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Bridge Over The Aire Book 1


“Oxford be silent, I this truth must write

Leeds hath for rarities undone thee quite.
” - William Dawson of Hackney, Nov.
7th 1704 “The repressed becomes the poem” Louise Bogan 1 Well it’s Friday the thirteenth So I’d better begin with luck As I prepare for a journey to The north, the place where I began And I was lucky even before I Was born for the red-hot shrapnel fell And missed my mother by an inch As she walked through the Blitz In Bradford in nineteen forty-one.
Sydney Graham this poem is for you, Although we never met, your feet Have walked on the waters of poetic faith, Hold out a hand for me to grasp, A net to catch the dancing reflections Of the midnight stars and smooth The green tongue of the seawave When it speaks to me as I slide From my mother’s turning side.
For years I lived in the gardens Of fire and flames robed time in Memory and desire, icicles climbed Six inches up the kitchen window Then six inches down and six feet Of snow lay against the POW’s as they Marched with hefted shovels from Knostrop’s cottage camp with curling Smoke signalling from crooked stacks.
2 Yards from where I lay Hendry and Moore sat in their attic conceiving The Apocalypse and my natal stars Were their ineffable words.
Shut off the telephone, I hear Another bell, it is Saint Hilda’s Tinny tone, one note repeated, tolling Birth and death and all that lies Between, insistent, punitive, breaking The Sabbath’s silence and the bell Rope like a hangman’s noose, hymnals Like tawses, incense like choking fog The procession to the altar a parade Of the dead and God was over the road In the pink and blue threaded lupins Massed behind the rusted padlock of The gate to the unused path by the Bridge over the railway.
I began this prayer of poetry in poverty And this never-ending song started in silence After the bells quietened and Sunday was in Church or still in bed as I watched the tusky Growing in the fecund darkness.
The shed was Holy, warm and in wonder I felt it move and On my scooter I flew over the holy stones of Jerusalem the Golden.
My wide eyes wandered over the Aire at the Coal barges as they snaked beneath the bridge In black tarpaulin shrouds and clouds of steam Hissed from Easy Road Laundry, the breaths of a Monster, half man, half machine, the terrifying Figures in a dream and on the Empire’s stage I saw Doctor Wonder’s Mechanical Robot raise An axe and chop in half his master and the two Halves haunted me always, their fusion and Diffusion some terrible portent to meet me In darkness and in dreams.
3 Luck, where did I leave you? By the paddling pool in Eastend Park, In the seawave as I explored the green Springs of my birth, in the bare hedges Of Knostrop where I began this present Pilgrimage by Joyce Summersgill’s side As she ran from the shouting man and in Disarray began this never-ending flight And still at fifty-four I run, I know not Why or where and death cannot be far From this half-open door.
For luck I count each cobble, there’s enough Beneath the ginnel to take a breath And that’s the luck I need to live on.
In the dark I saw a spark light up and Whirl and twirl around my head and as it hissed I drew in silver a lucky seven.
4 Spender, Stephen, Sir, Whichever name you Now prefer, it is Irrelevant, you’re Dead and but a one Or two poem man I Fear.
High and clear I hear your voice Caressing Rilke’s Elegies, relating Them to liberty, Of which you had so Little, shackled as you were To your poetic chair.
In Leeds I listened To your praise Of famous men, A famous man yourself Your own voice drowned By London’s roar.
5 Leeds Town Hall’s portico Is grand and grander It grows with money And with prose but still I see in the rain and Dark the Ritz that’s Boarded up, its exquisite Carved fa?ade crumbling Its royal lions weeping Its stone flowers fading.
The Scala, too, is gone Even the street Where it stood, Only the river And the canal Are untouched In their flow.
By the Office Lock I go at dawn, ‘Total Anarchy’ Is moored by ‘Milly Molly Mandy’ In perfect rhythm A man cycles on the towpath His dog on a lead Running beside, They do not notice me Or falter in their stride.
