Intermediate House Type No 5
I scrape paint in my council flat,
pulling sheets of wet wallpaper,
layer after layer of green, pink,
texture, faux wood, trim.
A Belgian tapestry emerges, red
mille-fleurs, around the doorframe.
Steam turns the cardboard walls to damp
paper bags, easy and satisfying to scrape.
Watery tendrils hang from the ceiling,
a rainforest canopy bordering my living room.
The heat moistens the plaster, stoking the earthy
scents of water, sand, rocks, cement
and I am back in Mexico, spring in the borderlands,
building houses, mixing concrete by hand.
We shoveled and churned, water breaking rocks
as the spades hit, slapping sand into mud.
Eventually we fell into sync: shove, lift, turnover, step,
shove, lift, turnover, step
There is always so much work to do.
Hellfire is coke and limestone in a blast furnace.
I saw Hell from El Paso
as we drove through the Borderlands –
yellow lights dotting the abyss
of American refineries on Mexican soil –
cheap labour, low wages.
I saw Hell in East Chicago:
Bethlehem Steel built here
among dark satanic mills,
towers of obsidian rising into a rusted sky,
hugging a Great Lake of fire.
Damned in denim and hardhat headlamps
eat beans and chilies, red pepper,
roasted pig iron, tamales –
they want ice water.
I could see Hell in Sheffield:
Sooty faces, the fallen in flannel,
blasting molten rock into white hot ribbons,
cold rolled onto chrome bobbins; scalding
slag into mountainous, dusty heaps.
Dead embers, clink of metal on metal
an echo of cooled ash.
I do not fear Hell.
I hug the spit and the smoke smells of home.
On the floor of barricaded bedrooms,
wrists bleed ribbons into pink cotton.
edible jewelery, pink cotton, candy-coloured eyeshadow palettes,
buttery lip gloss, cheap cologne ampuless, rubber bracelets,
Scraping through each shattering year,
praying to our smouldering rock gods,
glittery hair slides, neon eyeliner, used acne pads,
half-empty packs of bubble gum, notes passed in class,
broken headbands, heart-shaped stickers,
offerings in supplication on bedroom dresser altars:
Please save us.
images of icons and saints cut from the pages of magazines
cassettes without cases, cases without cassettes,
inky vinyl 45s, empty soda cans
They do not answer.
Scabs picked open, weeping wounds mar
scars; worn with pride, badges of honour.
Cat Conway is a financial journalist and student at the University of Greenwich researching The White Goddess in Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. Her work has previously appeared in Magma, Bitch, the upcoming Hyperkinetic: High Velocity Tales from the Inner City anthology from Phoenix Publishing and academic journal Plath Profiles 3.