THE TALK

She sat us down this morning for a heart to heart conversation. We had mentioned the neighbors’ new dog, their second, this one little smaller than a pony. She smiled at us, but we could tell it was a false smile, something was hiding about to be set free. “That is the problem with dogs,” she said, “they come in all sizes and temperaments. You never know what to expect, except that in any weather, but mostly the kind you hate, you have to walk them, or they walk you. And loud, they all seem to come without volume controls. So be thankful you have me. Now excuse me, my litter pan beckons.”

WHY NOT

Today in odd places,
at the most unexpected moments,
a child will smile without reason,
a young girl will laugh,
the young boy will stroke
the neck of a wandering cat,
and in that place
at that moment
there will be a simple peace.
Only the children will notice this,
though it gives lie to those
who deem peace impossible.
A child knows that it is
only preconceptions
and attachments
that blind adults
to the peace that
surrounds them.

LESSONS

The most important lessons he taught
were in those moments when he was
absolutely silent, the smile across
his face shouting across the background
din of everyday life, his eyes wide
with a sort of childish awe that I had
long since given up as adolescent.

The child sees everything for the first time
regardless how many times she has
gazed at what we adults are certain
is the same scene, a pure iteration,
hears each call of the cardinal as
a never-before-heard song, not
the now boring chorus of a too long
repeated lyric, its melody now painful.

His lessons too easily slipped away,
as he did a few years later, mourning
a poor substitute for memories that
eased into the damp ground with him,
but the smile of my granddaughter
at seemingly everything and nothing,
her laughter at the squirrel inverted
from the crook arm of the bird feeder
defying the shield below to stop
his constant thefts, the giggles
at the clouds filling the sky with
characters I could not hope to see,
brought him back, and with him
the joys of my childhood long suppressed.

MONA

Of course, she’s sitting there,
calmly, staring off onto space.
She has to know something
is amiss, no one has come
to visit her in days, but she
knows that whenever, if ever,
whatever it is that is happening
is finally over, that they
will once again return, stare
at her, wonder aloud and silently
why she is smiling, and she
will as always say nothing, for
she was once told that it is better
always to leave them wanting more.

Tomorrow Paris will count
its newest dead, and the hospitals
will pray the tide of bodies
has been stemmed, or diminished
and none of those in the battle
will pause and consider DaVinci’s
lady imprisoned forever in her
sterile room, an eternal prisoner.

First published in Dreich, Issue 20, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)

MOST WONDERFUL THING 鐵笛倒吹 六十語

Which is more beautiful,
the fragile flower
or the stone set in the road?
And which is the uglier?
The stone, washed in a stream
may shine like a diamond,
the flower picked
soon withers to dust.

Each contains beauty
each contains ugliness.
When you see this
you may smile
until you feel
the blow of the stick
and your eyes are forced shut
blind for that moment.


A reflection on Case 65 of the Iron Flute Koans

TOZAN’S THREE BASKETS 鐵笛倒吹 四十一

Tozan said
the whole of knowledge
can be expressed
in a single letter.
Hakuun, the great Master
set to writing verse.

You, who hold the brush
with shaking hand,
what will you write
in answer to Tozan.
Think carefully
of each stroke
and imagine
Joshu’s endless smile.


A reflection on case 41 of the Iron Flute Koans

THE SENTENCE

I was honored to have this poem recently published by Please See Me, 2019 Issue 3. You can see the original here (and other work by some fine writers:
https://pleaseseeme.com/issue-3/poetry/the-sentence-louis-faber

“Probable metastatic lesions
secondary to breast cancer.”
Complex words set
at the bottom of a page,
impenetrable jargon.

Two spots where pelvis
and spine are joined,
where motion fulcrums
down legs, a torso
and its twin concavities
lever up, fold down, torque
in slow rotation
living.

The words stare out
from the page; defiant,
aberrant cells nestling bone
foretell a pillow
blanketed in hair,
rosy skin sheltering
burning flesh beneath.
I offer platitudes,
empty aphorisms
neither she nor
I believe. For me
self-serving hope,
weak bracing
for a hastily built bridge
spanning a gulf
of absence and neglect:
a young girl abandoned,
a woman rediscovered.

For her, baby sister,
a smile born of the pain
of the surgeons’
hollow handiwork
across skull and chest,
an unguent smile
to soothe my
festering guilt.

We watch words
shatter against
the impenetrable reality.

MOURNING

You never know how the news will arrive
you are just certain of its arrival.
You know it on some level, even as the event
is happening, but that doesn’t blunt
the piercing tip of the blade
that finds the soft spot in you and cuts deeply.
You hoped for a miracle for her, for her son,
her husband, for those who knew her
gentle smile, warm compassion, cutting wit,
when the situation demanded.
She was a friend who would appear
when needed most and slip away
when the need began to dissipate.
The news came today, the hole is fresh
and you can only attempt to fill it with memories,
knowing even as it seems again full
as do so many others as you age,
when you step into it you will plunge
back into the well of loss
and again struggled to find the sun
hiding in a too often darkening sky.