In Lore Alone
by Rob Jacques

          for Joseph Menesale, Beverly Schools Custodian, 1939-1973

That calloused, cracked and aged hand
was dexterous in shoelace tying, helping
pull on, pull off galoshes, patting a back
and comforting with a touch a child crying,
opening school doors before rules allowed
to let us enter warmth and safety, stoking
furnace fires, and, belying time, unbowed
at day’s end for hours of waxing floors.

From a cellar-dungeon up would come
Hephaestus from his coal fires, Apollo
with his sun-bright replacement lights,
Hercules with his mop and buckets
to clean the Augean stables of our school,
Zeus with all the power to make things run,
janitor-master of all he surveyed, watchman
at outdoor recess guarding us as we played.

He had the knack of turning work to fun,
so we helped him shovel coal or snow,
wash chalk dust from slate blackboards,
scrub graffiti from boys’ room walls,
preferring mild tasks to classroom boredom
where nothing happy happens, time stalls,
and teachers lord knowledge over us until
dismissal bells free us from keeping still.

He was a friendly, passive fixture for years,
fixing what we broke, repairing what we tore,
ever in our background an invisible support,
and when we needed or wanted, he was there
to provide in his quiet, unassuming way
just the right solution in the right amount
although his picture isn’t in our yearbooks
and his name isn’t listed in any staff account.

Our parents never knew him, or if they did,
they never knew his offices to their children,
how he coaxed smiles, dried tears, all the while
keeping a building running, answering requests,
clearing trash, laying in supplies, calming fears,
stopping calamities, smoothing rough spots into
comforting patterns on which education relies,
acts of a grace unnoticed under scholastic skies.

“I’m sorry, but we’ve no record of what he did,”
the school district claims. “Schools were staffed
with custodians, but they weren’t teachers,”
so his practice of janitorial, safe-keeping craft
lies in lore alone, in childhood memories where
all honest acts that form adult character lie,
we in turn passing them on to new innocence
with benevolence, old services that never die.