A Review of Rebecca Schumejda’s Waiting at the Dead End Diner

Review by James H Duncan

One of the things I find most alluring about Tom Waits is his diner aesthetic, the road dog of a musician eager for a pit stop in a greasy spoon. “Eggs and sausage, and a side of toast” indeed. So when I saw Schumejda’sbook, I was already half hooked. Her wonderful poetic craft did the rest.

The poems detail the life of a waitress settling into her job at The Dead End Diner, where we meet lifers like Edna and Lillian who have been slinging hash and coffee for longer than most of us have been walking, and where we sit down to “Cold Soup and Overdone Steak”, the title of one of Schumejda’s stellar poems, this one about Carlos, a bus boy working for his wife and kids back home in El Salvador, and how hard it is to deal with shitty customers when you have nothing to look forward to after your shift is over. The job is chaotic yet routine, stimulating all the senses while burning them out at the same time. This is perfectly exemplified with such simple imagery in “Waitress Dream”:

The diner is full to the brim.
Your mind feels like a
bowl of soup that you are
trying to get to the table before
it sloshes over the sides.

What an apt description of what it’s like trying to hustle while also trying to put on that cool, calm face for the customer. Those of us who have worked in the food service industry know the feeling too well. Schumejda is a marvel at humanizing the struggle of being a server, a cook, even a patron. In a way it’s a novel in poem form, almost Steinbeckian in scope, which of course is the American equivalent of saying it’s almost Shakespearean in scope—we see all aspects and sides of this little microcosm of society, and each poem is its own story that widens and explores the greater world of the diner.

This is no chapbook, but a full length collection of lively, honest poetry that certainly deserves wide recognition as a must-own volume. It’s well worth your time to track a copy down.     

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