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by Barry Tebb |


 Quarter to three: I wake again at the hour of his birth

Thirty years ago and now he paces corridors of dark

In nightmares of self-condemnation where random thoughts

Besiege his fevered imagination – England’s 

Imminent destruction, his own, the world’s…

Sixty to eighty cigarettes a day, unavailing depot injections,

Failed abscondings, failed everything: Eton and Balliol

Hold no sway on ward one, nor even being

‘A six language master,’ on PICU madness is the only qualification.

There was the ‘shaving incident’ at school, which

Made him ready to walk out at fifteen, the alcohol

Defences at Oxford which shut us out then petered out

During the six years in India, studying Bengali at Shantiniketan.

He tottered from the plane, penniless and unshaven,

To hide away in the seediest bedsit Beeston could boast

Where night turned to day and vaguely he applied 

For jobs as clerk and court usher and drank in pubs with yobs.

When the crisis came – "I feel my head coming off my body’ –

I was ready and unready, making the necessary calls

To get a bed, to keep him on the ward, to visit and reassure 

Us both that some way out could be found.

The ‘Care Home’ was the next disaster, trying to cure

Schizophrenia with sticking plaster: "We don’t want 

Carers’ input, we call patients ‘residents’ and insist on chores

Not medication", then the letters of terrible abuse, the finding of a flat,

‘The discharge into the community.’

His ‘keyworker’ was the keyworker from hell: the more

Isaiah’s care fell apart the more she encouraged 

Him to blame us and ‘Make his life his own’, vital signs

Of decline ignored or consigned to files, ‘confidentiality’ reigned supreme.

Insidiously the way back to the ward unveiled

Over painful months, the self-neglect, the inappropriate remarks

In pubs, the neglected perforated eardrum, keeping

Company with his feckless cousins between their bouts in prison.

The pointless team meetings he was patted through,

My abrupt dismissal as carer at the keyworker’s instigation,

The admission we knew nothing of, the abscondings we were told of

And had to sort out, then the phone call from the ASW.

"We are about to section your son for six months, have you

Any comment?" Then the final absconding to London

From a fifteen minute break on PICU, to face his brother’s 

Drunken abuse, the police were kindness itself as they drove him to the secure unit.

Two nurses came by taxi from Leeds the next day to collect him 

The Newsam Centre’s like a hotel – Informality and first class treatment

Behind the locked doors he freezes before and whispers 

"Daddy, I was damned in hell but now I am God’s friend."

Note: PICU- Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit

Beeston- An inner city area of Leeds

ASW- Approved Social Worker

by Barry Tebb |


 I could bend and kiss them, everyone,

Strong and securing

As cunts are soft and beckoning.

by Barry Tebb |


 ‘Leeds welcomes you’ in flowers

Garlanding the white stuccoed tower 

Of City Station: red on green

As poetry’s demon seizes me,

Upending all ordures of order.

‘Haworth Moor, Haworth Moor’

Echoes and re-echoes under the Dark Arches

Where the Aire gurgles and swirls

In eddies of Jack the Ripper, cloud-hopping

Jumping Jack Flash but Jack’s the lad I’m not

My adolescent timidity gelding

My desire for the welcoming heavy breasts

And garlanded yielding vaginas.

by Barry Tebb |


 Rivers, tow paths, caravan parks

From Kirkstall to Keighley

The track’s ribbon flaps

Like Margaret’s whirling and twirling

At ten with her pink-tied hair

And blue-check patterned frock

O my lost beloved

Mills fall like doomed fortresses

Their domes topple, stopped clocks

Chime midnight forever and ever

Amen to the lost hegemony of mill girls

Flocking through dawn fog, their clogs clacking,

Their beauty, only Vermeer could capture

O my lost beloved

In a field one foal tries to mount another,

The mare nibbling April grass;

The train dawdles on this country track

As an old man settles to his paperback.

