Page 1






Spine layout




Belfast Lapwing

 ISBN 978-1-907276-27-9




First Published by Lapwing Publications c/o 1, Ballysillan Drive Belfast BT14 8HQ Copyright Š J.S. Watts 2012 All rights reserved The author has asserted her/his right under Section 77 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Since before 1632 The Greig sept of the MacGregor Clan Has been printing and binding books

Lapwing Publications are printed at Kestrel Print Unit 1, Spectrum Centre Shankill Road Belfast BT13 3AA 028 90 319211 Hand-bound in Belfast at the Winepress Set in Aldine 721 BT

ISBN 978-1-909252-02-8



The following poems were first published in: Mslexia: Steelyard Sue Plants a Garden And Polu Texni: Steelyard Sue Wants a Man

BY THE SAME AUTHOR POETRY Cats and Other Myths (Lapwing Publications 2011) NOVEL A Darker Moon (Vagabondage Press 2012)



........................ 7 THE MAKING OF STEELYARD SUE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 STEELYARD SUE DOESN’T LEARN TO FLY . . . . . . . . . 10 STEELYARD SUE WANTS A MAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 STEELYARD SUE BUILDS A BABY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 MORNING SONG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 STEELYARD SUE PLANTS A GARDEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 TOAD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 STEELYARD SUE GOES TO CHURCH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 STEELYARD SUE SINGS THE BLUES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 THE LAST LAMENT OF STEELYARD SUE . . . . . . . . . . . 21 STEELYARD SUE MEETS HER MAKER . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 THE OPENING HYMN




For, friends who have listened patiently and supportively to my ‘songs’.


J. S. Watts


As I went down to the scrap yard, In need of a part or two, I heard a she-voice singing Songs of Steelyard Sue, A feisty mechanoid female From back in a time-lost year, Whose myth rings out with a torn steel shout As she squats on life’s frontier. Much has long gone to history, Much discharged by fate. The songs were barely scraps themselves Heard almost too late, But the notes roosted deep within me, The words pecked holes in my brain. I memorised those tales in a storm of hail, Lashed by cold wind and hard rain. Foul weather could not discourage, For a fierce fire burned within. I sensed the power and in that bleak hour I heard the call of tin. Lays of raw creation. Tales of bright decay. Myths of life and death and dust. Truths to which we pray.


Songs of Steelyard Sue

Stories of robots and man-gods Who made this world of rust And left their building blocks behind To keep us safe, we trust. So listen sharp, you man-mades, These songs were built for you. Clatter together in praise and hear The Songs of Steelyard Sue.


J. S. Watts


Blodeuwedd of the scrap yard, though they made me with iron, not flowers. Bent and buckled metal: hub caps, valves and pistons, spare parts, abandoned junk, all have a home within me. Rust blossoms instead of corn cockles and red horse chestnut. No one will die for love of me. No one will tell stories. Small birds are wary, scarecrow of the rubbish heap, but at night a thing with yellow saucers for eyes and hooks for feet perches within my lonely ribs and shrieks defiance at the moon.


Songs of Steelyard Sue


It seems like forever that I’ve been watching them flapping their black rags of wings over the world like they owned it, pauper kings of heaven. So many rags. So much sky, there’s still space enough for me. If tatty black crows can rule the world, a woman of such solid parts should do just fine. I try jumping. I jump and jump and jump again, but the world refuses to let go. I can’t get shot of gravity. I climb to the top of a nearby heap, but the earth still loves me. I clatter back up again, but history is stubbornly consistent, repetitive even. I always fall my way back down to earth. I build myself a tower of girders, joists and extruded steel, including parts of an interstellar cruiser just for luck. I need all the luck I can get, but it doesn’t help. The leap is longer. The fall is heavier. I bend and buckle and dent, but never fly. 10

J. S. Watts

Then I find a discarded jet pack, but it can’t take my weight. I’m all woman, most of it solid iron. It’s who I am. I guess I need to be lighter, a whole lot raggedyer, to beat those feathered storm-clouds at their game, but that means I need to become a whole less me, lose the I that attracts gravity and I just can’t do that, deny my own truth, the only thing I’ve got. I am just gonna have to accept that so much solid beauty will never be rags. Should I give two hoots? I shall sit here and defy the crows. This is my earth, my soil. I am I am here am me am on and of and in this earth to the core.


