5 Shots from Aaron Lembo

Punk Noir Magazine

Portrait of a Greasy Spoon

for A.N.

At the ass end of a big county town,

where used needles and empty lager cans

decorate maroon cobbled streets, 

resides a row of bookmakers, pawnshops

and a semi-abandoned, boarded-up old sex-clinic

(homeless huddle round makeshift fires

on icy evenings, smoking synthetic Spice).

A two minute walk on from the yellow skip, 

outside a terrace house on Gooch Street,

stands an ever busy, brilliant café 

that serves cooked breakfasts from dawn ‘til dusk.

 

Inside, battle hardened waitresses serve

patrons who lust after deep-fat-fried food,

Alfredo coffee and the physical form 

of the female staff, dressed in tight blacks tees.

The only male waiter serves the priest

who grins like a Cheshire cat when ordering

buttered scones, black tea and a single sausage.

The holy customer speaks of Confession

whenever he sees the tousle-haired worker

bend down, spray and wipe the dirty tables clean.

One miserable, rainy day this male waiter 

was informed, by an elderly woman 

dressed in a black shoal, that she’d shoot him dead

were they in Texas; she heard voices that said

he spread rumours that she was the whore from Babylon.

She speaks of devils and unfaithful men ad nauseam.

 

A group of guys (infamous in the town 

for being caught on camera trying to con

widowed women into buying phoney fascias

at a ‘discounted, once-in-a-lifetime price’)

like to order their ‘Gut Buster Breakfast’

with pints of sweet OJ, from concentrate.  

These lads now specialise in the sale of toilet seats. 

How their eyes widen when they’re served by the girl

with the straight brown hair and prominent bust.

She’ll be finished with school by summertime.

From young she’s learned to smile (then shake her head)

at blokes who blatantly ogle and drool.

 

Legend has it one of the regulars 

was once was a semi-pro football player,

back in the 70s; while on trial for England,

he broke his leg in three places and 

the operation left him all but brain dead.

Bless his gentle, lost soul as he babbles

incoherent words, vacantly stares, forgets to pay.

He carries a wad of cash wherever he goes

and tours the many cafés in the town 

until his minder coaxes him back home.

 

The self-proclaimed Queen of the café,

a woman a year shy of being a century old,

orders the same dish, day after day after day:

two thin slices of roast chicken, carrots,

peas (well done), two Yorkshire puds, 

two jugs of thick gravy and four roast spuds.

She revels in sexual innuendo 

and barks at staff and customers alike.

She is guarded by two brutish daughters

who mostly scowl at their lowly subjects

while their great-grandchildren guzzle milkshakes

and curse with the grace of common royalty.

 

Many suspect mentors bring their mentees

to dine and learn the decorum of the civilised.

One does this by encouraging his teen 

pupil to practise his saccharine ‘pick-up lines’ 

on the female staff while he pays for his ‘burger

and chips, remember thy coke, thy damsel’, by the till. 

‘Oh you must be Juliet, let me drown 

in your violet eyes, let’s tango together at noon’.

His cackle disturbs all privileged to hear it. 

Others simply roll their eyes as they watch 

their challenged subject spoon their tomato soup.

Some are good and kind and don’t pester

about ‘provisions for the future’, savings accounts. 

And many families love to bring their clan 

to eat out on the weekend, a luxurious cuisine.

Many more could be analysed but HURRY 

UP PLEASE ITS CLOSING TIME

HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME.

 

When the shop is finally free from customers

the staff smoke cigarettes, out the back,

and drink big bottles of strong Polish beer.

Each, I’m certain, holds the rank of seraphim.

Each recounts anecdotes of the shift in question.

Once the cash has been counted, the floors mopped,

they go home to cook dinner; they strip out their work clothes.

They reconvene at a pub, and make merry 

 

Aaron Lembo has taught English in China, Spain and Vietnam. His debut poetry pamphlet It’s All Gone Don Juan is published by erbacce-press (2020). His libretti have been performed at the Leeds Lieder Festival and at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation and his poetry podcast, Verse Amor, can be found on Youtube.