Janitor’s Closet – Julie Weiss


I never realized
darkness contained mass.
Mrs. Doyle,
my Physics teacher,
would be dumbfounded.
It feels like
a stack of bricks
on my chest,
crushing my lungs.
Oxygen comes slowly,
in dusty wisps; death
by suffocation
is strangely alluring—
millions of atoms drifting
out of one´s body
and fusing with
the atmosphere—
when you compare it
to the alternative.
But maybe the bit of air
is a gift, a reassuring wink,
a miracle.
Maybe science is mistaken
and there is a God
on the other side
who hasn´t forsaken us.

“Silent darkness,”
it turns out,
is an oxymoron—
who´d have thought
a word from Mr. García´s
AP English class
would come in so handy,
in a closet, of all places?
It weeps, it whispers, it pleads,
but not really,
only in the realm of metaphor.
Jade—head cheerleader and
last year´s prom queen—
crouched on my right,
keeps whimpering
like a wounded puppy,
striving in vain
to stifle her voice.
I squeeze her hand—
out of compassion,
exasperation, or despair,
I don´t know.
Nadim, the boy on my left,
is whispering
goodbyes and I love you´s
into his cell phone.
He chuckles; I doubt
his family is telling him jokes
at a time like this,
but you never know.
We´re not friends—
he´s the quintessential
class clown
whereas mom and dad
have told me
I´m a pretty wistful guy—
but I squeeze his hand anyway.

Three years running
I´ve been voted
most likely to be named
poet laureate of our town
so of course
I´m writing poems
in my head
just in case I live to see
another blank white screen,
another cursor longing
to be unleashed;
another culminating image,
a gasp, a howl, a sigh:
dreams never die,
even when death
is scuttling up and down
your spine, even when
it´s whispering bilious
nothings in your ear.

The hallway
sounds like the set
of a wartime film:
rapid gun fire,
glass shattering,
feet pounding floor,
people shrieking.
I´m pretty certain
I know who it is:
Lee, the misfit,
the “lone wolf”—
if you watch the news
you´ll know
every school has one)
and for a fleeting second
I consider bursting
out of this closet,
leaping onto his back,
wrestling the gun
out of his hands.

I always idolized the heroes,
the soldier who steps
in front of a bullet
to save his best buddy,
the officer who carries
his platoon mate to safety
through tangled jungle thicket,
deafening blasts all around.
My modus operandi would be
to acknowledge him with
a fist bump,
ask him if he´d like
to shoot some hoops, and then,
over burgers and Cokes
I´d read him some of my
best friendship poems
in an effort to fill
the void in his heart.
He´d turn to honey
before my eyes,
give himself up
to the authorities,
and the school
would mount a statue
in my honor.

But this is not
Hollywood nor
am I a trained fighter.
We are in neither
a Vietnam jungle
nor the trenches of
the Civil War.
This is
21st century America—
land of the free
and home the brave.
Then why do I feel
so cowardly,
cowering behind
a steam cleaner?
Head down,
eyes squeezed shut,
muscles contracted,
willing my body
to metamorphose into
a mop, a bucket, a shelf,
anything unhuman will do,
just like the boy
in a book I once read
who could,
with enough concentration,
become pieces of furniture.

Mrs. Chang,
an old history teacher
whose ancestors escaped
the Quing Dynasty,
always urged us to
treasure our Americanism
and so I´ve kept it
polished to a gloss,
swathed it in the silk pouch
of my heart
as if it were
the Hope Diamond.
What luck,
to be born into this dream
so ardently sought-after
for centuries,
to feel the flames
of Lady Liberty
burning through my veins.
Right now
I´d give you a million bucks
to take it off my hands,
all of it,
the baseball games, the hot dogs,
the stars and stripes,
give my slice of apple pie
to someone else
and put me on the next
freighter out of here,
I´ll pursue my happiness
somewhere else,
thank you very much.
Give me Australia,
give me Spain,
give me Japan,
any place on the globe
that doesn´t glorify
an archaic Second Amendment
as a modern sensation,
like a 17th century
Shakespearean actor
bumbling around
on today´s world stage
“We must have bloody noses
and cracked crowns!”
Give me a nation
that isn´t a warzone,
a school where
my body isn´t riddled
into so many fractured memories
as I´m contemplating
Aristotle´s “Poetics.”

I think I´ve counted about
two dozen blasts so far,
five doors
being slammed open
(or closed),
and now I´m counting
footfalls just outside
our hideaway,
the clack
of combat boot heels
on tile,
eerie metallic echoes, as if
they´re being projected
on a loud speaker:
one, two, three, four, five:
our door does not lock
from the inside.
So how should I hide?

Have you ever wanted
to unravel your brain,
take a peek
under all those folds?
Last week
in my Human Anatomy class
our teacher gave us
a complete overview:
the Thalamus,
which relays sensory information
to the brain;
the Amygdala,
involved in memory,
emotion, and fear
(mine must be on
overdrive right now).
It was all
very technical and boring
and I spent much of the class
composing an ode
to Aurora, the girl
I´ve been gathering
the courage to ask out
for the last three years.
Six, seven, eight:
now, I´m kicking myself
in the shins
for being such a Byron,
for not having asked
Mr. Flynn
if a young guy like me
could, in the spirit of
scientific research,
invent a way to propel
a bullet along the least
injurious path
through a brain
should one ever
strike me in the head.

Julie Weiss received her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from SJSU. She´s a 45-year-old ex-pat from Foster City, California, who moved to Spain in 2001 and never looked back. She works as a telephone English teacher from her home in Guadalajara, Spain, where she lives with her wife, 4-year-old daughter, and 1-year-old son. Her work has been published in Lavender Review, Sinister Wisdom, The American Journal of Poetry, Santa Clara Review, Sky Island Journal, Barren Magazine, and Random Sample Review, among others, and appears or is forthcoming in several anthologies. You can find her on Twitter @colourofpoetry or at Julie Weiss.

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