6 At dawn in Leeds I was lost Once I had left The lock Car park, office block, Grand hotel looming And no path But then I found Back Lane, every Window blocked, Every inch cobbled, A road to nowhere Built a hundred Years ago.
I found a gas lamp Anchored to a corner Rusty and forgotten In the glare Of the million watt Yorkshire Electricity Tower of Steel for The new museum ‘Guns before butter’ And I wonder, Christian Visionary Poet Or Regional Romantic Is there any longer A place in this city For me? 7 By Kirkgate Market Alone at night I wandered The Parish Church’s Stone lit by a Hundred bulbs but Its graveyard Shifted aside.
Where are the banked Stones of the dead? Behind screens they raised Their bones and counted Their skulls and moved Them in barrows.
The railway’s banks Are buttressed with the Moved memorial stones The diggers wore sacking Over their faces and Burned their shovels.
8 Every garden and park Is a hypothesis for God When I hear a distant buzz I cannot tell if it is A bee or saw.
That is what we must Decide, patterned being Or random chance, God Or nothing, your choice And mine.
9 The caf? by the lake was closed But when I asked they opened.
Was it God or chance made hearts Beat like a butterfly’s wing In January cold? Good and bad are choice not chance At sixteen I decided to be a poet, Writing another’s love poems, Earning my first praise.
My verses Were appalling until I learned From Eliot and Alvarez - praise Where praise is due.
10 The caf? staff are chatting in subdued tones, Wearing white, wondering if they’ll survive The winter, so do I; at fifty-four I must decide For poetry, my sons educated just, one at Balliol One at the Royal College, I have cast my lot With Lady Luck, I own no property but a book.
In Roundhay’s Tropical World Nepalese Trumpets Glow in red and yellow like mendicant priests, The waterfall roars like Lodore and I am more Myself here than anywhere.
11 The morning sun is melting The dome of Leeds Town Hall, Frost on Kirkstall Abbey stone Is falling into the Aire; At fifty-four my dreams Have ceased, the bowling green At Eastend Park has gone; The trams have stopped, The purple gondola with Gold sashes locked in a museum; Jeannie has gone and Chris And Margaret and Kirkgate Market’s towers are in flames Of ice and snow on Magdalen Bridge with two figures in the Deer Park wandering in white Flurries of February dusk.
12 James Fenton you are King Of Oxford Poetry and Seamus Heaney holds the Laureate’s Crown With sceptre and with gown, The carved heads have grown On grey Sheldonian stone.
The railings on the ramparts On York Wall held my breath As I walked my ten year old Spirit in rain and sun, wind Willing me on while no one knew Where I had gone.
13 With every car alarm I hear the air raid Siren’s song, Waterloo Road’s Bomb hole big enough to hold A bus that could not stop; Maurice the butcher gave a Crayoning book I filled in Until the All Clear went; I spent a childhood on The spaces of Red Riding Hood’s cloak and the gap Between the Wolf’s teeth I crayoned in with crimson.
14 Ellerby Lane School stood At the hill top, over the Hollows, its onion dome and Green railings grieved for the Abandoned streets of memory; Only Bridgefield Place remained With the caf? and I was left To wander the Hollows searching The stones to find the flowers Of history and buttercups Chinned my shadow; doorposts Askew with worn steps Leading nowhere.
15 My father’s grey dressing Gown has gone, his hat And gloves are lost, The bus he waited for No longer runs from The Bridgefield down the Hill past the Hollows Ellerby Lane School is a Shadow on a snapshot With me sitting on a car Bonnet by Bayford’s yard, Holding a dying pup.
16 The aunt I loved the Best was worst of all; She slept away the war With every man she knew While Uncle Jack played Tanks in Africa and learned Pontoon at Alamein and then Broke every window pane on His return and Grandad Nicky said, “Decide to go Or keep your bride” and Pride lost that day And Lucifer lay low And six children grew In Rough Lea by the Poplar’s side and when I Shared their meal; it was A feast of love and Auntie Betty smiled as I sat Beside her on the bench “There’s always room for One more inside” and I went along For the ride.
