The Patron Saint of High School Janitors Who Care so Much It Almost Kills Them


High school janitors aren’t really high school janitors

they’re caretakers of heartaches that define a generation

they’re human gardens with strong soil in their stomachs

they roam the halls looking for invisible seeds hiding in trash

all the unformed flowers

symptoms of depression that everyone ignores

they eat crumpled balls of paper

poetic scribblings of someone who is lonely

someone who stays up all night throwing ink-filled boomerangs

from one side of town to the other

hoping that each one comes back tattooed with a message: I understand you


there’s no such thing as trash, especially when you’re young

you leave behind ghosts with everything you touch

so after their days are done, high school janitors sit in the middle of darkened football fields

they meditate for a while

then they eat what they collected during the day

hoping to absorb the pain that holds this country up

they swallow unfinished love letters

they swallow confessional essays that were never turned in

they swallow Starbucks receipts & feel the choke of sweetness we’re all dying for

they pass out at the 50-yard line & chlorine crows start circling their bodies

they wake up when the stars re-constellate themselves into more relatable myths


when it’s the weekend, all the high school janitors in America 

blow off some steam by doing karaoke at bars where the bathrooms have no doors

they sing until their hearts go hoarse & they can’t feel anymore 

they sing about boys named Jeremy & pumped up kicks 

they drink too much & swipe lipsticks from unguarded purses 

they write “We were merely freshmen” on the ribcages of highways

they break into school bus depots in the wee small hours

they hotwire the oversized yellow caskets & drunk-drive them into lakes

they swim up to the surface & crawl onto shore looking like an evolution of wild empathy

they shake like malfunctioning carousels until the sewage exits their hair

then their stomachs start growling at the same time & it all begins again

Justin Karcher is a Pushcart-nominated poet and playwright born and raised in Buffalo, New York. He is the author of Tailgating at the Gates of Hell (Ghost City Press, 2015), the chapbook When Severed Ears Sing You Songs (CWP Collective Press, 2017), the micro-chapbook Just Because You've Been Hospitalized for Depression Doesn't Mean You're Kanye West (Ghost City Press, 2017), Those Who Favor Fire, Those Who Pray to Fire (EMP, 2018) with Ben Brindise, and Bernie Sanders Broke My Heart and I Turned into an Iceberg (Ghost City Press, 2018). He is also the editor of Ghost City Review and co-editor of the anthology My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry (BlazeVOX [books], 2017). He tweets @Justin_Karcher.

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