Francis Devine

 

 

The Steamship Hare

for Pádraig Yeates

 

 

Since first light

we were there,

cramped close against the Manchester

Shed at the South Wall,

a clawing dampness

enveloping the quays,

all eyes sifting the fog,

watching the bar for the first

sign of a heralded deliverance.

 

The cold slow bore –

worms in a stair skirting –

mother’s thin shawleen

insufficient to lag the bones,

the fevered excitement of daybreak

waning, belief in Jim

challenged by rumour, begrudgery

and the citing of false gods.

 

Then at a quarter to one,

a Port & Docks Board man

high on a steam shovel, glass to eye,

spotted the streaming bunting,

the flutter of the National Transport

Workers’ Federation flag,

the steamship Hare butting

into Liffey mouth, entering history,

bearing Larkin deep

inside our souls.

 

There was no disorder

but disciplined attendance,

a silent respect for Brothers

Seddon and Gosling –

important, bowler-hatted Englishmen

from the Trades Union Congress –

a patient vigil rewarded

by ticketed parcels containing

ten pounds of potatoes

and a further ten pounds of bread,

butter, sugar and tea, jam and fish –

all in boxes and bags with the letters

‘CWS’ printed boldly on the side.

Our mother shared out our ration

with other unfortunates in the building,

something that seemed

unquestionably natural.

There were biscuits for the childer

which we sat on a plate

and would not eat

lest we had nothing

left to admire.

 

Jim had delivered us from hunger,

now we had to press forward to seize

the Promised Land,

knowing that our army

could henceforth march

on heart and belly.

A half century on,

I saw an old, wizeny man

stood outside the GPO on May Day

with the other dribble-drabble few,

cheering Paddy Donegan and Seán Dunne,

a gold, Shilling

Co-operative Society medal

swinging on his grease-shine lapel.

When he told me he got this

for crewing the Hare,

I instantly saw his image

in those digital photographs

thousands unconsciously took

on that dank, drear day

in September Nineteen and Thirteen

as evidence that Hope

did once actually walk

amongst us.

 

The poem first appeared in May Dancer ((Watchword, Dublin, 2007).

Following that, its second appearance is in The Children of the Nation: Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland edited and introduced by Jenny Farrell (Culture Matters, 2019)

 

 

Francis Devine © 2019