REAR VIEW MIND

I spent too much time looking
backward, looking into the past,
looking into the mirror
to frame a dream history
of my desires and fears.
He called one morning, left
a message, “Mother died,
more details will follow.”
A mother his by birth,
mine by legal act.
I should have felt stunned
anger, I said quietly to myself
he’s cocky, has issues, and went
about momentary mourning.
That is the psyche of the adoptee who
was never family, always an adjunct.
Later my antediluvian dreams
gave way under a torrent
of deoxyribonucleic acid rain.
She who I imagined in the mirror
took name, took shape from
and old yearbook, offered
a history, a family, a heritage.
When I knelt at her grave
she told me her story
in hushed tones, or was it
the breeze in the pines on the hill
overlooking the Kanawha?
I bid her farewell that day,
placed a pebble on her headstone,
stroked the cold marble
and mourned an untouched mother.

YEARBOOK REFLECTION

Knowing that my
biological parents’
pictures were somewhere
in the yearbooks
I had before me
I thought that I
would search without
looking at the names.

No one looked
at all like the me
I see in the mirror
nor the me I am
shocked to see
in my own yearbook.

Yet finding them
by name I quickly
realized that I
was their amalgam
a face neither
would have recognized
no matter how
small the crowd.

LANDING

She sends us a map

showing on which tribe’s land

we are now living.

This is not something

we have thought about,

not something we want

to think about, for that

would demand that we

are the usurpers, the horde

whose pogrom was

ultimately successful,

and that is a face that

refuse to see in the

polished mirror of history.

CARNEY BARKER

You there, walking along the midway

come into my tent, for only a dollar

I will show you wonders

beyond your meager comprehension

but this offer is only good

for the next fifteen minutes

for that is when I start my show,

It’s not something you want to miss.

I know you’ve seen quarters pulled

from ears, doves fly off

from and oversized top hat

that moments before was empty

but you have never seen

the likes of what I will show you.

Here is my father, watch him

closely cast his seed, closely

and like that he is gone.

Not good enough you say

then watch again, even

more closely this time, see her

lie on my table, her gown

draped over her, see me reach

and pluck a small baby

better than a pigeon isn’t it,

but you blinked, where has she gone.

Only tepid applause, so I guess

you want one more, and I

am never one to disappoint.

See him standing there

it almost looked like

he is standing before a mirror shaving

and now he, too, is gone

before your very eyes.

If you still aren’t satisfied

if you haven’t gotten

your monies worth then please,

please step forward, for I can work

with others than my parents,

truly I can, so where are you going.

Step into my tent ladies and gentlemen

the next show starts

in only fifteen minutes,

all for a single dollar.

First published in The Parliament Literary Magazine – Issue 5- Masks and Manes 

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