MUSING TOKYO

1

In Asakusa
amid the stalls
of trinkets and swords
why do the gaijin
all speak German,
Italian, Spanish and Swedish
and English is reserved
to a couple if Nisei.

2

In a small laundromat
in Akasaka
an old woman
clucks and shuffles
on wooden sandals
pulling kimonos
from the dryer.
My t-shirts
are still damp.

3

In Shibuya
there is a small
storefront pet shop,
its windows full
of cat ryokan
some with beds
others replete
with toys, balls.
In the largest
a tiger striped Persian
sleeps, her back
to the passing crowds.

4

At Meiji Jingu
I toss my coin
and bow in prayer
hopeful that the gods
speak English.

5

On the Ginza line
a young woman
all in black
carries a carefully
wrapped poster
of John Lennon.
In thirty years
she will look
like Yoko Ono.

First published in Around the World: Landscapes & Cityscapes, Sweetycat Press, 2021

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 

ON THE MANTLE

Perhaps it is just that I
do not have a mantle on which
to place the cherished artifacts
of my life, my parents
and grandparents photos,
a family Tanach, the tallis
my first adoptive father wore
to his Bar Mitzvah.

I have nothing, which this day
seems sadly appropriate,
for their history really is
not mine, never was, I
simply borrowed it for a time
but all loans must end
for that is their nature.

I have a photo of her
gravestone the worman
who bore me, of her
in her college yearbook,
of him in a group shot
of his unit, in uniform
but I still have no mantle
and so little to place there
if i ever did have one.

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)

THEN, NOW

It was easier then, so let’s
go there, the spring of 1970,
the location is less important,
so long as it’s a coffee house
where those barely old enough
to drink, or barely short of that
age congregate, waiting for
something to happen or, I
seriously hoped, someone,
someone with little hair, but
who carried James Joyce in
his jeans pocket, Portrait of
the Artist the only Joyce to fit.

I had thought of Ginsberg or
Corso, a better fit, but too
intelligentsia for this audience,
and literature was not my purpose,
although I hoped they did
not know that, or if so, would
not hold it against me, at least
until after a first date and sight
of me in my Air Force uniform.

I did succeed that spring, so
my efforts did bear fruit, but
50 years, and a failed marriage later,
let’s instead go back twenty
years, to an Indian restaurant
where being a poet fit neatly
into the hip pocket of my jeans.

First appeared in the South Shore Review (Canada) Issue 2, Spring 2021

THREE MORE TRANSCRIPTS OF ENTRIES FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

ENTRY:  March 27, 1971

So, finally he’s here.  Nine months, what God, another joke?  Okay, she ate the damned apple, so stick it to the snake.  But what would you know, another man.  For six hours I’m lying there, dying from pain before the shmendrick walks in like some king, smiles at all the cutesy nurses, finally sees me and says “Yetta, you look good.”  I look good and he should get a giant boil on his tuchus.  God, me again, a couple more things:  One, it would kill you if David, yes a good biblical name, to hell I was going before I’d agree to Morty like my Saul wanted, so it would kill you if you gave him some hair so he doesn’t look like an overripe peach with eyes?  Two, so how about a new rule, labor before childbirth lasts only as long as the act of conception.  I could live with a two minute labor, and that’s from when Saul starts thinking about it.  And David’s lying on my belly (God, you can have the extra weight back now, I’m done with it) and he’s smiling at me  and Saul says “can I hold him, you’ve been carrying him for nine months.”  It’s a good thing I’m so tired or Saul would get a second bris, this time with a butter knife and no wine.  So listen, God, I need some rest, but a tip for the next world you create.  Skip the cockroaches, and if women have to suffer, hemorrhoids will suffice – we don’t need husbands too.

