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by Barry Tebb |

Bridge Over The Aire Book 4



I am leaving the holy city of Leeds

For the last time for the first time

Leaded domes of minarets in Kirkgate

Market, the onion-dome of Ellerby Lane

School, the lands of my childhood empty

Or gone. Market stalls under wrought

Iron balconies strewn with roses and

Green imitation grass, a girl as beautiful

As the sun who might be Margaret’s

Daughter or Margaret herself half a

Lifetime earlier, with straw-gold hair

The colour of lank February grass.


Cook’s Moor End Works with three broken

Windows, lathes and benches open to the

Wind of my eyes this Sunday morning as I

Fly over the cobbles of Leeds nine to the

Aire’s side, the steps broken under the weight

Of the Transpennine Trail; forty years ago

I stood here with Margaret who whispered

In my ear, “I love you, I love you”.

Margaret, Margaret, where are you?


Great timbered escarpments over green and grey

Terraces to the rolling sky following the shiny way

To the Cimarron in the purple distance.


Margaret, I am making you of sun and shadow,

Of harp and violin, silk and satin skin,

Bluebell and harebell, sand and wave, grass

On the hillocks of the Hollows, the violet

Tears of your eyes.

Breath and rhythm

Now and always

Heart and head

Sister, lover,

Bride and mother.


The heron on high stilts through the sky

Over the Band of Hope Annual Treat

Margaret and I, sitting together at the front

Of the green corporation bus to Garforth

Past Crossgates council houses, the bare

Hedges of Leeds left behind, the green fields

Rushed at us waving as we joined them riding

Through all the years of our days.


We hunted thimbles in hedges and kissed in

A hidden copse; there was ice cream to buy

But none of us had money so they gave

It away and that was how I understood

Christianity, make everything free, just give

It away, treasure on earth can only rust,

Heaven is a Band of Hope Treat with

Margaret and me and everything for free.


South Leeds was poverty and poetry, cellars

Beneath, mysterious and magical stone step

Paths to paradise, concrete floors with earth

Showing moon craters through, stone breasts

Of an Indian goddess, a rusty cobbler’s last

And green wire-mesh keeping safe.


Every other week coalmen with grimed faces

And flashing eye-whites heaved half-hundred

Weight sacks, the grate’s chains loosened

Like a raised portcullis, motes of choking

Dust in the rays of sun. There was a secret

Way with loose bricks into every house

Like an underground network of paths,

Arteries and veins of my ten year old heart.


The kitchen was wartime brown and green, a

Brick boiler in a corner lit once a week

For washing and once for bathing with the

Scrubbed ribs of the bath top, pot sink and

Cooking with a Yorkist range blackleaded

Every day and blackberrying down Knostrop

With thorns pricking blood from our fingers

Like the wicked witch in the wood and jam

Jar fulls of frogspawn on the windowsills.


The Roundhouse at Holbeck

Housed the engines of Empire

Kirkstall Forge hammered out

Axles and bogeys for wagons

Yellow flames in the velvet

Dark with the great wheel stuck

In the earth for two hundred

Years; when a man jammed in the

Casting shed his body was half

Melted down and those who got

Him out went on a whisky

Spree before they could drag

His body free.


Standard I’s Miss Gibbons was

Like a crinkled leaf in her

Sere brown dress packed with

Cracked parched skin and thin

Ringless fingers. “She’s wearing

Falsies”, the boys whispered

To the girls as she fiddled

Ceaselessly. She had us learn

The Psalms by heart a whole

Hour every day, it took me a 

Whole half century to find

They were poems like mine.


Auntie Nellie was the best mother I never had

I spent my childhood at her house, not our’s,

It was always light and bright and warm

The tablecloth like a blanket of comfort

With a plate of cream biscuits just within

My reach, ‘Peg’s Paper’ and ‘The News of the World’

And Zane Grey from the Strand Library and the

Coal fire hissing and burning yellow and orange.

Once a mouse came out and sat looking at auntie

Nellie, who stood in frozen terror a whole half hour

Until I wandered in and it scuttled away. One Saturday

Uncle Arthur dropped a smouldering match back

In the box and the whole lot flamed and flared

And for an hour we shared the room with swelling

Smoke. And when I had to have a tooth out it was

Only Auntie Nellie I would trust to tie it with

Cotton to a door knob, shut it fast and pull.


