Three Extracts from Daniel Wade
A harbour chain once hovered heavily underwater
where yachts now lie in watch, like jangling centurions.
Past shorefront restaurants, sun-seeking day
trippers hoist their selfie sticks like battle ensigns
over a pier that time and tide sponge down together,
identikit ‘keep-out’ signs blocking each gangway.
But you’ll find me loitering on a different gangway –
far from the walking tours and tapas bars, by the water’s
swollen edge, watching breakers spume together,
both ears pricked for the plunked mutter of stones.
Seagulls riot for scraps, booze cruisers ignore signs
in the sky that have since burnt out, but may, someday,
rekindle. I just am as I am, unshaven, workaday,
here for a season, with nothing, not even this gangway,
to keep me. Pleasure boats fly their lurid ensigns
at half-mast, and the bay is beloved of amateur water-
colourists and guidebooks. No talk of centurions
or fleets here. It’s been years since men stood together
alongshore, waiting to fight or die, apart or together
under English steel, their ashes dumped off the peninsula.
An almighty fort crowns the bluff, its cannons
poised for the slenderest sight of belligerent sail. Gangway
and anchor chain plunge headfirst into gusting water
the sprays past the lighthouse it broke over. Ensign
and signal shudder in a heraldic array of design,
but lightning has yet to gash the horizon. Together,
the milk of evening simmers the polished water,
sidelights gamboling in the current. Today,
the tide ripples like a Spanish mosaic, pub doorways
leak a mad medley of bodrans and uilleann
pipes, and by the cove the harbour mouth’s cast-iron
fangs are bared to crunch clean below bowlines
as a basking shark weaves through the estuary,
daring kayakers to come alongside, whether together
or apart, in flat calm or high winds, and the day
splashes like a wave over the glazed water.
Centurions smoke pre-watch cigarettes together
as ensigns flap in the rosy seethe of day
over this gangway, and over me, staring underwater.
Medieval craftsmen who built the cathedrals of Europe did so with the understanding that they wouldn’t live to see the scaffolds removed, nor their labours completed.
From cornerstone to spire, advances in architecture allowed those edifices of brick and limestone to soar above the cramped alleyways, hovels and crowds clustered around them, for their gargoyles to keep a slack-jawed lookout on the city, for the belfries’ hourly clang to be heard for miles around. Most importantly, they served as oases of sanctuary from the daily tumult and disarray of the street.
But of course, time changes everything, including the intention, if not the significance, of grand buildings. For better or worse, commerce replaces faith; centuries of grandeur and accomplishment are reduced to mere fodder for our Instagram feeds.
As with any city, Dublin is no stranger to such changes. Take a stroll down the cobbled quays toward the Docklands, where office complexes housing multinationals and Eurospars loiter on the site of the old tar works, where cranes hover far above street level like crows pecking at soil, where restaurants made for ‘premium casual dining’ stand where ships once offloaded, and where glass-fronted apartment blocks, with names like Opus and Neptune, names implying paramountcy, the principle of dominance, loom in place of Corpo slums. The damp, stucco rooms where entire families of the great unskilled once shivered together, coughing up blood on dusty floorboards, are replaced by the luxury suites of CFOS and actuaries, and all for an asking price of €1,122 a month.
The reek of coal-dust and brewery smoke has long evaporated from the breeze. The streets are newly-paved; yet still we walk them, living the story of our existence. None of this is necessarily bad; time is a river and we have little choice but to float with its current. The future is merely one more port of call.
And so, as with the many nameless artisans who chiseled the world’s wonders into existence, many of us will sink into history’s abyss at the moment of death, taking with us our names, our passions, our struggles, our myriad loves and griefs, the story of our lives left unknown and untold. But there is nothing to fear in this; for we are all the masons our own private marvels, the tellers of our own legends, the carvers of our roughened dreams. And this, I often find, is enough.
Last call there, lads! Last call!
(checking his watch):
And that’s me cue t’shoot off, lads. Herself’ll be goin’ spare if I’m not back soon.
Fair ’nough, Charlie.(to
TOMO) You, youngfella, what’re y’at? Y’need a lift off Charlie?
I… I think I should… (GILLEN wordlessly gestures for him to leave)
Eh, yeah, a lift’d be good, Charlie. Sound.
Grand, so. Me and Essam’ll rock on here for a while, won’t we, Essam?
(exchanging a glance and nod with a visibly concerned CHARLIE):
If you insist.
CHARLIE) Remember, yis’re t’be down at the quay by four bells, yeah?
Four bells, skipper? Jaysus.
How’ja manage to be up by then?
It’s no bother to me, horsebox. Is it to you?
Four bells, skipper. No bother.
Dead righ’, Charlie. Sleep well, youngfella. You’ll need it.
turns to ESSAM.
Y’realise, I’d to say somethin’, yeah? Get them all fired up, like.
Yes I do. Talk to me, Gillen. You better hope we bring in a good haul this time. And that we see the tail-end of this thing… this storm –
GILLEN: Storm Herbert.
ESSAM: Right. Therefore, I need you to go only where I tell you
to go, and don’t try to act otherwise. Of course, we’ve a problem here, because, knowing you as well as I do, you’ll feel the waves slapping off the hull, and you’ll want to show off how close you can get to the eye of the storm without capsizing. That’s even
on top of making sure we all get paid. I’m not saying you won’t manage it, but it’s a big task for any man to take on.
GILLEN: Withou’ capsizin’?
ESSAM: Yes. And getting us all paid. That’s how you work, Gillen.
I say one thing, and you’ll just steer in the opposite direction. It’s just how you’re built.
GILLEN: Y’know why I’m glad you’re comin’ on this trip, Essam?
It’s not ’cause, y’know, you’re one of the best fuckin’ navigators I ever sailed with. ‘Cause, y’know, we’d be fucked without yeh, yeah?
GILLEN: Righ’, ‘xactly. It’s not ’cause, y’know, y’give me all
this wisdom abou’ I dunno, the fish and the birds. ’Cause, y’know, I know enough abou’ birds as it is, wha’?
ESSAM: If you say so.
Gillen: It’s ’cause every time we head ou’, and you’re there workin’
away on deck, I know we’re in for a good trip.
EESAM: No disagreement there.
You’ve fam’ly, don’t yeh?
Yes. They’ve gotten used to me being gone all the time.
GILLEN: Are they eatin’?
Mmmm. Well lookit, I coulda just recruited y’in from one of the agents. Drove y’down from Belfast, no questions asked, have y’sleepin’ on the boat, maybe. But no. That’s not how I work. Y’won’t be one of them poor fuckers, not on my watch. And sure, don’t
I always pay y’fair, same as the others?
ESSAM: Yeah, because it weren’t for me, you’d have sunk long ago.
Don’t even deny it.
GILLEN: I know, man.
As do I. Despite it all.
I mean, you’re still a pedantic prick, though.