Poem of the Week - ‘The OK Diner’ by Tony Williams
The OK Diner
It’s fine, but it’s not Little Chef,
the finer where we stop for lunch,
not Grantham, or Stamford, but the Newark branch
(not in New Jersey but the prairie state of Notts).
The coffee is bad as bad coffee
and the tea is worse. The burgers
admittedly make good the promise,
the American Dream of the mouth,
but where is the salad? What is the meaning of ‘salad’,
here in Ohio-on-Trent? And who
when they heard ‘mayonnaise’ thought to mix
a spoonful of whipped cream with a tub of St. Ivel Gold
kept back through disconsolate years
in order to assault and teach our tongues?
It’s not been discontinued after all: the half-arsed A1
running by past the window to Retford and Donny,
to Wetherby, Stevenage, Spalding and Corby,
the lead brick vestigial towns; airfields and water;
the stain of oil in the car park and fencing
that staves off the field where the donkeys sit down in protest
at rust as the answer and essence of all journeys’ ends.
Even her accent, the waitress whose presence makes up
not at all for the absence of service - her accent is there,
and makes up for it all, as she explains
that she cannot say if the guacamole contains tomato
because she does not know what guacamole is
except that it’s green. He accent redeems it,
the lunch in the wilderness, bored and unclear
as our Logos was destined to be. We listen,
halfway up the country and home,
halfway between Hertford and Alnwick,
to the guileless twang of a voice
on the blunt edge of England: muttering on
by the side of the national abeyance
for as long as the priestess has left if her shift,
in love with Burt Reynolds and his sidekick Curly Fries
at last and in deep and on tap and unable to curb
the sarcasm that lames our dreams.
Williams’ collection of poems The Midlands is filled with witty and observant works like The OK Diner, with its underlying hint of darkness and cynical humour. The collection plays heavily on identities associated with place, as seen in this poem.