A small excerpt from:
EXILE ON BRIDGE STREET (October 2016)
by Eamon Loingsigh
January and the bite is murderous. The whipping wind whistles off the water where under the bridges we huddle, hands covering ears. The sky is as hard looking as the cement under our feet, and the same color too. Broken only by the Brooklyn Bridge above us, that sky over the city is as mean and thoughtless as some of the men that show hungry on the docks looking for a day’s wage. Same look in the gray eyes of them.
From inside the tenement walls come skirling flue pipes wheezing in the gales, and glims of light flash through crevices as if the tenements, whelmed with many families, were out to sea rudderless. Children bunch in front of the coal fire and the potbelly stove, if they have it. In memories, and the bones of our memories where reside the unconscious thoughts and recognitions in the marrow, is a feeling where remembrances are signaled when our bellies rattle with the hunger and when the weather attacks the skin.
It is a silent song that voices rarely dare to share, and no one cares to disturb the silence of it, for it is no more than a cognizance in our blood. But we all know it as it truly is: the past speaking to us. Coming out in our eyes and our need for fight. We know, even as most stories were withheld us due to the shame of our caste, we know of and are haunted in the mind’s eye of our fathers and our mothers and theirs, the elements hard on our bodies and the hollow yearn for alimentation. Evicted from the land. Evicted from our community and the closeness for which our people so long had found strength. Remember in us the scalps dug in the onset of winter under some stray hill a few miles from the icy Shannon. And the scalps and lean-tos of the shanty emigrants of Jackson Hollow south of the Navy Yard here in Brooklyn. And those shoeless and gaunt in Darby’s Patch before Warren Street was ever paved and before Dinny Meehan had come to it. The seasons of cholera and yellow fever that swept through Irishtown from the human cargo dumped on the shoreline, amassed there.
Unsaid. Simply known, we work in the wintry conditions and the empty air that strips the body to a barrenness where survival is top of the mind. Just how we like it. With two bailhooks, I dig into the work. Piercing wheat sacks. Picking them up with my back and legs and thrusting them up into a traincar shadowed by the long torso of a transport steamer. Dinny working right alongside us, watching over us and reminding us that in this work we live. Down here. Below the Anglo ascendency and his laws, forever. Forever reminding us where we come from. Forever living by the underbellies of ships, outside in the weather, with memories remembered only in the distance of our blood.