17 Ride-a-cock horse to Roundhay Park where The tram terminus still Stands, a bay with poles Of steel too tall and Strong to shift, between The cobbles, tram lines Lay buried, the upper Deck is filled with the Smoke of Capstan Full Strength and nicotined Fingers grasp threepenny Workman’s returns and “The Evening Post” is read And rolled and slapped On Uncle Arthur’s greasy Overalls from Hudswell Clarks where ‘Portmadoc’ And ‘Pride of the Glens’ Stand in the sheds, their Giant wheel spokes true To a thousandth of an inch.
18 The fire back is black And blacker grows with Black lead and a rose In the flames is white Hot in the heat to my Heart beat as the hob Swung in and out for Father Triggear’s pot Of tea, his enormous red Calves towered above me Like a crane, his High Anglican voice boomed, “You are a ha’penny short Of your trip money, what Am I supposed to do?” With Father Mulcock Your alter ego you Cost me half a lifetime’s faith, “Not to know who accompanied Christ Is ignorance worthy of chastisement.
” 19 The dray wheels rolled Over the ruts, the cobbles Shone in the frost, Standish’s woodyard Burned in the Siege of Troy, The ramparts of Eastend Park Were lost when the great Park gates crashed down.
I left my grandfather’s Cabin trunk on the last Bus to Crossgreen and I put my hand between The rusted gates to touch The last lupin of Knostrop Withering on its stem.
20 The bridge to nowhere Stands in the abandoned goodsyard With the weighbridge I danced on Still holding me between Its sheets of steel.
The weighbridge office is Deserted, pink paint peeling, Telephones ripped from The wall, worn desks on Their side, creosoted Palings gone, our last Game of cricket played.
21 The last coal wagon Has gone to the tower At Nevill Hill to be Hauled high and drenched And dropped from the sky.
22 Every house-row would Glow with red and Chiaroscuro, walls Polished by the passage Of a thousand souls.
The binyards were White with winter, Every gable end’s Attic window Waited and watched.
The locked petrol Pumps drew us.
We somersaulted Over the railings At dusk.
“Farmer, farmer May I cross Your golden fields?” 23 My first love was Margaret Gardiner No matter how many hours We were together I lay in bed Unable to recollect the wan Beauty of her face.
Half a century later I cry at the realization, My first, my only love.
I remember the rapid patter Of her laceless runners Over the hot pavements Of our sweetheart summers, Her thin, washed-out Flower-patterned frock, Her father in Armley Gaol, Her mother’s eight hour shifts Slicing meat in Redmond’s Pork-butchers’ basement.
Every night her older sister Went to the pictures or the Mecca While we sat on the pavement Making up stories.
24 I dream of the Aire By the suspension bridge Over the sparkling waters Of a long gone summer night Where Margaret’s voice is calling, “I am here, I am waiting.
” After forty years her voice, Pure and clear As I ran and bounded Scattering the waters’ Rainbows of diamonds.
And the streets were As they had been Never and always Bathed in perpetual sunlight With no mothers to call us No darkness falling The light of twilight Unending.
25 How she could encompass me In her own fragility.
In forty years I have Never encountered The purity of Margaret’s girlhood I have often wondered What my sexual initiation With her would have Been like.
Love that moves mountains Moves away the veil Of the years and I see her At sixteen, elf-like still, Her breasts open to my caress, Her vagina to my tongue, her eyes Stars in the continuing green, Her delicate hands holding me And guiding me inside her, Freeing me, O freeing me from The perpetual cold of my mother’s Love and how all my poems would Have been for Margaret, O for Margaret.
26 Margaret hung And hovered Like a bird In endless sky Over Embsay or Barden Fell.
She has not moved In forty years Her stillness The fragile beauty Of her face Her smile Is with me Still, my first Poem and I am Writing it Forty years on, It cannot end And has hardly Begun.
