MY FATHER WORKED ON SHIPS

My father worked on ships.
They spelked his hands,
dusted his eyes, his face, his lungs.

Those eyes that watered by the
Tyne
stared out to sea
to see the world
in a tear of water, at the drop
of an old cloth cap.

For thirty weary winters
he grafted
through the snow and the wild winds
of loose change.

He was proud of those ships he built,
he was proud of the men he built with,
his dreams sailed with them:
the hull was his skull,
the cargo his brains.

His hopes rose and sunk
in the shipwrecked streets
of Wallsend
and I look at him now
this father of mine who worked on ships
and I feel proud
of his skeletal frame, this coastline
that moulded me
and my own sweet dreams.

He sits in his retiring chair,
dozing into the night.
There are storms in his head
and I wish him more love yet.

Sail with me,
breathe in me,
breathe that rough sea air old man,
and cough it up.

Rage, rage
against the dying
of this broken-backed town,
the spirit
of its broken-backed
ships.

 KEITH ARMSTRONG

 

Born in Newcastle and now living in Whitley Bay , Keith Armstrong was founder of East Durham Writers' Workshop and the Durham Voices community publishing series.

He has compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham .

He was Community Arts Development Worker (1980-6) with Peterlee Community Arts (later East Durham Community Arts) and was awarded a doctorate in 2007 for his work on Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham where he received a BA Honours Degree in Sociology in 1995 and Masters Degree in 1998 for his studies on regional culture in the North East of England.

He has also held residencies in Durham , Easington, Sedgefield, Derwentside, Teesdale and Wear Valley .

His commissioned work includes ‘Suite for the River Wear’ (with Dreaming North) (1989) for BBC Radio; and ‘The Little Count’ (with Andy Jackson and Benny Graham) (1993) for Durham County Council.

He was the Judge for the Sid Chaplin Short Story Awards in 2000.

He has long pioneered cultural exchanges with Durham ’s twinning partners, particularly Tuebingen and Nordenham in Germany and Ivry-sur-Seine and Amiens in France .

 

You can find out more about Keith here:

http://keithyboyarmstrong.blogspot.com/

 

… and if you know nothing of Newcastle ’s Thomas Spence, this could be the place to start.