He’s swept along through the shipyard gates
in a tight shoal of welders, platers, caulkers
and boilermen to wash up, Jonah-like,
in the cavernous, echoing belly of the ship,
against ringing ribs and cold steel flanks
oxidised to a frieze of dried blood;
and so begins his hard labour.
His squad of five
creaks into action, soon running slick
as ambergris: heater, catcher, holder-up
and riveters perform their brutal, rhythmic
mime. No words: words are knocked clean
out of them in the infernal din, clattering to
the ground, bent out of shape.
Every heartbeat punctuated by the clang
of hammer on headless nail; he, the left-hander
will pause for his right-hander mate
to heft and swing, left, right, left,
clenched over the red-hot rivet, beating
it to a bruised plug before it cools,
each bone-juddering thump a full- stop
nearer to the end of his sentence.
The lunchtime siren blares: glad gulp of tea.
Barnacled to a cross-beam he dreams
of the day this leviathan, waterproofed
by his sweat, will be released into the open sea
and he can return to the soft swell
of wind-ruffled meadow in County Wicklow,
to the warm breath and whinnying welcome
of his bay mare in the hold of her hay-scented stall.
Judges Comments: Judge Mandy Pannet’s comments:" ‘This begins, ‘He’s swept along,’ and I was too by this poem. The author has a superb command of language. Brilliant.’ "
Winner, Balsall Writers. 2013.
Judge’s comments: "Shipyard life is vividly captured in this poem through vibrant, well sustained imagery. We are drawn into the belly of the whale ship, feel the rhythmic assault of each hammer blow, share the man’s longing to return home to the wind ruffled meadow and to his whinnying bay mare that represent his natural self. Well-crafted rhythms and internal rhymes keep us swinging with the work towards the realisation of this dream beyond the birth of the ship which, although at some distance, we trust will come. A poem that skilfully and sensitively holds the counterpoint between the mechanical and the human, a delight to read."