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