The chatter of market stalls soothes me

More than the armoury of medication

I keep with me. Woodyards, scrapyards,

The stone glories of Yorkshire spring-

How many more winters must I endure

O my lost beloved?

by Barry Tebb |


 When I come from the Smoke to visit my son on the ward

I see you everywhere: by the station, by the neon sign of ‘Squares’

By every shopping mall. Leeds seems to have more of you than anywhere:

How do you stand there for so many hours in freezing winds

When most you solicit hurry by, saying to themselves, as do I,

‘Charity begins at home’ when you so often have no home?

I tend to give my change to the desperate, silent huddled in blankets

When all the warnings say I shouldn’t but who’s to judge

The deserving from the addicted?

Who but God can justly judge

My feeling is we all must learn to give.

by Barry Tebb |


 To Thushari Williams 

Dear Thushie, the six months you spent with us 

Will never be forgotten, the long days you laboured

In the care home, your care-worn comings home

To sit with Brenda Williams, po?te maudit sang pur,

Labouring together to bring to light poems buried alive

And turn them into a book, the living text 

Proof enough of your divine gift as muse

And enchantress of both word and screen.

Now in far Indonesia you strive to strike a bargain

With an uncaring world, webmaster with magic fingertips

You engrave the words of us, careworn poets of our age,

In blue and scarlet on a canvas alabaster page.

Simulacrum more real than reality itself,

Should reality exist in cyberspace.

My Pr?vert, my Nerval, I never thought to see

So handsomely orthographed, like Li Po scrolled

In Chinese water by a blue pagoda.

Indeed if anyone could write in troubled water

It would be you, my dearest daughter.

Whether this world will grant you a living

Only time’s indifference and your subtle craft will tell,

Artists like poets live on other’s bounty, as you know so well.

by Barry Tebb |


 L’orage qui s’attarde, le lit d?fait 

Yves Bonnefoy

Here am I, lying lacklustre in an unmade bed

A Sunday in December while all Leeds lies in around me 

In the silent streets, frost on roof slates, gas fires

And kettles whistle as I read Bonnefoy on the eternal.

Too tired to fantasize, unsummoned images float by,

Feebly I snatch at them to comply with the muse’s dictum: write.

The streets of fifties summers, kali from the corner shop,

Sherbet lemons and ice pops, the voice of Margaret at ten,

What times will have done to you, what men 

Used and abused you?

Solitary but not alone I read Lacan on desire

It is not a day I can visit the ward

Overcome by delusion’s shadow.

by Barry Tebb |


 Let us, this December night, leave the ring

Of heat, the lapping flames around the fire’s heart,

Move with bodies tensed against the light

Towards the moon’s pull and the cloud’s hand.

Arms of angels hold us, lend our bodies

Height of stars and the planets’ whirl,

Grant us sufficiency of light so we may enter

The twisting lanes to lost villages.

So we may stare in the mirror of silent pools

By long-deserted greens, deepen our sight

Of what lies beyond the things that seem

And make our vision clear as winterlight.

by Barry Tebb |


 Leeds this silent solemn Sunday

Tempest Road is clear of all

But wistful birds, parked cars

And vagrant trees.

The surgery and pharmacy are shuttered tight

"Get your medication straight into your bag",

The friendly GP gravely warned, "The junks

Lay in wait to grab and run from those no longer young

The building site’s scaffolding of bone

Masks pristine piles of bricks where

May winds mourn and moan among

The gaping frames beneath a bannered

Street-wide invitation to a "Housing Consultation Initiative"

Flapping desultory and unread

Where last year ‘Beeston in Bloom’ was up instead.

by Barry Tebb |


 for Brenda Williams

The dawn cracked with ice, with fire grumbling in the grate,

With ire in the homes we had left, but still somehow

We made a nook in the crooked corner of Hall Ings,

A Wordsworthian dream with sheep nibbling by every crumbling

Dry-stone wall, smoke inching from the chimney pot beside the

Turning lane, the packhorse road with every stone intact that bound

The corner tight then up and off to Thurstonland, past the weathered

Walls of the abandoned quarry, beyond Ings Farm where Rover ran

His furious challenge to our call.