Tony Harrison, you write hard

While I write soft about

Our common Leeds; we share

A hatred of all grammar schools.

You see Luddite blood while

I dream of Margaret’s first

Menstruation; you see the Aire

As slime, to me it was the

Halcyon’s nesting ground.


The Kardomah Caf?

Breathed a smell of coffee

You caught a street away

A roaster in the window

Kept bursting into flames

Like the sudden poems

I write when my feet

First touch South

Accommodation Road on

Saturday morning and I

Scour the Hollows for you

Margaret, queen of my

Ten year old heart

Among the tansies

And the broken sills.


My trouble was I’m not

Really working class,

I never was, we never were,

It was an accident of war

My family landing there;

I’ve got no working class

Leeds uncles and aunts,

A family needs a family

To fall back on but

We had none, no aunts

In Hunslet streets

With daughters who’d

Take their knickers

Down for me with the

Excuse of having to wee. 


Morning disappeared in sunlight

In shadows of Kirkgate Market

Motes of light birthed me and

Brought me to consciousness

Of chaos and calm.

There was the green mesh

Of a keeping safe

In the cellars

Of my childhood.

There was a stone

From the lands

Empty or gone.

Margaret, there was

Stardust in the seadark

Your face in Primavera,

Primavera, gold of Masaccio,

Gold, gold of Fra Angelico.


Your hair, your touch, your laughter

Running over the water, spilling

Down the steps to the Aire.


Middleton Woods took me by surprise

Drying the tears of my eyes one Saturday

In late August, in fields of carnations

Below the faience tiles of Kirkgate Market

Dahlias and chrysanthemums, pink and maroon,

The lemon yellow sheen of the sun.


Murphy’s Everything-a-Pound stall

“Oh no it isn’t, Oh yes it is!”

City Lights tumblers, Big Top mugs,

Ireland flagons, Octavian glasses,

Camille goblets:

We must clear

All nice gear

Royal Crystal Clear

It isn’t far to the wacky bazaar -

“Cadbury’s Curly Whirlies ten a pound.”


John Dion, I prefer

Wordsworth’s daffodils

To your’s, they are

More rare and far

Less dear.


There were pigeons on the roof

So still I thought they were stone

Grey and brown and slate-blue

Beeston’s gargoyles

Made me think of you.


So far away I thought of you

On a morning like this forty

Years ago I was waiting at the

Corner of Falmouth Place

And you came running and my heart

Was still as the sun as you spun

On the tips of your toes and the rose

In your hair is everywhere

And your laughter is Spring, eternal

Primavera under the gaslamps

Of Leeds Nine.


Autumn in the air

And God has put it there

Wills Star cigarettes

On a gable ending

In South Leeds

All roads bending

Towards you, Margaret,

Sitting on a park bench

Counting Autumn’s coming

By the beating of your heart:

I am the harp of Aeolus

Listening to the river dream.


The only games I ever liked

Were on our street, hop scotch

Squares we jumped for luck,

Rainbow chalk, catch-and-kiss

I’d never miss, hide-and-seek

With heads buried against the

Folded house walls, relievo

Running and touching and

Scattering fast round

The binyards.


A gateway blocked for fifty years

By a standing elm opened a way

For the dead to come through:

See how they stretch and set forth

In cloth caps and Sunday suits

Fresh from their graves amidst

A grove of trees in Chapeltown

Where the downwind strokes the

Backs of leaves.

 Margaret, I have

Carved your image in mother-of-pearl

Beauty like no other born.

 Memory, mother

Of the Muse, make me sing.


Arthur Pickersgill, I remember

The night of your dying, Auntie

Nellie came crying to our door

To beg a sheet to lay you out

A night of storms and the unfathomable

Darkness of death, your worn pocket watch

Lying on the table, your Sunday suit

Folded over a carved chair back.

For twenty years you sat watching

The fire, the chiming clock kept

Twenty minutes fast, caught up

With you at last.


