Waiting for a berth

Some kids know cars
or different kinds of mountain bikes
or all the Anfield number nines
or how far it is to Mars.
They can learn whatever they like –
we used to know all the shipping lines.

We’d cycle to New Brighton promenade,
bored of footie in Hamilton Park,
and then we’d stare out at the estuary
past the floating shapes, twisted and tarred,
out into the gathering dark
at those travellers, back from the sea –

sailors thinking of their sons and daughters
as they ride their cargoes back.
Each ship’s livery tells its story
of which stretch of water
they crossed in the long trek,
each funnel in its company glory:

Palm Line’s tree on a ground of green;
from the East, Alfred Holt’s blue flues;
yellow Elder Dempsters from the Gold Coast,
with palm kernels, groundnuts and cocoa beans,
once carrying my father and grandfather too;
and the Canada boats, as white as ghosts.

All those ships were metaphors
for our young Liverpool lives;
we’re dreaming of touching different earth,
of landing on other shores
to find distant jobs, distant wives.
We’re all looking for our berth.

By Copland Smith