DEGENERATION

I feel like I ought to be
living in Texas again
for everything, they say,
is bigger in Texas, and you
don’t argue with a Texan.

So much in my life is bigger now,
a computer monitor that would
pass for a moderate sized TV,
with font so large a single page
fills the screen, and the tablet
the size of, but thank God
not the weight of, a phone book,
(if you are under 30, look it up),
to read books and news since
libraries don’t carry large print books
(look that up too, probably)
at least not books of poetry.

But thanks to modern materials science
the lenses in my glasses don’t
yet look like Mr. Magoo’s (yup,
one more thing to look up,)
at least not yet.

First Published in Half Hour to Kill, August 2022
https://halfhourtokill.com/home/degeneration-by-louis-faber

WORKSHOP

Grace settles into the chair,
less an act of sitting than
of floating down onto the seat.
She has borrowed my grandmother’s
smile, kind, gentle, inviting.
She pulls a book from her bag,
its pages or most of them
dog eared, and I glimpse
some annotations in the margins.
We sit around her like children
awaiting presents on a holiday,
as acolytes seeking knowledge
from a font of poetic and prosaic
wisdom, or so we think.
She reads in a voice that is
at once soft and loud enough
to reach the back of the room,
opening the book to a random
page and diving in, then after
what seems like a minute and
an hour, she stops and asks
for questions. We sit dumbstruck
for a moment then fire at her
like machine gunners on the range.
She answers each, claims she is
a simple grandmother who writes
but we know better, know we
are in the presence of a true master.

PAPER CUTS

Paper is at once both
the cruelest invention a writer
may have stumbled across
and also her salvation.

The blank page invites,
often demands the pen
and is unjudging, yet the poet
may change or delete
but the paper retains the original
and throws it back in his face.

The computer, many say,
changed all of that, backspace
or highlight and delete and
that mistake, misuse, misadventure
is gone forever, but
with a wrong keystroke
all you may have is a blank screen
and your words so well shaped,
thoughts perfectly expressed
can be lost in the ether.

Where did I put that pen?

EMERGENT

When I least expect it, one
may unfurl wings and lift
into a clouded sky searching
for the hidden sun, or

it may wander off, a child
momentarily free of parents
off to discover the real world, or

it may retreat back into
the pen, unwilling to be seen,
objecting to its misuse, or

it may sit in front of the TV
and watch soap operas
and game shows, not caring
what is on the screen, just
escaping from the damned page, or

it may sit still, be tucked away
and hope one day to be accepted
for all the world to see.

QINGYUAN’S “COME CLOSER”

Walk slowly
through this bramble of words.
Do not allow yourself
to become tangled in them
though they will certainly try.
Tear out this page
burn it for faint warmth
or steep it into tea,
reduce it to simple fibers.
Then it will be
a poem
of some small worth.

A reflection on Case 10 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

NYE

As a child, I only wanted
to stay up until midnight,
actually a bit after that time,
to see in the new year.

I didn’t need to be
at my parents’ party, it
was too loud and the adults
behaved more like my kid
brother and sister as
the magic moment approached.

And it was supposed to be
a magical moment, although
no one could tell me
why that was, or what
made it special other
than turning a page
on the calendar.

I no longer try
to stay awake until midnight
on New Year’s Eve
having long ago learned
I don’t’ want to be around
adults acting childish,
and knowing January 1
is no different than
December 31, save that
I will miswrite the date
on checks for at least a month.

LURKER

It is there waiting, no doubt
another trap, simple initially seeming pure
but harboring a malevolence that will
soon consume you, leave you broken,
so considering the pen as a weapon,
to lay waste to it, or for seppuku,
both thoughts will no doubt come to mind.

It has always been like this, always will,
different if you chose the digital path,
but only a difference in implement,
the struggle, the loss, the outcome
very much the same, so consistent.

Still you take up pen, stare deeply
at your adversary, swear it will not
defeat you this time, battle on valiantly,
but finally, and yet again, painfully concede
to the omnipotent abyss that today
as yesterday is the pure untouched page.

GREATLY EXAGERATED

Many now say the age of great literature
has died, the mortal woiund inflicted
by the advent of the self-correcting
IBM Selecric typewriter, when words
bcame evanescent, as suddenly gone
as when they spilled onto the page.

Others, I count myself among them,
believe the wound was not fatal,
deep certainly, but yet there remains
a faint pulse, ressuscitation possible
with the application of utmost care.
For there forbears florid phrasing
in the forethoughtful flow of the fountain
pen, precious and pure prose and poetry
in the precise point of the Pilot pen.

Perhaps, if you happen upon this
small scrap of scrip, you will
see the possibility in this proposition.

HOGEN’S DRIP OF WATER 鐵笛倒吹 九十一

What are words
of wisdom
from the mouth
of the ancient ones.
I tell you
these are such words.
You may accept
or reject them
as you will.
Better still, tear
this page from its binding
crumple it
and cast it
to the four winds.
Let it be carried
off in ten directions.

A reflection on case 91 of the Iron Flute Koans

SOMETHING NEW

When I was a child, my mother
repeatedly told me that I must
learn something new each day.

I knew better than to point out
that it was absurd to call
for novel behavior by repetition.

So I took the path of least resistance
and each day grabbed a random
volume of the World Book Encyclopedia,

opened to any page and read
the first entry on that page, committing
it, or its salient facts, to memory.

There is so much in life with which
I still struggle, seemingly basic tasks
I never took the time to master,

too busy with my head in books,
but I do know that the acts of Punisa
Racic that June, 1928 day killing two

led King Alexander, six months later,
to ban all political parties, assume power
and rename the country Yugoslavia.