Death, you will drag me screaming

From the back of Leeds market

At closing time when suddenly

For seconds the electric dimmed

And gas lights flared again and I

Remembered when coal fires glowed

In every stall and costers’ wives

In shawls drank tea in china mugs.


I want a poetry

Bitten back from the tongue

Or spat like phlegm

Into the fire back

In a language that has

Metamorphosed through

Centuries of speechBurned into tree

Bark and exposed to 

Weathering like stones

In hillside farms.


I want a poetry

Like cobbles in rain

And molten like a river

Running; hold!

If the sources of Aire

Are veiled in mystery

She is hardly to blame

Barges brimful of coal

And iron-ore look

Just the same.


‘Leeds for dirt and vulgarity’ -

The canal banks wor like a carpet

O’breet colours - an th’river ran below

Shaded wi’ trees under which th’ground

Seemed covered wi’ a claad ov hyacinths -

May soa thick on thorn trees wol they

Lukt as if they’d been in a snow storm.

Or to see Kirkgate Market

As Matisse or Derain

And hear its sounds

As Takemitsu or Hoddinott:

Ghost of MacDiarmid, rise with me and light

The dodecaphonic bonfire this All Hallows Night!


Auntie Nellie, will you come

For one last cal on your way

To the binyard with the slop bucket;

Call in one last time before winter

Falls and shops and stalls are packed

With plain and fancy tree balls;

Tell me about Mrs. Pearson’s last laying out

Or the final strip of wallpaper she hung

Before they knocked the houses down


And I was too old for teddy,

Watching him go tied with a bow

To the back of the bin lorry,

His hair as sparse as snow

Around the gaslamp’s glow.


Dip, dip, dip

My blue ship

Sailing on the water

Like a cup and saucer

Dip, dip, dip


By the Hilton Hotel

I sat down and wept:

They were burning the sleepers

Under the rusting crane

Making a pyre so hot and red

I thought the very air had bled.


This is no land for me

I who have seen Excalibur

Pulled from the living tree

I who have drunk the wine

Of Margaret’s memory.

by Tony Harrison |

National Trust

 Bottomless pits. There's on in Castleton,
and stout upholders of our law and order
one day thought its depth worth wagering on
and borrowed a convict hush-hush from his warder
and winched him down; and back, flayed, grey, mad, dumb.

Not even a good flogging made him holler!

O gentlemen, a better way to plumb
the depths of Britain's dangling a scholar,
say, here at the booming shaft at Towanroath,
now National Trust, a place where they got tin,
those gentlemen who silenced the men's oath
and killed the language that they swore it in.

The dumb go down in history and disappear
and not one gentleman's been brough to book:

Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr

'the tongueless man gets his land took.'

by Tony Harrison |

Long Distance II

 Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time 
to clear away her things and look alone 
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name 
and the disconnected number I still call.

by Tony Harrison |


 I thought it made me look more 'working class'
(as if a bit of chequered cloth could bridge that gap!)
I did a turn in it before the glass.
My mother said: It suits you, your dad's cap.
(She preferred me to wear suits and part my hair:
You're every bit as good as that lot are!)

All the pension queue came out to stare.
Dad was sprawled beside the postbox (still VR) ,
his cap turned inside up beside his head,
smudged H A H in purple Indian ink
and Brylcreem slicks displayed so folks migh think
he wanted charity for dropping dead.

He never begged. For nowt! Death's reticence
crowns his life, and me, I'm opening my trap
to busk the class that broke him for the pence
that splash like brackish tears into our cap.

by Tony Harrison |

Book Ends


Baked the day she suddenly dropped dead
we chew it slowly that last apple pie.

Shocked into sleeplessness you're scared of bed.
We never could talk much, and now don't try.

You're like book ends, the pair of you, she'd say,
Hog that grate, say nothing, sit, sleep, stare…

The 'scholar' me, you, worn out on poor pay,
only our silence made us seem a pair.

Not as good for staring in, blue gas,
too regular each bud, each yellow spike.

At night you need my company to pass
and she not here to tell us we're alike!

You're life's all shattered into smithereens.

Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drink, what's still between 's
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.