We had little, so little it might have been nothing at all

The few hundred books we’d brought and furniture bought

At auction in the town, left-overs knocked down to the few pounds

We had between us, dumped outside the red front door by the

Carrier’s cart; stared at by neighbours constantly grimacing

Though the grimy nets of the weavers’ cottage windows, baffled

As to who we were and how and why we’d come there.

I never gave it a thought (perhaps I should have) but with

The sense of ‘poet’ in my soul, a book to read and one

To write, night walks in the valley’s hyaline air through

Brambled woods and on down tracks we trekked along

Until the sharp sneck of dawn drew us back to the

One-up one-down cottage on the lumbering hill.

Was it folly, chance or madness, another’s or our own,

Drove us from Leeds, our native home, past shadows

Darker than death itself upon the bedroom wall

At Rawdon in the bungalow by the cross-roads where we met?

Three decades on and yet I cannot say for sure the destiny

That made us meet was dark or light, some sound or sight

‘Beyond our mortal vision’, some immaterial infinity,

A double helix on the heels of both that made my south

Your north and jerked the compass till we knew

Not day from night nor wrong from right.

Only a week ago you took me to the house you came from

Thirty years before. Together we stood as strangers in a room

Filled with plastic saccharine furniture, vinyl gloss, cabinets

Of china dogs and photographs of a departed wife and child.

All that remained of your family was a hidden coat of red paint

Beneath the kitchen windowsill and on a faded page the number for

Your long-gone neighbour, Lilly Clarke, ninety if she lives at all,

The memory of a lilac tree, the Anderson shelter hidden by the fence,

And the incomer’s invitation to call again and then and then...

We were wrong from the beginning, you always said, wrong

To be together, wrong to go away or perhaps, as Hobsbaum said,

‘It was the place’s fault. If we’d made it to Haworth as we

Dreamed, standing on the moor top, the heather muffling your tears,

The wind sighing its threnody, crying its cradle-song, whispering

Promises of its care to come, its breath caressing the very stones

We sat on, lost beyond the ken of any guide, beyond the signatures

Of time and place, beyond, beyond...


There is no clock can measure what we both passed through,

The darker griefs that soon began to haunt your fragile sleep,

The echoes of nightmare flights through empty streets that soon

Began to creep behind the wainscot of those tiny rooms, the rat

That took them up and ran to hide and haunt us, encountered

At the cellar-head or heard beneath the boards. The sad rat-catcher’s

Nod and shaking head, as if he knew more than the pair of us

What lay ahead. Like Charlotte’s your hair lay in dark ringlets

On the pillow while I lay stunned and terrified and lost.

From then till now, two children grew, two fathers died;

One mad, one sad, but both alone. Together or apart our lives

Have changed beyond repair, the text altered and the cover bare

But still the same story more or less, echoing down hospital corridors,

Left in faded waiting rooms and lost like our children.

Cyril Williams, gravedigger at Killingbeck, buried among

The graves his own hands dug, lay beside your mother,

‘In death as in life together,’ - what parody lies hidden

Beneath the marble chips of the unmarked grave?

Where is the cross of weathered wood and stapled names?

The thirty roses that you left had withered on the stem,

The weeds had spread and spread and you yourself

Were paler than the dead.

There may be little time or time enough for ills

We have to bear for others with our own. Madness

Seems our calling, yours and mine, speaking a tongue

Where words are symbols, signs and symptoms, pointers

To a buried past, clues to an untold murder.

Those nightmares came to haunt us and teach us and take us

To that room in Stainmore Place, your mother’s ghost

At Banquo’s feast, the guest that never could

Be laid to rest.


One stifling July day thirty years on we returned to Honley

Where the hamlet snagged on the hillside, fattened now and hollow

And grown grey with money and success: one cottage joined on

To the next, the common land fenced off, the nearby chapel

Turned to a desirable residence, the tombstones garden ornaments,

The heart of Hall Ings Mill crumpled under mechanical hammers

And reeled before our eyes, dust rising to powder the wings

Of passing butterflies. We watched the white-glazed inner walls

Sink in shame to shattered heaps of stone and shards of nothingness.

I never thought it would be the experience it was-

How could anything be more banal than a visit to Oakes?

