On your way down the wharf,
hell was on the left.
Just passing on the other side
was enough to burn your face.
Yet you crossed over,
stood on a high slab above the pit
and looked into the inferno.
There, soot-spotted men,
stripped to the waist;
glistening dangerous as leopards,
hammered white-hot bars;
until sparks spat out like sins
into the chaotic haze.
There was no point trying to talk
above the roar and clang
of men working happily in the fire
to keep the wolf from the door.
You watched for a while
until you couldn’t stand the heat,
then moved on, taking a long path
to the oil-scummed Tees.
Below the railway,
if you wanted the whole works,
it was the purgatory you went through
to walk on grass,
hold a buttercup under your throat,
float on clouds of old-man’s-oatmeal;
have a paradise of dandelions at your feet.