(from the photo with the same title by Don McCullin)
A pipe fitter’s mate at the gates of dawn
Is wrenched from sleep by a sulfurous smell.
At six a.m. he’ll be entering hell
With the whole damn nation following on.
He’s breathed the acids that chimneys discharge,
Winced as the chemicals scoured every cell
Of his threadbare lungs, coughed up, cursed Brunel,
Whitworth and Watt for the shackles they forged.
He’s walked this factory road for years, the depth
Of his soles erode with each step, the worth
Of this graft from indenture to death
Shows paltry returns for his time on Earth.
Windpipe-stripping smoke rasps his every breath.
The brass in the south. He’s walking north.