years earlier, and twenty
before that, unchanging in any
meaningful way, yet those
around you laugh when you
tell them what you believe.

Not a day over sixty-eight
you say, and time to go off
and write for an hour, then
the three mile walk, a shower,
some physical therapy for . . .
well one of the joints which
has osteoarthritis, and a salad,
heavy on the greens for lunch.

Nothing much has changed
in your mind, and when
you awaken from the dream,
see your sixty-eight year old
face in the mirror, you only
wish you could see the younger
face that only dreams allow,
but time outside of dreams is
always, unfortunately, unforgiving.