Owing to a school custodian To this day, I still find my poetry break

Apr 20, 2017 By Clair McFarland

The question burst out of my son not too long ago: "What on EARTH makes a person become a writer anyway?"

I chuckled and shrugged off his verbal excess, then I began to rattle off origins stories in perfect thoughtlessness.

Let me tell ya how I got the plague. Well, you gotta have an awesome book collection, frequent trips to the library, a river of coffee -

Wait a second. This is untrue. I had none, absolutely none of these things until some time after you came along, my dear. And I was a writer from a young age. This question requires actual thought, not stereotypical rattlings, or a bunch of "according to"s.

The answer is here, within the scattered crystal thoughts that protrude from the foggy past - but I can't just write it down. I've known many muses, but the one about whom I need to write today was a poet. So here comes poetry: A poem titled...

The Cowboy Janitor - Er - Custodian

Now let me think of old sunrises

When the world was all surprises

Bus exhaust, like Elmer's Glue

Diffused upon the morning dew,

And we children, thus awakened,

Were to various buildings taken.

Mine, it was a castle, brick,

Graceful right down to the thick

Pastel glaze upon the stairs

That we walked in layers and layers

- And so did the Cowboy Janitor

I know the proper term's "custodian,"

But that's not what we called him then.

His name was, simply, Mr. Bailey

And his presence was known daily.

Every child's name he knew,

And every single nickname too!

Never would he enter a room

Without rag or shaggy broom,

It seemed that scarcely could he move

Without leaving stuff improved

In the sturdy school he graced

With his tan-line criss-crossed face.

- So worked the Cowboy Custodian

He wore faded jeans and boots,

Stood up straight and never stooped,

In a collar pressed so nice

As to suggest a doting wife.

Never stressed, never frantic

He observed each child-antic.

Never were our days disrupted

For his peace was uncorrupted.

But if you stepped out of the line

To spy out whether lunch was fine

It was he who sternly chided.

It was he the law decided.

And when your birthday came along,

It was he who led the song.

When you a fear or burden shouldered

It was his knowing glance that bolstered,

Like a boulder in a storm

Of kids and issues, ever firm.

- Such was the Cowboy Custodian

How the school-days clipped along:

Mathematics, Yankee songs,

White-hot worksheets, freshly copied,

Twenty stuffy noses popping;

Ms., and Mrs., exchanged smiles

Amidst brazen child-wiles.

But now the best I shall recall:

Clopping boots in yonder hall

Come to offer bright reprieve

To twenty pencil-soiled sleeves!

Up from papers, our eyes shot

Giddy now to hear the knock,

And watch the doorknob rise and twist

As he disinfected it.

Into study's dry abode

Poetry itself then strode!

For never could we tell apart

The cowboy from his chosen art.

Toot-toot! "Poetry break"

Whistled he and then would make

A joyful, prompt delivery

Of some tidy poetry.

- So visited the Cowboy Custodian

He read Silverstein and Nash,

Rendered comma, period, dash

Through his speech, in perfect rhyme

To lend beauty to the time

Each child spent behind a desk.

And I say, those were the best,

And clearest moments in my head:

Of trusty soul and verses read.

- The gift of the Cowboy Custodian

I've known muses, live and printed,

My childhood with care is tinted.

But, certain as the joy within me

Is the gift of poetry,

And the fact that one can split

The toils of the day with it.

So do your duties, prompt and fair,

Leave behind you cleaner air,

Stand your sturdy, peaceful way,

Poem-blessing someone's day.

Don't forget that you can sing,

Into the fog, a brighter thing -

A memory that shapes and cheers,

And lilts a verse through all the years.

- So lived the Cowboy Custodian

(For Mr. Ron Bailey, of Jefferson Elementary)

Well, I'm not sure what became of the school custodian after they knocked down the old elementary school. I don't know where he is or what he did once he could no longer stride between the crossing hazes of those iridescent glass bricks we called "windows."

But son, as near as I can tell, I am a writer now because of the poetry of my childhood. And even today - as I wipe down this kitchen for the 10th time - I look into your 7-year-old eyes, or out at the budding trees, and I find it: my poetry break.

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