27 Margaret’s voice Pure and clear “I am here, I am waiting” Murillo painted The steps down To the Aire, her Ragged dress, my Torn trousers, her Hair a crown of Crystal.
Her eyes shone Her tongue was In my ear Twilight kept on With no mothers To call us Margaret, wherever You are, you are More beautiful Than the stars.
28 Together we stood In the blacksmith’s Dooryard, lilac In her hair And I had Put it there.
The anvil was Gretna, The glowing shoe our ring, The clang the smith made Sprayed white stars Round the hem On the veil Of her gown.
Near the forge On Hunslet Road A junkshop window With a wooden stereoscope Showed an Edwardian Beach, Margaret and I Hand-in-hand walked Through the lens And lay on the sand.
29 The 3D film Came to ‘The Princess’ And when the huge Hypodermic lunged From the screen Margaret clutched At me convulsively.
The feast at Hunslet Moor Roared its music Into the night We passed over The bridge out Of sight of The streets, past Hudswell Clark’s Giant doors, past The war day-nursery We stopped at The railway crossing At the wheel Which could not Be turned and Tried to turn it, The huge steel rim Shone, the crossing Gates fast closed, The line unused For fifty years.
The moor stretched Away to the feast’s Imbroglio of giant Wheels and ghost-rides, Shies and penny-runs And carousels.
30 We rose in a gondola Holding hands under A canopy of steel.
Leeds lay before us The wind baffled our cheeks The gondola stopped In its arc.
In the midnight car We kissed and you Drew my hand To the bud Of your breast And touched Your lip With a finger-tip.
31 On the way home You had to wee And told me not To watch but Closed your eyes As you hitched Up your dress.
At the end of Falmouth Terrace Under your mother’s Eye gravely you Kissed me good-night.
32 On a Holy Day of Obligation I went with Margaret up The hill to Mount St.
Mary’s, The path was rough and little Used, her black runners had holes, Her ankles were bare, she wore a Washed-out flower-patterned frock.
33 You wore a torn scarf Over your hair As we sat in the dark Square of the church, The footsteps of penitents Echoing, Christ bleeding, Candles burning, the confessionals Closed.
34 In the attic were a hundred pre-war ‘Picture Posts’ with sepia prints Of Boer War soldiers and pyramids Of cannon balls stacked by their gun: “Make war, not love”, the motto said, Hanging over the double bed And I was bred to defeat As every growling dog knows But no child in the streets Ever fought another, We were all everyone’s Sister or brother, Whenever anyone fell There was always someone Near to kiss you better.
And when I was younger Auntie Nellie took me Once a week to Leeds For sweets in the County Arcade paved with mosaics Like a Roman forum, the shop That sold penny rolls of Swizzles in rainbow colours Was always our first call And our last was milk and Angel cake at Marks and Sparks.
33 Behind the streets Lay the cooper’s yard The drays of empty barrels Coming and going all day At dusk there was quiet In the streets, the gas-lamps Flickered and flared as We stared at the mantel As by magic it flamed And glowed as light flowed Into the shadows.
The sides of the lamps Were slides of mirror glass And as we passed There seemed to be a spirit Guarding us.
34 We drew our hop-scotch Squares in rainbow chalks And in the binyards Played at hide and seek: When I found Margaret I had the right to kiss her How I miss her forty years on, Too much in love for love, And now our time is gone.
35 Margaret, the streets are weeping at midnight, Over the suspension bridge the traffic flow is Heavy as a haemorrhage, the Falmouths lie buried Under sixteen feet of stone, Knostrop is gone, Mount St.
Mary’s boarded up.
Why does your image haunt me Night and day? Lank February grass Pale lemon straw The colour of your hair Your voice in dreams “I am here, I am waiting.
” 36 Margaret, you are waking this February morning When Leeds is clear and cold, the ‘Valentines’ Fair Is still, the carousels closed, the great wheel’s tip Has stopped above the Town Hall clock, Spencer Place Has nothing to say but “Remember Bloody Sunday”, Bridgefield Place is split in two, cobbles on both Sides of the mesh fence, half to a wireworks, half To a caf?; walk with me by the Aire’s side, past A dipping pride of swans and find the path is Blocked on every side.
