Poems from the Coast | A Poetry Series
This is the first in a series of Irish maritime inspired poems by the talented Dublin poet Daniel Wade. This poem is dedicated to the generations of dockworkers who worked at Dublin Port down through the years.
By Daniel Wade
Seagulls, warehouses, drizzle. The tide at daybreak.
What we knew has sunk in the basin of years:
dredgers at their moorings, a foghorn’s echoing moan.
We were once the best Dublin Port had to offer.
Seagulls, warehouses, drizzle. We swig cold tea
from hip flasks, wash it down with shoreward salt.
The prosaic sun winks downward, embedded in
a storm-stained sky. Twelve hours to go before
quitting time. We know this antique port like our own
reflections: hollow creaks, horse and dray, stationary
bollards, vinegarish rain clinging tight to our faces,
unearthly beads lacking the warm elation of tears,
weighing our hair down to darkened mops. I roll up
my sleeves, catch the hawser with a bale-hook.
The ship, a Scottish collier, must make as peaceful
a berth as we can allow it. Men cluster about me,
checker and tallyman alike. We pull it firm, tie it
in a bowline around the bollard, the spume of rip
currents gushing, slapping off the quay wall.
Above us, a sinewy crane lifts twist-locked
crates from the yawning hold, stacks them
in ferric assemblage on the wharf: cargoes laden
with the overseas magnitude of importation.
Twelve hours to go. We drink the last of our tea.
Our titanium hands have loaded or unloaded
every delectable cargo you can name: chests
of coffee, crates of distilled whiskey, breadfruit
from the Pacific isles, limes, blue-black, leathery,
uncooked avocados, molasses white as snow,
tobacco from New England, muscovite, oranges
from Valencia, timber from Norway, nutmeg,
clove, pepper and tea leaf, peat moss and iron ore,
coffee beans hardening to flavoured pebbles. As for
us, the men battening it down for Palgrave Murphy
or Irish Shipping, our names never quite erased,
we learned to conduct the tonnage and the steel.
From all over we came, Russell Street, Donnycarney,
Whelan House, Fairview, Summerhill, Portland Row,
in the hope of working hours that stretched
well into the night, if we could get them. We hauled,
moored, welded: buttonmen, casuals, operators
of forklift and handtruck, rolling barrels, laying
down kegs in a row for customs inspection,
our lives pledged to Dublin’s reeking quayside.
There was no nobility in the work, nor was there
poetry in oilskins, knit caps, or a seagull’s
shrill vow echoing through brickwork lanes.
We did the job we were paid to do in all weathers,
with the same measure of pitiless dedication. Then,
and now, the sky seemed untouchable as God.
Twelve hours’ donkey work was nothing beside arctic
winds rattling a ship’s boom and skysail like chimes,
or wilted flags flailing in the vanguard breeze.
Workers in the dark speak only to each other –
by hearsay, hard measure, deep sea or cross channel,
we knew when to strain, doffing our caps to the horizon.
The bowline slackens in my grip, the ship finds her
unlade emancipation above her motor’s spluttering
resentment. The hull turns slowly, keeping her course
against an undertow’s coiled anger, before ploughing
out of the capital’s watery heart. Always, there’ll be
other ships to fill her berth, ushered in by our sweat
and cast off again, to have cargo hoisted from her hold,
to ward off the arrears of death with pulley and winch.
Seagulls, warehouses, drizzle. Drizzle without end.
Now, the work is no longer casual. The sun is still
a slab of uncut fruit, razing my tongue to cinders,
shearing my jaw-line of its stubbly infrastructure.
Towers of silicon replace the tenements. I barely
recognise the canal’s inner basin. But I never wanted
to claim the horizon for my own. Other men were born
for that, instilled with a compulsion for adventure.
Seagulls, warehouses, drizzle. The tide at nightfall.
Though the city bristles with modernity’s sheen,
and bulk carriers ply the waters instead of dredgers,
a vigorous trade-wind still breathes life into our sails.
We hear the gruff splintering of waves at low tide.
And we live on. In the rockweed. In the rust. In the wake
of departing ferries. In every disused mooring hook.
In uncharted clouds. In the heavy silence that
follows the seagull’s headlong vow. In the drizzle.
About Daniel Wade
Daniel Wade is a poet and playwright from Dublin, Ireland. He is a graduate of Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, where he studied English and Journalism.
Check out his website danielwadeauthor.com for more.