The stone's too full. The wording must be terse.
There's scarcely room to carve the FLORENCE on it--

Come on, it's not as if we're wanting verse.
It's not as if we're wanting a whole sonnet!

After tumblers of neat Johnny Walker
(I think that both of us we're on our third)
you said you'd always been a clumsy talker
and couldn't find another, shorter word
for 'beloved' or for 'wife' in the inscription,
but not too clumsy that you can't still cut:

You're supposed to be the bright boy at description
and you can't tell them what the fuck to put!

I've got to find the right words on my own.

I've got the envelope that he'd been scrawling,
mis-spelt, mawkish, stylistically appalling
but I can't squeeze more love into their stone.

by Tony Harrison |

Long Distance I

 Your bed's got two wrong sides. You life's all grouse.
I let your phone-call take its dismal course:

Ah can't stand it no more, this empty house!

Carrots choke us wi'out your mam's white sauce!

Them sweets you brought me, you can have 'em back.
Ah'm diabetic now. Got all the facts.
(The diabetes comes hard on the track
of two coronaries and cataracts.)

Ah've allus liked things sweet! But now ah push
food down mi throat! Ah'd sooner do wi'out.
And t'only reason now for beer 's to flush
(so t'dietician said) mi kidneys out.

When I come round, they'll be laid out, the sweets,
Lifesavers, my father's New World treats,
still in the big brown bag, and only bought
rushing through JFK as a last thought.

by Tony Harrison |


 'My father still reads the dictionary every day. 
He says your life depends on your power to master words.'

 Arthur Scargill
 Sunday Times, 10 January 1982

Next millennium you'll have to search quite hard
to find my slab behind the family dead, 
butcher, publican, and baker, now me, bard
adding poetry to their beef, beer and bread.

With Byron three graves on I'll not go short
of company, and Wordsworth's opposite.
That's two peers already, of a sort,
and we'll all be thrown together if the pit,

whose galleries once ran beneath this plot,
causes the distinguished dead to drop 
into the rabblement of bone and rot,
shored slack, crushed shale, smashed prop.

Wordsworth built church organs, Byron tanned
luggage cowhide in the age of steam,
and knew their place of rest before the land
caves in on the lowest worked-out seam.

This graveyard on the brink of Beeston Hill's
the place I may well rest if there's a spot
under the rose roots and the daffodils
by which dad dignified the family plot.

If buried ashes saw then I'd survey
the places I learned Latin, and learned Greek,
and left, the ground where Leeds United play
but disappoint their fans week after week,

which makes them lose their sense of self-esteem
and taking a short cut home through these graves here
they reassert the glory of their team
by spraying words on tombstones, pissed on beer.

This graveyard stands above a worked-out pit.
Subsidence makes the obelisks all list.
One leaning left's marked FUCK, one right's marked SHIT
sprayed by some peeved supporter who was pissed.

Far-sighted for his family's future dead,
but for his wife, this banker's still alone
on his long obelisk, and doomed to head
a blackened dynasty of unclaimed stone,

now graffitied with a crude four-letter word.
His children and grandchildren went away
and never came back home to be interred,
so left a lot of space for skins to spray.

The language of this graveyard ranges from
a bit of Latin for a former Mayor
or those who laid their lives down at the Somme,
the hymnal fragments and the gilded prayer,

how people 'fell asleep in the Good Lord',
brief chisellable bits from the good book
and rhymes whatever length they could afford,
to CUNT, PISS, SHIT and (mostly) FUCK!

Or, more expansively, there's LEEDS v.
the opponent of last week, this week, or next,
and a repertoire of blunt four-letter curses
on the team or race that makes the sprayer vexed.

Then, pushed for time, or fleeing some observer,
dodging between tall family vaults and trees
like his team's best ever winger, dribbler, swerver,
fills every space he finds with versus Vs.

Vs sprayed on the run at such a lick,
the sprayer master of his flourished tool,
get short-armed on the left like that red tick
they never marked his work with much at school.

Half this skinhead's age but with approval
I helped whitewash a V on a brick wall.
No one clamoured in the press for its removal
or thought the sign, in wartime, rude at all.

