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March 19, 2010

Poetry Friday--"Thompson's Lunch Room--Grand Central Station"

A friend once asked me to help her decide which paint sample best matched the paint on the garage door. Sounded simple, but it wasn't. Browsing through the names of different greens was crazy. Colors are marketed and thus are given names with sex appeal. "Whispering pine?" "Amazon moss?" Sexy, but not too indicative of the actual color! Comparing swatches wasn't much better--one had a bit too much blue, one was too yellow, another too light--nothing matched exactly. We finally narrowed it down to one that seemed to be the closest, but, once on the door, we could see that it wasn't quite right. Ah, well...

This poem by Amy Lowell is about the various whites found in a train station restaurant. I love the magnolia white. I never would have thought of comparing the paint job in a "greasy spoon" to a flower, but I guess that's why this poet is successful--she helps the reader to see things in a slightly different way.

Thompson’s Lunch Room—Grand Central Station

Floor, ceiling, walls.
Ivory shadows
Over the pavement
Polished to cream surfaces
By constant sweeping.
The big room is coloured like the petals
Of a great magnolia,
And has a patina
Of flower bloom
Which makes it shine dimly
Under the electric lamps.
Chairs are ranged in rows
Like sepia seeds
Waiting fulfilment.
The chalk-white spot of a cook’s cap
Moves unglossily against the vaguely bright wall—
Dull chalk-white striking the retina like a blow
Thru the wavering uncertainty of steam.
Vitreous-white of glasses with green reflections,
Ice-green carboys, shifting—greener, bluer—with the jar of moving water.
Jagged green-white bowls of pressed glass
Rearing snow-peaks of chipped sugar
Above the lighthouse-shaped castors
Of grey pepper and grey-white salt.
Grey-white placards: "Oyster Stew, Cornbeef Hash, Frankfurters":
Marble slabs veined with words in meandering lines.
Dropping on the white counter like horn notes
Through a web of violins,
The flat yellow lights of oranges,
The cube-red splashes of apples,
In high plated ├ępergnes.
The electric clock jerks every half-minute:
"Three beef-steaks and a chicken-pie,"
Bawled through a slide while the clock jerks heavily.
A man carries a china mug of coffee to a distant chair.
Two rice puddings and a salmon salad
Are pushed over the counter;
The unfulfilled chairs open to receive them.
A spoon falls upon the floor with the impact of metal striking stone,
And the sound throws across the room
Sharp, invisible zigzags
Of silver.

There's something for everyone on Poetry Friday and you'll find it this week at Some Novel Ideas.

Photo by Kevin Eddy


  1. Hi Diane,

    Nice poem! I notice elderly people's white hair: blue-white, yellow-white hair. There are so many kinds of white hair. I especially admire the pure white hair.

    Laura Evans

  2. I'd never seen that poem before, Diane. Thanks! I wrote a poem once with names taken from 28 different paint chips - for fun, I'll include the link from over at The Drift Record (posted way back in July 2008)

    P.S. Never missed an episode of Davy Crockett - I had such a crush on Fess Parker!

  3. So many colors...in a diner! Obviously, I need to really LOOK around me more!

  4. Thanks everyone for your comments. Color is such a fascinating concept, don't you think? Julie I checked out your paint chips poems. Fantastic! But tell me please, what color is "Mainstreet U.S.A."? Wouldn't you love a job as a color namer? Where do I apply?

  5. Wow--love those last three lines and also

    Marble slabs veined with words in meandering lines.

    I've been looking at paint chips lately, and I was thinking of Julie's fantastic paint chip work. Nail polish names are also always fun to read. (If only I liked to paint, either walls or fingernails!)