Hellsgate

I once saw a head of Hellsgate

In a book of old English tales

     on an illustrated page

     (at the side of the stage

Of a touring troupe from Wales).

The face was betwisted and mottled

With sores and warts and moles

     and the biggest maw

     you ever saw

As if hungry for passing souls

In the back of a pub, or the tar pits,

Or the next, or the next-to-next town

     where you too would be sent

     if you didn’t repent:

And it looked like a long way down.

Since then, I’ve seen myriad movies

Full of horror, vice, grossness and gore

     where the portal to hell

     was a myth to dispel

Only to visit once more.

One night, in the rear of a tavern,

I overheard casual chatter

     about stealing, extortion,

     adultery, abortion. . .

I went out the back. (Does it matter

That on the back door was a door plaque

With a hells-mouth?) And then rose a laughter

     so piercing and scar-

     y I raced out of there—

I hear it yet, now, decades after.