Under World by Jacqueline West

No one knows what he’s doing

down there

with his acetylene and sparks

and gouged iron vises

No one knows why he disappears

day after day

into the dragon huff of torches

the hammer of hard things

against harder things or why

he comes back

skin glazed gray, hands scarred

and every whisker smelling like sulfur

No one watches him bend

over cups of fire

the searing eyes of crucibles

staring back into his own

No one sees him shaping bars

and blades

pouring white-hot waterfalls

into black bones

but he must be happy

down there

alone in his burning kingdom

patiently building his own hell


Jacqueline West’s poetry has appeared in Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Dreams & Nightmares, Enchanted Living, and Star*Line. She is also the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the YA horror novel Last Things, and several other award-winning books for young readers. A three-time nominee for both the Rhysling Award and the Pushcart Prize, Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota. Find her on Instagram @jacqueline.west.writes or on her website.

Author's note

Imagining ancient deities or immortals interacting with our modern world always fascinates me. In this piece, I tried to create a domestic, present-day version of Vulcan or Hephaestus, god of fire and the forge. I pictured him hidden away in a basement, puttering over his projects—potentially harmless, potentially very dangerous.