Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Janitor Who Paints Oils (Inspired by a painting by Palmer Hayden)

Under the lead pipes and the asbestos
the janitor who paints oils thinks the
physicality of the objects around him

are reducible to surfaces and the ideas
that have tickled him in the midst of the trash
are a summation of things he needs to express.

The inhaling of the building, the throbbing
he understands in the plaster, he has lived with
over the years, and not for a moment has he

distinguished them from the mice that scurry
under the crib of his son. The fragments of
the whole are endurable because he has named them

with pigments—not knowingly when he strokes
the canvas he can barely afford, but in his arm
is a language he has a notion of, as he stares

over the brush like man over a gun.
There is defiance in his renderings,
he is abandoned like the bottles he collects

each morning. Neither noon nor evening,
which he settles with a smile, but
under the bulb in the dank cellar,

the boiler, the broom icon, the beams sagging,
he is thrifty in his breathing as if the air
were parceled out between family and vermin.

The loud ticking of the abstract he never
hears in the mercy of his living and gives
no quarter to disturbances. No substance

is necessary for moving forward, but energy,
like fuses in the wires, he contains and
draws off for those dwelling above him.

Like a cat, he stretches out to the walls and sleeps.