page contents

Zen Janitor by Brian Le Lay

As only a reclusive screenwriter can
The veins in his varnished hands pulse
At the typewriter helm,
Sliding Glass Patio Pictures Presents
Los Angeles smog draped like a tarp
Over trenchant skyscrapers

John Hughes conjures a new cerebral way
To philosophize and market the number Sixteen,
That hormonal millennial American confusion,
Combustion manifest as confession–or recklessness,
Herds of numbers stampede the Friday box office

Human equations clad in letterman jackets,
Jacked up on Coca Cola in the pizzeria parking lot
Sitting on the hood of Dad’s semi-erect red Convertible,
Not thinking about HIV, inflation,
Little Orphan Annie, or Big Orphan You
Born without an identity:

Do you want to be Molly Ringwald
With powder-caked cheekbones
And prom queen’s undone labia majora?
Or Emilio Estivez taping nerds’ assholes shut
To make his papa proud? Of course

Nobody yearns to be the timid tightie-whitie
Straight A student for purely sexual reasons,
But maybe you want to be
The long-haired kid with the cigar burns
On the undersides of his arms,

The tar-lung destined to freeze to death at thirty-five
In a Chevy flat-bed after taking too many Quaaludes,
Preceded by years wasted washing his liver in bathtub gin,
Enviable only because he masks his beaten rage

With clever quips, tells the principal to go fuck himself
And collects fake ID’s, not knowing
That adulthood wouldn’t be a giant beer can
Playing an electric guitar in the sky

Quirky kids easily swooned by the artist’s false mystique
Wanted to be Ally Sheedy, the quiet girl
Pitched in all black attire, today the type
To put paw-prints or Pikachu
On a vintage hand-bag and call it visionary,
Proud of her suicide attempts
Which she collects like Girlscout badges

Pill bottles cobbled at the bottom
Of her shoulderbag for sympathy or show,
Drink Coke with a straw
And eat pixie stick sandwiches for lunch

Now John Hughes is getting up
From the typewriter table, gave two generations
Of designer babies and newborn orphans
The crude blueprint to build
Themselves, follow these instructions,

Which is more than their mommies
And daddies
Ever gave them

We find ourselves at the movies;
Here are your five identites, each a brittle door
On a 1980s gameshow set, behind which the past
Is an assortment of phony Polaroids
Taped around a bulb-lit vanity,

And do you know where your children are?
The mail slot is an entryway for electricity bills
And drunk uncles demanding a finsky
In that inimitable beaten scrawl
Like letters torn out of trendy magazines

But of them all I always wanted to be Carl
The balding Zen janitor who sweeps bent staples,
Splintered fingernails, linty dandruff
Cotton swabs and Friday’s final hole-punchings
From Saturday detention library steps

Who sees all sides of the sham prism,
Grins the ineffable shit-eating grin
Through projector slides,
Locker slats
And keyholes

Brian Le Lay’s first full-length book of poems, Don’t Bury Me in New Jersey, is available from Electric Windmill Books. His second book, Smile for the Customers, is forthcoming from Brass Seahorse Books. Recent poems have appeared in Hobo Pancakes, The Rusty Nail, and Gutter Eloquence. He blogs at

© 2012 Brian Le Lay