Poetry October 2011

The Custodian

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Sometimes I think I have lived
My whole life like that old janitor
Who locked up after the rabbi
And patrolled the synagogue at night.

He never learned the Hebrew prayers,
Which he hummed under his breath
As he folded the soiled tallises
And stacked the skullcaps into piles.

He opened the Holy Ark by hand
And dusted off the sacred scrolls,
O Lord, which he never opened,
And cut the light behind the organ.

He ignored the Eternal Lamp
(Woe to the worker who unplugged it!),
As he vacuumed the House of Prayer
Muddied by the congregation.

Not for him the heavenly choir music
Or the bearded sermon handed down
From the lectern, though stars squinted
Through the stained-glass windows.

Every now and then he’d sigh
And stare up at the domed ceiling
As if he had heard something auspicious,
But it was only the wind in the trees.

He picked a prayer book off the floor
And carried it down to the basement,
Where he chewed on a sandwich
And listened to a ballgame on the radio.

Edward Hirsch is the author of many books of poetry and prose, most recently The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (2010). He lives in Brooklyn.
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