These Vs are all the versuses of life
From LEEDS v. DERBY, Black/White
and (as I've known to my cost) man v. wife,
Communist v. Fascist, Left v. Right,

Class v. class as bitter as before,
the unending violence of US and THEM,
personified in 1984
by Coal Board MacGregor and the NUM,

Hindu/Sikh, soul/body, heart v. mind,
East/West, male/female, and the ground
these fixtures are fought on's Man, resigned
to hope from his future what his past never found.

The prospects for the present aren't too grand
when a swastika with NF (National Front)'s
sprayed on a grave, to which another hand
has added, in a reddish colour, CUNTS.

Which is, I grant, the word that springs to mind, 
when going to clear the weeds and rubbish thrown
on the family plot by football fans, I find
UNITED graffitied on my parents' stone.

How many British graveyards now this May
are strewn with rubbish and choked up with weeds
since families and friends have gone away
for work or fuller lives, like me from Leeds?

When I first came here 40 years ago
with my dad to 'see my grandma' I was 7.
I helped dad with the flowers. He let me know
she'd gone to join my grandad up in Heaven.

My dad who came each week to bring fresh flowers
came home with clay stains on his trouser knees.
Since my parents' deaths I've spent 2 hours
made up of odd 10 minutes such as these.

Flying visits once or twice a year,
And though I'm horrified just who's to blame
that I find instead of flowers cans of beer
and more than one grave sprayed with some skin's name?

Where there were flower urns and troughs of water
And mesh receptacles for withered flowers
are the HARP tins of some skinhead Leeds supporter.
It isn't all his fault though. Much is ours.

5 kids, with one in goal, play 2-a-side.
When the ball bangs on the hawthorn that's one post
and petals fall they hum Here Comes the Bride
though not so loud they'd want to rouse a ghost.

They boot the ball on purpose at the trunk
and make the tree shed showers of shrivelled may.
I look at this word graffitied by some drunk
and I'm in half a mind to let it stay.

(Though honesty demands that I say if
I'd wanted to take the necessary pains
to scrub the skin's inscription off
I only had an hour between trains.

So the feelings that I had as I stood gazing
and the significance I saw could be a sham,
mere excuses for not patiently erasing
the word sprayed on the grave of dad and mam.)

This pen's all I have of magic wand.
I know this world's so torn but want no other
except for dad who'd hoped from 'the beyond'
a better life than this one, with my mother.

Though I don't believe in afterlife at all
and know it's cheating it's hard not to make
a sort of furtive prayer from this skin's scrawl,
his UNITED mean 'in Heaven' for their sake,

an accident of meaning to redeem
an act intended as mere desecration
and make the thoughtless spraying of his team
apply to higher things, and to the nation.

Some, where kids use aerosols, use giant signs
to let the people know who's forged their fetters
Like PRI CE O WALES above West Yorkshire mines
(no prizes for who nicked the missing letters!)

The big blue star for booze, tobacco ads,
the magnet's monogram, the royal crest,
insignia in neon dwarf the lads
who spray a few odd FUCKS when they're depressed.

Letters of transparent tubes and gas
in Düsseldorf are blue and flash out KRUPP.
Arms are hoisted for the British ruling class
and clandestine, genteel aggro keeps them up.

And there's HARRISON on some Leeds building sites
I've taken in fun as blazoning my name,
which I've also seen on books, in Broadway lights,
so why can't skins with spraycans do the same?

But why inscribe these graves with CUNT and SHIT?
Why choose neglected tombstones to disfigure?
This pitman's of last century daubed PAKI GIT,
this grocer Broadbent's aerosolled with NIGGER?

They're there to shock the living, not arouse
the dead from their deep peace to lend support
for the causes skinhead spraycans could espouse.
The dead would want their desecrators caught!

Jobless though they are how can these kids,
even though their team's lost one more game,
believe that the 'Pakis', 'Niggers', even 'Yids'
sprayed on the tombstones here should bear the blame?

What is it that these crude words are revealing?
What is it that this aggro act implies?
Giving the dead their xenophobic feeling
or just a cri-de-coeur because man dies?

