MARLIN M. JENKINS
James Forman K-12, after hours
I hear the story goes like this:
The janitor doesn’t even notice how fucked the desks are, anymore—pencil lead filling the crevices of dark wood, markings like tattoo sleeves, wire book baskets bent beneath. The radio plays slow R&B on WJLB’s The Quiet Storm. His broom slips on the green tile’s dust. He pushes it back and forth in arrhythmia with the scratching of his raspy voice. He squints his eyes on the high notes.
Outside in the schoolyard, Harold says: “Where did you drop it?”
Mac says: “I don’t know, dummy. It’s ‘round here somewhere. And why you wearin’ a white shirt? You want us to get caught?”
Harold’s a tall boy, thin arms and thinner legs—in a white t-shirt that would be too long on all his friends. He’s especially self-conscious in his skin at night.
Mac says: “You even know what it look like?”
They never notice the janitor inside who stares into the window like a one-way mirror—the radio on commercial break. He combs through his tight white curls with unwashed fingers, the dirt marbling through. He smiles to his reflection a sideways yellow smile.
* * *
The schoolyard’s littered with ripped books,
torn black neckties, plastic baggies
with green juice from the pickles
the middle school kids sell
at lunch. Rocks still, after
being thrown in the daytime.
We never tell the one
about the girl who made it
all the way around the swings. Why,
when we ain’t got a swing-set? Instead, we tell these stories:
They say: Tyrone hid a blunt by burying it and it grew a weed tree that the school had cut down.
They say: Tiarra got expelled for covering the halls in baby oil and Tina slipped and cracked her skull, died the next day.
They say: Markus was snowball champ ‘til he threw one so hard at his play-cousin they put her in foster care.
Mac and Harold know these stories.
We all do.
Shit, I’m sure even the janitor overhears us
talk about everything we know
to be true when he has a day shift,
scratching that hair as he pushes trash cans.
Shit, even the patchy schoolyard
knows all of this, just like it knows
the song in the daytime
when the gym teacher just throws out
five basketballs and reads to himself—
the vibrations of each full orange orb
bouncing against the tiled gym floor,
saying: “I’m here. I’m here.”