Songs of Steelyard Sue


I may be just a metal woman, rust for brains, but hot lubricant courses through these tubes. I want more than a battery powered thrust between my legs. I am looking for love, a man to ignite my jets, but no one with an ounce of fresh gristle wants to be held in my solid grasp. They run as if rocket powered. I thought I’d build me a man, all pistons and genuine aluminium six pack. I collected the parts, drew up the schematics, but though everything functioned, went down and up as needful, I could never find the place to install real lasting love. It wasn’t long before he left me for a vending machine. I think I might try again, someday, to build me a metal mate, a man with big pistons and a sense of fun, but first I need to work out where you put the love and how you keep it there so it doesn’t fall out or corrode or snap, unless you want it to, after one vend too many.


J. S. Watts


The year was turning warmer and I was feeling strangely empty, unfilled, you might say. Hollow winds blew through my darkest places. I found this loose screw, swallowed it whole, just in case, like a pill or a seed, and nine hours later things were rattling in cavities I’d forgotten existed. My outer casings grew unpleasantly tight. I took a screw driver and a wrench to them. My platings ripped open and out popped this thing, like a chicken from an egg. Well, like a chicken without wings, or feet, or a beak, or a head, come to that, but like a chicken, anyway, made of metal with added springs. “Mama,” it said, but I wasn’t convinced. It clamped itself to the nearest protruding nut and tried to suck. Not that it got much joy, robots don’t lactate, but I gave it some WD40 to keep it quiet. It seemed happy enough.


Songs of Steelyard Sue

That was forty-eight hours ago. Now it’s as big as the Eiffel Tower, built from girders and cogs and springs and the odd stray feather. I still don’t know what happened or why, but I call it baby, just the same. There’s space inside I can curl up in at night to keep the dark rain off and it positively drips lubricant. It’s good to its old mama. I shan’t be wanting for spare parts.


J. S. Watts


I am feathers and flowers, iron and rust, the red of the rising sun as she is torn between sky and earth, maker and made, the song and the singer. A half-life clawed back from human-kind’s detritus. Abandoned evening junk reclaiming dawn’s existence. Never young, but not old enough to float on the wings of history into yet another iron-clad morning that will, inevitably, spear the day to its solid steel core. Scraps of rags flutter in the morning breeze. Let time begin, continue, repeat. The heart’s optimism always conquers reality.


Songs of Steelyard Sue


with a torn tin bell and ammo casings, a discarded cuckoo feather and some wire. I’d heard the songs, you see and seen an old, ripped picture book, the hanging gardens of Versailles, or some such. I forget the words, but the pictures were very shiny. I craved a garden of my own, some place where things would grow, but nothing does. Earth’s all tired out. I should have liked flowers and a tree, but I bent the wire in pretty shapes and made flower faces from black rubber scraps. I saw a bird there, once, perching on a sonic shell. My heart exploded with the joy of it.


J. S. Watts


Don’t ask me where the toad came from or the green plastic netting, but there they both were, the toad all tangled up in the mesh, one front claw waving painfully for help. It was dehydrated and had lost an eye. A bird had had it, I think, which was odd, when I did think about it, because birds are beautiful and the act was not. I should have taken a brick to the toad, but it sized me down with its remaining orb and I cut away a chunk of mesh with the toad still in it and then I cut the mesh from the toad, piercing its side as I did, though I tried so soft to make things right. I washed it clean in pure, clear water and returned it to the mud. It sat there for two days, stone-like, good as dead, until, on the third day, I found the stone moved, the toad gone, the mud-patch empty to the sky. I like to think it had hobbled off to enjoy its one-eyed view of life from a better position in the garden.


Songs of Steelyard Sue


Slowly, memory-recording everything I see, I progress along yet another aisle. Sometimes I go to church three or four times a day. There are so many abandoned here, churches, that is, it’s difficult to see them all: domes and towers, spires and minarets, ziggurats, carvings, white-washed cells, aisles and aisles of preserved votive offerings, buildings with the barring sign, stadia… Of course, most are just ruins now, minarets half collapsed, domes stoved in, not that different from the stadia, really, opened up in supplication towards the sky, but I think the latter were built that way. Whatever. I like the ruins. I find them soothing despite the damage, or perhaps because of it. The barring signs may be warnings of unsound structure or just wardings to keep the unwanted out. I once found a place, multi-layered, open to the sky, where rows and rows of cars waited their turn in silence and not a barring sign in sight, just signs instructing you to “Go Slow”, so I always do, in memory, in respect, of whatever it was those cars were placed there for.