 

ENTRY:   October 2, 1987

It’s Erev Yom Kippur, and this year Saul got the good seats.  Just in front of that new, cut young Cantor, what a Kol Nidre this will be.  And he’s single, not that I am.  Memo to self, find out what Saul’s hiding with the good seats.  I know he’s not schtupping his secretary, for that he’d have me made President of the Woman’s Club and maybe a seat on the Board.  And God, what to wear.  I could wear that new black silk, but it doesn’t go at all with my mink.  God, could you maybe give me a hint what kind of shmatah Natalie Stein, you know her, big nose and too much eye makeup, is wearing tonight?  Would that be too much to ask?

15474941916_5548559f3b_k

ENTRY:     June 14, 1990

That putz, where does he get off saying he doesn’t love me, hasn’t for years.  What? I didn’t cook his meals, sew buttons back on his shirts always popping off, always a size too small.  This is how he repays me.  He should breakfast with worms.  It would be easier if there were another woman, maybe a bit younger, maybe a shiksa, that I could understand.  But no, god forbid, just “I don’t love you anymore.”  What a schmuck, and me – didn’t see it coming.  So God, this is payback for what, exactly?    That Yom Kippur I snuck a half a bagel before sunset.  Have a heart, there was no cream cheese, much less lox.  The kids are grown, I should be thankful for that I suppose, some nachos I’ll carry forward, that and the house the Lexus and the summer place, let him live in some apartment, may he someday rot in hell.  What to do?  First a good lawyer, heaven knows he’ll find some shyster.  Second, two buttons left on each of his damned shirts.  Let him poke himself with the needle, the prick.  I’ll survive, it’s not like my life with him wasn’t tsuris heaped on mishegas.   I’m better rid of him.  I’ll show him, clean him out good, he’ll think prunes are second rate when I’m done with him.  Oh God, am I such a bad person, you should make me suffer like this, you haven’t given me enough grief already?  This is how You repay a mother and wife?  God, you have some twisted sense of humor, but I’ll survive, just to prove You wrong too.  Oy, if only God were a woman, what a world this could be. 

First appeared here on April 4, 2016

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/

ANSWER SWIFTLY

The question you will be called upon
to answer requires careful thought,
but you will be forced to respond.

Would you rather live the rest
of your life in Lilliput or Brobdingnab?

It may seem rather silly, for neither
is likely to occur, but that is not the point
and you cannot avoid responding.

Of course you will have to read
Swift, but you ought to do that anyway
and there, if you pay attention, you

see your own world and your
relationship with it, and you will see
others who look vaguely familiar.

So there you have your midterm exam
denizen of Lilliput or Brobdingnab,
and no, you cannot answer with

“because I’d be a giant among midgets,”
or “because I’d stand out as a midget
in a world where all around me are giants”

because no matter how you choose
you’ll be black in a white world, gay
in a straight one, or a woman in our world.

THE CLUB

It’s jazz, it’s a club,
but there what once was
is no more, there are
no ashtrays on the table,
overflowing early into
the second set, no cloud
of cigarette smoke descending
from the too dark ceiling.
There is no recognizable odor
of a freshly lit Gaulloise,
in the trembling fingers of
a young man trying to look cool,
trying not to cough on each
inhalation, in the calm fingers
of a young woman who
you know speaks the fluent
French of her homeland.
It is none of those things
but it is jazz, it is a club
and in this city, now, it must suffice.

TEMPUS FUGIT

She parked her cart across the face
of the bin, she fills the only gap.
She has a look of determination
that says “give me space
if you know what’s good for you.”
She examines each banana
with the care of it gemologist
and you imagine that she wears a loop.
She pulls bunches apart, finally picking one,
then five minutes later the line
behind her in awe and frustration, another one.
There is almost a third, until
as she places it in her cart
she sees something beyond our comprehension,
and back it goes amid the host of rejectees.
I glanced at my watch, realize
how long I have been on this few item shop
and grab three of her misbegotten, then
seeing her head for the grapes,
make my own mad dash to get there first,
so I might get home for dinner.