Twenty two Georgian semis from the sixties, brass coach-lamps

By glass front doors, irreproachable gardens,

The estate lodge’s great oak doors opening to vistas

Of street on street, the fields and cows gone.

We peered through the polished windows at the hearth

We’d sat around, our hearts numb, all hope gone; but then

A quiet came we had not felt for years, a lens of silence

Enclosed us, a single leaf fell at my feet.


The rat we tried to frighten, trap or poison, saw us off instead;

It seemed as if it grew beneath our very skins and circled

With our blood and hammered at our heads and leered from specks

Of fluff beneath the bed. The wainscot was the worst, it seemed

No whitewashed wall was free from cavities that wound behind

And joined another maze of runs that opened to the boards of yet

Another floor, until the tiny house had grown to one great rat-run

Vaster than the universe, where that single rodent gnawed and slithered

To unsettle finally our fragile peace.

I did not want to go. You did. I could not stay alone. It was

The whispers said and never ceased, ‘the beginning of the end’.

Now, thirty odd years on, I do not know at all, no certainty is certain,

No narrative, however neat, is sure. I know how listlessly we tried

Again in Leeds, a tiny flat with the white telephone that never rang

Next to the Christian Science Church my sad grandmother trekked to with

Her cancer-ridden spine. It was doomed from the start. The previous

Tenants had ended in divorce. If the certain salesman and his gleaming

Bride had failed to make it, how could we? Our moves from Huddersfield

And back became more frantic and our peace more fragile.

You always felt lonely in the countryside, while I longed in Leeds

For open vistas cloud-masses over the blue chain of hills, the silence

Of the lanes, the sheep bells and the endless walks. Was I in flight..?

You had to ask but then as now I had no answer; but it’s the way I was,

Hating the clutter of the city, man en masse. I thought I needed a mate

For a Platonic cave, a companion for the Martello tower in Dublin Bay,

Whatever it was I never wanted you to go but go you did to stay.

The one became the two again, you shed your ring, we had our son to share.

I read instead of writing, psycho-analysis became a faith of sorts,

A pastime then a passion I kept on with even when my muse returned

Demanding me in dreams. Our children grew, then you wrote, too, by candle

In the dark or by the breath of the midnight sea on Brighton beach.

You made the rat return so I could face it, retracing childhood’s

Nightmare footsteps while you recalled the terror of countless

Nights and days until I understood the meaning of our parted ways.


If only we could go back to the cottage on the hill at Honley

Where the road sweeps gently under the bridge where trains never ran

Our voices still echoing round the cavernous walls the smooth moss clings to

And we are beyond the reach of the driving rain.

There is always the odd cottage no one can be bothered with where the lorries roar

But when you look behind a random stream gurgles by an overgrown track

With a gully of pebbles and an overhanging rock,

The door still hangs on that rusty latch; your thumb might still

Make it yield, not in the sturm und drang of adolescence but in

The quieter intimacies of shared grief.

The hills have not moved nor the clouds altered the stance of their lazy azure

Nor has the watery Pennine sun gone in before the swallows gather.

Perhaps I have lost that jouissance-and who would not given the tornadoes,

Undivined and undeserved that seized our lives in their burning fury,

Leaving us awake in a world of dark horizons and troubled days,

Our memory a cave of broken shards.

One death came when a brother and a mother gathered so that a father

Might die opportunely and without succour in a hill-top hospital,

Lonely as a scarecrow and inaccessible on the moorland midnight,

Beyond the reach of all but death standing at the bed-head.

Similarly your own father blundering ‘into the Selby Road, high on morphine’

Could but end in the same way.

These griefs were only too normal, as was my mother’s death you wrote of

With such sad eloquence as you shared my vigil: nothing could be added

To your lines.

And of it all and of what I cannot speak?

The silence in Gethsemane

The breaking of bread

The communion when the wine I drank

Made your cradle Catholic soul

Fret at my insouciance.



Waking early I felt my sixty years

The winters of childhood slipping and sliding

In my tired imagination, the icicles on the kitchen window,

The ashes scattered over paths in patches of grey and black.

