Hennessy New Irish Writing poetry winner: Medal, by Daniel Wade

The poetry winner for April in this year’s Hennessy New Irish Writing competition


The medal hangs discreetly, slanting, fixed
firmly to the living room wall. I enjoy looking at it,
its bronze inscription, set in a fine rosewood
shield, a clear-cut salutation of my grandfather’s
military service: “Presented to Sergeant
Nick Wade on his retirement from the army.
From officers, NCOs and men. 1 Grn MP
McCoy. 1977, Mp 1.” No maudlin, stylishly
poetic quote flanked with speech-marks,
no mention of any front-line heroics. No cobra
hunger, no scorpion thirst. Just the clear-cut
dignity of a career well-spent. My grandfather
never mentions it. I try keeping it in my sight.

Breadline gladiators

I ran into him at the bar in Workman’s.
I felt the old hatred bubbling like grease.
Still, I asked him how he was getting on.
Said he was good, yeah, studying overseas.
Was I still in college, working or signing on?
In the smoking area, I said, “Ah, in-between
At the moment. Handing in CVs where I can.
Haven’t found much yet.” He looked obscene
As he replied, “Yer not lookin’ hard enough.”
Disdain thinned his smile. He said a mate got him
A cashier’s job at KFC. My penury pleased him.
Shame made me fidget, like he’d called my bluff.
If I lost the head now, I’d only be admitting defeat.
He offered me a pint. To save face, I accepted it.

Dún Laoghaire, Ireland

This harbour wall is truer than any god,
chequered rust glazing fuse-blasted stone.

The sea thunders over and over, between
north-easterly choirs and abrasive granite.

For now, though, there’s a lull in the fighting
between wave and wall, the light of June

smearing itself over horned rocks. I ask
myself, how many navvies poured their lives

into stone, just to build these pincer-piers,
carving the slowest of inroads on the tide,

iron cabals sagging to the water’s edge.
A thousand men, maybe more, who sweated

for asylum, hauling tallow-greased drays
from the Dalkey pits, laden with the import

of granite and the friction of their hands.
If there is anything to love about the place,

it’s the closeness of the sea, the tide’s
ebbing murmur, the waves’ crumbling chant,

miniature forests of algae swaying underwater.
The bandstand, with rust-tattooed masonry,

letting the rain enter as lazily as the sun.
A catamaran throbs whitely on the horizon,

towing behind her a chain of swollen miles,
the mould of her prow acute as a whetstone.

Even now, under a crash of spray, I ask:
does the harbour hold any provision for exiles?

Daniel Wade is a 23-year-old poet and author from Dublin. His poetry has appeared in Optic and the Seven Towers 2014 Census among others; he is in his final year at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology