The deepwater port at Piraeus

At Piraeus’s deepwater port ends Europe
where Themistocles built his navy sheds
and high walls against the Persians, walls
to protect the precious Athenian way of life.

Now Europe ends in concrete
and quayside cranes made elsewhere,
raised over the sea to process containers sat
waiting in the sunshine. An international ship approaches

slows and halts to an almost frictionless
heave against the quayside,
the vessel flush with Europe
and Piraeus’s cranes get down to work,

signalling warnings like carrion birds
but there is no one to heed the signal,
just a container being raised off the ship by a giant crane,
a container hovering over concrete, a container being carefully laid down.

Thump this landed container with your fist and its body sounds funereally,
rub it’s bright sides with your open hand and marvel at the familiarity,
its standardisation is beauty, the regularity so advantageous to trade.
Why can’t every thing, and every one, be this simple?

At Piraeus’s deepwater port ends Europe
where Themistocles built his navy sheds
and walls against the Persians, walls
to protect the precious Athenian way of life.

Blunted Greece ends poor,
furred green below the waterline,
the land losing its character sheer to the dark bottom
where the black water lurks with octopi.

Athens’ terminus is owned by international money,
it has always been this way
since the Phoenicians cornered the traffic in purple dye
this harbour has been fair game, a node for every body’s business.

Even this patient water is Chinese-owned, a bearer of foreign bonds,
a platform which takes the loads that it is given.
Sun-bleached water, great volumes of it enough to swallow the ancient Acropolis
and submerge the city’s parliament building.

Are the Athenian people patient as their harbour water?
As a platform are they so loadable, as an investment quite so reliable?
How do they consider their parliament buried underwater?
Is this what they want? Or do they cling to old ideas?

At Piraeus’s deepwater port ends Europe
where Themistocles built his navy sheds
and walls against the Persians, walls
to protect the precious Athenian way of life.

The tireless quayside works nights,
its cranes signalling warnings like carrion birds.
The Chinese own the dust that blows out across the luminous water,
they own the octopi lurking in the black-deep footings.

The coming together of a night ship and blunt Europe
is the fendered colliding of two different ideas matched precisely,
a grave understanding suddenly shared,
responsibility transferred in the slap of a wave.

Containers are unloaded off the ship, containers are loaded onto the ship.
Invisibly compensated now the ship is moving away from Europe,
tall across the held patient water, monstrous above the heads of the octopi.
Over the buried parliament steams the ship its containers bright in the dawn light.

2 thoughts on “The deepwater port at Piraeus

  1. Laurence Shorter

    “The Chinese own the dust that blows across the luminous water,
    they own the octopi lurking in the black-deep footings.”

    Thought provoking

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