© By Seamus Deane

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When the Portuguese came in
from manoeuvres in the North
Atlantic, they brought a scent
Of oranges and dark tobacco
To our Arctic streets. Norwegians,
However, were tall and cold,
Drinkers of cheap wine
That blued their eyes more
Than was good for anyone
Who bothered them. Some women
Became sailors’ dolls and others
Disapproved. We smelt corruption
In the hot grease of liquor
And foreign language that spat
Around us in ‘The Moonlight Club’.
Some pleasure writhed there
And some fear. A fight occurred
And then there came the Military
Police who hammered silence out
With night sticks, wall to wall.
And then we’d steal the drinks
Left on the tables they had pushed
Aside to clear the floor.
The whiskey was watered, we could tell,
A medical treacle had been served
As rum. But that was business.
Pollution entered everything and made it
Fierce. Real life was so impure
We savoured its poisons as forbidden
Fruit and, desolate with knowledge,
Grew beyond redemption. Teachers
Washed their hands of us.
Innocent of any specific crime,
We were beaten for a general guilt,
Regular as clockwork. We watched
And questioned nothing. There would be a time
When the foreign sailors would be gone.
Business would still be business.
Whiskey would still be watered,
Some girls would still be dolls
The Arctic would have inched nearer,
Pollution have gone deeper
And life, entirely domestic, would carry on.

© Seamus Deane, Guerrillas, 1983, complete text, History Lessons, 1983, The Gallery Press.

Seamus Deane’s beautiful poem probably derives from the experience of a child in the port city of Derry, encountering the foreign sailors and witnessing the city’s response to them.

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