wordsout by godfrey rust
Welcome To The Real World  < 43 of 59 >

Oh, hell

Once upon a time,
before Dante’s Inferno was a nightclub in Ibiza,
pulpits across the land blazed with hellfire
giving a quite different meaning
to the Sunday roast.

Once upon a time,
before Demon was an Internet Service Provider,
the fear of frying kept us 
on the straight and narrow.

Temptation was a dare-devil game.
It was never clear
how close to the flames you were allowed to get
and escape only with an enviable tan
instead of charred and peeling skin.

Absolution was available
but the small print needed a good legal brain.
The Roman Catholic Church did not fail us.
It worked out a suitable scale of charges
and in final settlement
a compromise with the authorities—
Purgatory, a sin-bin God had wisely 
held back as a negotiating ploy.

But somewhere
we stopped being comfortable with Hell.
Like an embarrassing relative
it was no longer discussed.

What we now know about Hell
could be written on a postcard from Southend,
and often is.

We’ve heard dimly
of the Seven Deadly Sins:
Lust and six others
(Dopey, Grumpy, Sneezy,
Happy, Bashful and Doc?)
but now the pit is for Ferraris
and endless torment only Bosch.

The churches closed their doors,
and Hell was homeless.
Heaven got lazy for lack of competition.
Without a Fall there’s no-one to pick up,
so we are being saved
like an account at Nationwide:
God is an endowment
for our long-term retirement home.

Shut out of church, all Hell broke loose
and went to Hollywood to find an audience.

It turned out to have been a marketing problem.
In skilled hands Hell became hot property.
Scaring people without guilt was child’s play
when the child’s eyes glowed 
and its head spun round in circles.

The mainstream conquered,
Hell went ironic
as a late night Friday tv quiz game show—
They Think Its All Over (It Certainly Is Now).

Hello, good evening and welcome to Better The Devil!
Gabriel has been called away
to deal with some Christian Scientists
who refuse to believe they’re dead.
In five minutes when Jesus returns
he will be concerned most of all
with the sex lives of Catholics.
No-one here escapes judgment,
except perhaps members of Diocesan Synods
who have already endured enough punishment.
And now let’s see who are this week’s sensible sheep
and this week’s gullible goats . . .

Wealthy now, Hell spent 
a fortune on sponsorship—
Your own Designer hell.
Virgin hell is cooler than the rest.
Microsoft hell comes with default settings.
hell without the waiting...

To throw the paparazzi off the scent,
Hell went on daytime TV
to confess it had betrayed
its sex-change lesbian mother’s affair
with her estranged boyfriend’s younger brother’s room-mate’s Siamese twin
who was secretly engaged all the time
to her plastic surgeon’s rent-boy’s dad.

Hell sneaked out in the confusion
to check in for detox
with a secret stash of heroin
and a contract with Hello magazine for the photographs.

Hell tried sport, but didn’t like the rules.

Hell found war much more promising
and set off global arguments
like a juggler spinning plates.

Behind the headlines things were going nicely.
Style’s hell had children sewing training shoes
for twelve hours a day.
Fashion’s hell was sick with anorexic teenage girls.
Narcotic hell grew like a tumour. 
African hell spread like a virus.
American hell was paralysed by endless choice.
British hell remained generally undecided
about the merits of a single European currency.

Hell had risen without trace.
It had found a place to call its own.
It has spent a lot of money on its website.
It has great graphics.
and a famous Nickname.
Reality just took a standing count.
Hell has killer apps.
It waits for us to log on.

Godfrey Rust 1997, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. See here for permissions.