So what's a cri-de-coeur, cunt? Can't you speak
the language that yer mam spoke. Think of 'er!
Can yer only get yer tongue round fucking Greek?
Go and fuck yourself with cri-de-coeur!

'She didn't talk like you do for a start!'
I shouted, turning where I thought the voice had been.
She didn't understand yer fucking 'art'!
She thought yer fucking poetry obscene! 

I wish on this skin's words deep aspirations,
first the prayer for my parents I can't make,
then a call to Britain and to all nations
made in the name of love for peace's sake.

Aspirations, cunt! Folk on t'fucking dole
'ave got about as much scope to aspire
above the shit they're dumped in, cunt, as coal
aspires to be chucked on t'fucking fire. 

'OK, forget the aspirations. Look, I know
United's losing gets you fans incensed
and how far the HARP inside you makes you go
but all these Vs: against! against! against! 

Ah'll tell yer then what really riles a bloke.
It's reading on their graves the jobs they did –
Butcher, publican and baker. Me, I'll croak
doing t'same nowt ah do now as a kid.

'ard birth ah wor, mi mam says, almost killed 'er.
Death after life on t'dole won't seem as 'ard!
Look at this cunt, Wordsworth, organ builder,
This fucking 'aberdasher Appleyard!

If mi mam's up there, don't want to meet 'er
listening to me list mi dirty deeds,
and 'ave to pipe up to St fucking Peter
ah've been on t'dole all mi life in fucking Leeds!

Then t'Alleluias stick in t'angels' gobs.
When dole-wallahs fuck off to the void
What'll t'mason carve up for their jobs?
The cunts who lieth 'ere wor unemployed?

This lot worked at one job all life through.
Byron, 'Tanner', 'Lieth 'ere interred'.
They'll chisel fucking poet when they do you
and that, yer cunt, 's a crude four-letter word.

'Listen, cunt!' I said, 'before you start your jeering
the reason why I want this in a book
's to give ungrateful cunts like you a hearing!'
A book, yer stupid cunt, 's not worth a fuck!

'The only reason why I write this poem at all
on yobs like you who do the dirt on death
's to give some higher meaning to your scrawl.'
Don't fucking bother, cunt! Don't waste your breath!

'You piss-artist skinhead cunt, you wouldn't know
and it doesn't fucking matter if you do,
the skin and poet united fucking Rimbaud
but the autre that je est is fucking you.'

Ah've told yer, no more Greek...That's yer last warning!
Ah'll boot yer fucking balls to Kingdom Come.
They'll find yer cold on t'grave tomorrer morning.
So don't speak Greek. Don't treat me like I'm dumb. 

'I've done my bits of mindless aggro too
not half a mile from where we're standing now.'
Yeah, ah bet yer wrote a poem, yer wanker you! 
'No, shut yer gob a while. Ah'll tell yer 'ow...'

'Herman Darewski's band played operetta
with a wobbly soprano warbling. Just why
I made my mind up that I'd got to get her
with the fire hose I can't say, but I'll try.

It wasn't just the singing angered me.
At the same time half a crowd was jeering
as the smooth Hugh Gaitskill, our MP,
made promises the other half were cheering.

What I hated in those high soprano ranges
was uplift beyond all reason and control
and in a world where you say nothing changes
it seemed a sort of prick-tease of the soul.

I tell you when I heard high notes that rose
above Hugh Gaitskill's cool electioneering
straight from the warbling throat right up my nose
I had all your aggro in my jeering.

And I hit the fire extinguisher ON knob
and covered orchestra and audience with spray.
I could run as fast as you then. A good job!
They yelled 'damned vandal' after me that day...'

And then yer saw the light and up 'eavy!
And knew a man's not how much he can sup...
Yer reward for growing up's this super-bevvy,
a meths and champagne punch ini t'FA Cup.

Ah've 'eard all that from old farts past their prime.
'ow now yer live wi' all yer once detested...
Old farts with not much left'll give me time.
Fuckers like that get folk like me arrested.

Covet not thy neighbour's wife, thy neighbour's riches.
Vicar and cop who say, to save our souls,
Get thee beHind me, Satan, drop their breeches
and get the Devil's dick right up their 'oles! 