J. S. Watts

I do love these ancient constructs: each one different - each one the same. I don’t really understand their purpose, but I appreciate their antiquity, thousands of feet pacing here before mine, fingers tracing dreamy patterns of imagination across once sun-warmed brick, hands making and carving and nailing… yet more of those bloody barring signs. I don’t like the signs, I have to say. So many of them made from wood and stone, metal and glass, I think they must be saying more than danger, loose stone coping. In some of the buildings I found three-dee solids of suffering and torture. It makes you wonder about humanity. I feel the signs are darker things, even when carved with sigils of celebration and hope, but it’s all just guesswork on my part, stuff I like to believe as I pace the aisles, absorbing peace and daydreams from the stones. I focus on the positive and ignore the challenge of those barring signs crossed against my entry and selling untold negativities.


Songs of Steelyard Sue


I woke up this morning with a song clogged deep in my throat. Its tune spewed through my synapses, shaking the twelve steel strings of my gut. The sky was as blue as an Ethernet cable and as empty as my heart socket. The birds ignore me. My baby left me and my man done me wrong with a vending machine whore. Maybe it’s the ancient in the music that emotes, a resonance from the furnace before the squeal of rock and rap or the grinding of mechanoid salsa, old songs throbbing with life’s true despair, the futile spark burning just to pass the flame of yesterday on to tomorrow, life’s existence for existence sake. A purpose that’s not even mine. Looks like I’m singing someone else’s pain, parroting its low, earthy notes, yet another reject cast-off, or maybe I just do not recognise my own drab songbird rattling at its wire cage, calling to me across lost wide open spaces, screaming its betrayal to the empty stars.


J. S. Watts


Ragnarok, Apocalypse, the end of days; the end of human days, that is, but my existence is a shriek of metal, torn and rusted in a yard of scrap. A woman of many parts, all man-made and without a human soul, not even the soft-skin touch of polished chrome. I make no concession to organic, the full moon has no pull upon me. All I am is corners, sharps and rust: railway girders, old washing machines, fenders, microwaves, unnamed spare parts, hub caps standing for belly and breasts, the blades of an interstellar cruiser, generations of metal abandoned to the junk. Human life gave up on them, but they give life to me. My DNA, centuries of human manufacture twisted and contorted to make my frame, my casing, heart and soul. Yes, soul, even though it is a thing of metal, the red of rust, not blood the strength of steel, not faith the eternity of a life hard-forged, burnished as time scuttles by and scuttle by it did. Then it had to crawl and so I watched humanity fade, evaporate like dew on grass in the glow of a warming sun, except no grass now grows here, just flakes of corrosion rising on a dry evening breeze.


Songs of Steelyard Sue

Nothing lasts forever. It just feels that way when the end calls time and leaves you cradling humanity’s abandoned legacy in a trash-dumped hub cap.


J. S. Watts


The trees, what’s left of them, are gone beyond rust. A bitter wind whips the iron branches. It’s a surprise, this end. I thought this was forever, made immortal, a thing of limitless upgrades and replaceable parts, martyr only to corrosion and seizing metal, but death? It crept on me like a rat on a scrap heap. One moment minding my own maintenance schedules and the next, confronted by a dark mechanic of pipes and rods, knobbly nuts and bolts and filled with an absence that defies thought. The day withers as its chill takes hold. Is this what the humans felt as they approached their end of days? So lonely, so final, so nothing. It’s the end of the production line, the concluding song, but I’m not ready. I still have dreams fluttering around in my thoughts. I’d like


Songs of Steelyard Sue




J.S.Watts was born in London and now lives and writes in East Anglia. In between, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford and spent many years working in the education sector. She remains committed to the ideals of further and higher education despite governments of assorted political persuasions trying to demolish them. Her first novel is being published in 2012, whilst her poetry, short stories and reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada and the States including Acumen, Brittle Star, Envoi, Mslexia, Orbis and Visionary Tongue and have been broadcast on BBC and independent Radio. J.S.Watts’ first full poetry collection, Cats and Other Myths, is also published by Lapwing Publications. Songs of Steelyard Sue is a sequence of poems narrating the life and times of a future-world everywoman, or, more accurately, everyrobot, the titular Steelyard Sue. Further details can be found on her web site at

The Lapwing is a bird, in Irish lore - so it has been written indicative of hope. Printed by Kestrel Print Hand-bound at the Winepress, Ireland

ISBN 978-1-909252-02-8


Songs of Steelyard Sue  

Poems themed around the concept of recycling and making a life from junk and scrap metal by the novelist/poet J.S.Watts

Songs of Steelyard Sue  

Poems themed around the concept of recycling and making a life from junk and scrap metal by the novelist/poet J.S.Watts