We have so much to comprehend, too much for any mortal,

The madness of youth, so fierce, so compulsive,

The cocktails of alcohol and drugs, the quarrels with knives and guns

Entered into as lightly as love was once with us.

Our generation awaits the taste of death

With none of the anticipated solace,

No children’s children visiting in spite of the spare room

Stacked with toys, with shelves of dusty books, Baum’s ‘Magical Land of Oz’

Its spine laid bare, Mombi the witch, Dorothy and Toto

Gathered forlornly round the saw-horse, the scarlet and crimson

Of their Edwardian rig slightly ridiculous, the Gothic typeface

Evoking sepia prints of my father at five in a pinafore or seven

In a sailor-suit feeding the Sunday birds, my grandmother

Framed in a trellis of mignonette, the aroma fragrant still,

The violet stock lingering and re-kindling our first garden

The autumn we moved in, the rampant blossoms cager in the soil

Of my father’s first sowing.


For us there was no garden, the cottage at Hall lngs

Had only a paved yard, with tufts of grass and lichen

The whole country round an abundance of hedges and ditches

Where dog-roses blossomed, meadows of cow-parsley, stiles to field paths,

The weathered sign ‘To Thurstonland’ we followed with hand-in-hand innocence,

Returning at sunset, our hands full of violets.


The garden at Oakes stayed barren, thc bare soil cumbered with builder’s waste,

Resisting our listless endeavours. The jobbing gardener stirred Paraquat,

Muttering under his breath as he sheltered in the garage from the sudden rain.

He left the seeding to another day, left it too late to sow, grumbled

As he turfed it the day after our move with Brenda alone,

Scrubbing the boards. She saw him scowl as he punched the limp turf

With his calloused hands, demanding payment, angry at her innocence.


Brudenell Road had no garden to speak of,

A couple of feet at the front with a broken wall

And the back bare and hard from children’s play,

The privet was matted with shards of glass, worn tennis balls and broken toys,

So tattered I cut it back to the wall, I sat on the top step and read,

Watching the children play in the sand I’d trundled in barrow loads

From the builder’s yard, a make-do sandpit which drew the whole street,

West Indian, English and Asian built temples together. Our sandalled

Bearded neighbour was the first to complain, his teacher wife beside him,

The next-door French widow supporting, “So numerous the children, n’est ce pas?”

Meaning “Don’t encourage the Pakis, there are too many already.”

Like thunder the row erupted, a streetful of shouting, my voice the loudest,

The yesses had it, the children remained, our last real garden.


in memory of Emily Bronte


Besieged, beaten and bruised

I had proved my oracle lied

There was no peace in poetry and flight.

Yet as I sat and watched the night

Gather in the shallows of heather

I remembered the steep stone streets,

The ginnels of my childhood,

The walls of Roman York.

On this last June day, hidden by a haze of walls,

I found a cottage so overgrown I had to part a mass of green

To touch the door, the window-panes opaque with dirt, sills choked with 


A rusted letter-box, cracked lintel, lichened roof-slates caving in,

A ‘Sold’ board hammered firmly into place.


There was no solace in the parsonage, no solace there at all,

The staff found it odd, my wanting to park my heavy bag and trudge

From room to room. The couch Emily died on, so shabby and so faded,

Patrick’s hat and sticks like stage props, Mrs. Gaskell’s escritoire

So thoroughly bourgeois, Charlotte’s crinoline evoking ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’.

I sat outside the tourist shop, watching the families pass,

Still reeling from the news of our son’s loss,

His life-in-death and death-in-life.

The crowds gone, the shops closed

I browsed over rock and lichen,

O sleeper in the earth

Would that you might listen.


Would that you waken and tell me

Why young girls’ beauty no longer moves me?

Their innocent glances as they leap-frog or hand-stand

With such jouissance takes hold of me no more.

I watched a troupe of Keighley girls

Pass through a turnstile on their way

To clubs in Leeds last night.

One wore a veil tacked round with sequins

Like scruples on the hem: there is no beauty like that girl’s

Who’s naked feet touched heaven in their swirls.

Note: I use the word ‘scruples’ in its old sense i.e.a weight of 20 grains.