It was more a working marriage that I'd meant,
a blend of masculine and feminine.
Ignoring me, he started looking, bent
on some more aerosolling, for his tin.

'It was more a working marriage that I mean!'
Fuck, and save mi soul, eh? That suits me. 
Then as if I'd egged him on to be obscene
he added a middle slit to one daubed V.

Don't talk to me of fucking representing
the class yer were born into any more.
Yer going to get 'urt and start resenting
it's not poetry we need in this class war.

Yer've given yerself toffee, cunt. Who needs
yer fucking poufy words. Ah write mi own.
Ah've got mi work on show all ovver Leeds 
like this UNITED 'ere on some sod's stone.

'OK!' (thinking I had him trapped) 'OK!'
'If you're so proud of it, then sign your name
when next you're full of HARP and armed with spray,
next time you take this short cut from the game.'

He took the can, contemptuous, unhurried
and cleared the nozzle and prepared to sign
the UNITED sprayed where mam and dad were buried.
He aerosolled his name. And it was mine.

The boy footballers bawl Here Comes the Bride
and drifting blossoms fall onto my head.
One half of me's alive but one half died
when the skin half sprayed my name among the dead.

Half versus half, the enemies within
the heart that can't be whole till they unite.
As I stoop to grab the crushed HARP lager tin
the day's already dusk, half dark, half light.

That UNITED that I'd wished onto the nation
or as reunion for dead parents soon recedes.
The word's once more a mindless desecration
by some HARPoholic yob supporting Leeds.

Almost the time for ghosts I'd better scram.
Though not given much to fears of spooky scaring
I don't fancy an encounter with mi mam
playing Hamlet with me for this swearing.

Though I've a train to catch my step is slow.
I walk on the grass and graves with wary tread
over these subsidences, these shifts below
the life of Leeds supported by the dead.

Further underneath's that cavernous hollow
that makes the gravestones lean towards the town.
A matter of mere time and it will swallow
this place of rest and all the resters down.

I tell myself I've got, say, 30 years.
At 75 this place will suit me fine.
I've never feared the grave but what I fear's
that great worked-out black hollow under mine.

Not train departure time, and not Town Hall
with the great white clock face I can see,
coal, that began, with no man here at all,
as 300 million-year-old plant debris.

5 kids still play at making blossoms fall
and humming as they do Here Comes the Bride.
They never seem to tire of their ball
though I hear a woman's voice call one inside.

2 larking boys play bawdy bride and groom.
3 boys in Leeds strip la-la Lohengrin. 
I hear them as I go through growing gloom
still years away from being skald or skin.

The ground's carpeted with petals as I throw
the aerosol, the HARP can, the cleared weeds
on top of dad's dead daffodils, then go,
with not one glance behind, away from Leeds.

The bus to the station's still the No. 1
but goes by routes that I don't recognise.
I look out for known landmarks as the sun
reddens the swabs of cloud in darkening skies.

Home, home, home, to my woman as the red
darkens from a fresh blood to a dried.
Home, home to my woman, home to bed
where opposites seem sometimes unified.

A pensioner in turban taps his stick
along the pavement past the corner shop,
that sells samosas now, not beer on tick,
to the Kashmir Muslim Club that was the Co-op.

House after house FOR SALE where we'd played cricket
with white roses cut from flour-sacks on our caps,
with stumps chalked on the coal-grate for our wicket,
and every one bought now by 'coloured chaps',

dad's most liberal label as he felt
squeezed by the unfamiliar, and fear
of foreign food and faces, when he smelt
curry in the shop where he'd bought beer.

And growing frailer, 'wobbly on his pins',
the shops he felt familiar with withdrew
which meant much longer tiring treks for tins
that had a label on them that he knew.

And as the shops that stocked his favourites receded 
whereas he'd fancied beans and popped next door,
he found that four long treks a week were needed
till he wondered what he bothered eating for.

The supermarket made him feel embarrassed.
Where people bought whole lambs for family freezers
he bought baked beans from check-out girls too harassed
to smile or swap a joke with sad old geezers.

But when he bought his cigs he'd have a chat,
his week's one conversation, truth to tell,
but time also came and put a stop to that
when old Wattsy got bought out by M. Patel.

