EXTERNAL AFFAIRS /
It hung on a nail in the shed, my father’s travel light bag,
When not being carried to the gates of Alexandra Dock
By bus from Liberty Hall, containing his clothes and alarm clock:
All the necessities in the condensed life of a ship’s cook
Who paused on the gangplank to watch crane drivers load
Containers bound for Hamburg, Le Havre and Rotterdam.
How many pairs of hands led to those goods being stowed,
With my father’s crew one link in an army of transportation?
How many men were needed before the Port Tunnel was complete,
How many daughters helped mothers pack a holdall or travel-light,
How many sons carried suitcases to the corner of a street,
And waved until their fathers had long passed beyond sight?
How many workers reached this land, from which many once left,
To ensure the everyday miracle of the consignments that arrive
When the world is asleep or too engrossed in its own concerns
To be aware of factory hands packing them, of hauliers who drive
Down carriageways ruled by white lines and lined by embankments;
Of stevedores and crane drivers, fork lift operators and ship-hands;
Of tunnellers striving against mudstone, striving for entitlements,
Emerging at the Coolock interchange to yearn for distant homelands.
Five thousand workers built this tunnel, how many thousand will count
Down the long beads of florescent light in cab windows as they traverse
Fairview Park and East Wall, passing under Marino and Beaumont
Inside this invisible chute while life passes by overhead, oblivious.
But behind every shipment is the tunneller who moved the earth,
Who excavated glacier deposits of boulder clay on conveyor belts;
There is a father, like my father, forced to miss his son’s birth
As he aligned the precast segments by screwing in spear bolts,
There is a planner, an engineer, a crew servicing the cutting head
That rotated every seventeen seconds through limestone rock;
There is a haulier hypnotised by cat’s eyes stretching ahead;
A sailor on deck watching the lights of Dublin port contract;
There is a family in a foreign land awaiting a money transfer;
There are phone calls from Internet cafes and hostel steps;
There is a son at a corner watching his father’s departure;
A patchwork of absences criss-crossing the globe at night;
An empty hook in countless homes hammered into a shed door,
Waiting to hold a rucksack, a suitcase or a battered travel-light.