Portrait of a Greasy Spoon
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.