And there, 'Time like an ever rolling stream''s 
What I once trilled behind that boarded front.
A 1000 ages made coal-bearing seams
and even more the hand that sprayed this CUNT

on both Methodist and C of E billboards
once divided in their fight for local souls.
Whichever house more truly was the Lord's
both's pews are filled with cut-price toilet rolls.

Home, home to my woman, never to return
till sexton or survivor has to cram
the bits of clinker scooped out of my urn
down through the rose-roots to my dad and mam.

Home, home to my woman, where the fire's lit
these still chilly mid-May evenings, home to you,
and perished vegetation from the pit
escaping insubstantial up the flue.

Listening to Lulu, in our hearth we burn,
As we hear the high Cs rise in stereo,
what was lush swamp club-moss and tree-fern
at least 300 million years ago.

Shilbottle cobbles, Alban Berg high D
lifted from a source that bears your name,
the one we hear decay, the one we see,
the fern from the foetid forest, as brief flame.

This world, with far too many people in,
starts on the TV logo as a taw,
then ping-pong, tennis, football; then one spin
to show us all, then shots of the Gulf War.

As the coal with reddish dust cools in the grate
on the late-night national news we see
police v. pickets at a coke-plant grate,
old violence and old disunity.

The map that's colour-coded Ulster/Eire's
flashed on again as almost every night.
Behind a tiny coffin with two bearers
men in masks with arms show off their might.

The day's last images recede to first a glow
and then a ball that shrinks back to a blank screen.
Turning to love, and sleep's oblivion, I know
what the UNITED that the skin sprayed has to mean.

Hanging my clothes up, from my parka hood
may and apple petals, browned and creased,
fall onto the carpet and bring back the flood
of feelings their first falling had released.

I hear like ghosts from all Leeds matches humming
with one concerted voice the bride, the bride
I feel united to, my bride is coming
into the bedroom, naked, to my side.

The ones we choose to love become our anchor
when the hawser of the blood-tie's hacked, or frays.
But a voice that scorns chorales is yelling: Wanker! 
It's the aerosolling skin I met today's.

My alter ego wouldn't want to know it,
His aerosol vocab would baulk at LOVE,
the skin's UNITED underwrites the poet,
the measures carved below the ones above.

I doubt if 30 years of bleak Leeds weather
and 30 falls of apple and of may
will erode the UNITED binding us together.
And now it's your decision: does it stay?

Next millennium you'll have to search quite hard
to find out where I'm buried but I'm near
the grave of haberdasher Appleyard,
the pile of HARPs, or some new neonned beer.

Find Byron, Wordsworth, or turn left between 
one grave marked Broadbent, one marked Richardson.
Bring some solution with you that can clean
whatever new crude words have been sprayed on.

If love of art, or love, gives you affront
that the grave I'm in 's graffitied then, maybe, 
erase the more offensive FUCK and CUNT
but leave, with the worn UNITED, one small v.

Victory? For vast, slow, coal-creating forces
that hew the body's seams to get the soul.
Will earth run out of her 'diurnal courses'
before repeating her creation of black coal?

If, having come this far, somebody reads
these verses, and he/she wants to understand,
face this grave on Beeston Hill, your back to Leeds,
and read the chiselled epitaph I've planned:

Beneath your feet's a poet, then a pit.
Poetry supporter, if you're here to find
How poems can grow from (beat you to it!) SHIT
find the beef, the beer, the bread, then look behind.

by Tony Harrison |


 How you became a poet's a mystery!
Wherever did you get your talent from?

I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry-
one was a stammerer, the other dumb.

by Tony Harrison |

Marked with D.

 When the chilled dough of his flesh went in an oven
not unlike those he fuelled all his life,
I thought of his cataracts ablaze with Heaven
and radiant with the sight of his dead wife,
light streaming from his mouth to shape her name,
'not Florence and not Flo but always Florrie.'
I thought how his cold tongue burst into flame
but only literally, which makes me sorry,
sorry for his sake there's no Heaven to reach.
I get it all from Earth my daily bread
but he hungered for release from mortal speech
that kept him down, the tongue that weighed like lead.