37 I sit alone drinking my coffee, as once Picasso Sat in a Sheffield transport caf? and drew the Dove of Peace on a paper handkerchief; The chef framed it and set it over the hatch But not even the Master’s touch held back the Developer’s putsch and who listens to a poet? 38 Mount St.
Mary’s high on the hill watches over Leeds Nine but it is closed and still, stained Glass windows smashed, holes in the roof, the Great doors locked, the Virgin weeping.
Night has come to Leeds, the carnival is bright With neon lights outlining every stall and carousel, The Civic Hall is strung with a thousand bulbs, On Beeston Hill I hold the city in my arms.
39 An iridescent car of fire Is drawn across the winter sky From the gates of heaven to Mount St.
Mary’s; On Beeston Hill a haptic wind raises The ghosts of splayed dead leaves And light through chandeliers glows In a thousand shades, pale carousels In mystic light begin to turn: we take Our places for the ride and you are Ten and I am twelve, your hair is blown And blown again.
40 The bridge over the Aire Should have had a portcullis And a tollgate at Crossgreen To keep safe all in between: In the world that space Is the only one secure for me The only heaven that will ever be In life and art and memory.
41 The six streets came straight Back against a wall to the Goodsyard, against a fence, Against the windowed wall Of the tall black block of Offices marked ‘LMS’, with a Huge clock and forecourt where Drays and lorries Rushed and loaded and turned.
42 The foremen wore black jackets With silver buttons and brass Watch chains decked their waistcoats; They thumbed winders the size of burrs To open watch faces, clipped wire Spectacles over their ears, humming and Hawing and blowing their noses into Huge white handkerchiefs and set pint mugs On the wall, not drinking but supping, wetting Their whiskers and drying them off On braided sleeves.
43 Erich Fromm you’d know what I mean, The blow was not my cold mother but the move From the streets and Bruno Bettleheim, Your idea of mataplets would fit Margaret and me to a tee.
44 My father you were deaf, then dead, Hurling the words you could not hear Against a wall of silence as with these Words I try to heal you.
Father, hear me; in your eyes I saw a gleam, A glint, the shadow of a splint of light, The jaunting-cart as a boy You had a lift to school in.
45 My dream of Lincoln Cathedral, The stone effigy of a knight in repose With the words upon his tomb: “Come here and you will discover The secrets of your ancestry” But still I did not go, nor to the Dairy in Northampton where they Washed the floors in milk each Afternoon in the cool silence, The butter-making done, milk in the Tall, chiming churns rolled onto the Platform by the railway.
46 I began my poetry on a Woolworth’s’ pad Where a lily floated on the cover In green and white and red.
I wrote to Margaret my first letter From the breakwater lined with seaweed Where I let my great pink beachball Float out beyond recovery I was so lonely there.
47 No one could Reach me Or touch me Or teach me; Grief that you Were not With me.
48 My recurring dream was the garden of Monet, Lillies, a bridge and a stream; I called them My ‘Princess Margaret dreams’, your name always There, your shadow among the shades.
49 ‘The Princess’ cinema with its Saturday matin?es And you, Margaret, queen of my ten year old heart, Those images fused to make the dreams - I was too obtuse to realize.
50 Margaret I want To know where you Are, near or far By the town hall clock Or distant as a star 51 I have searched all the way down From Jews’ Park to the Public Dispensary Where they have painted the railings on the bridge A rich vermilion, richer than rowan or port wine, Richer even than the palette of Vermeer.
There is frost everywhere, holding together The clamped benches in the garden for the blind, Binding the branches of the shrubs sewn along The path to the garden for the disabled.
I have touched the haptic stones, patterned In the empty silence of Roundhay’s dawn, The park stretching away in trees and mist And morning frost.
52 Time after time Time out of mind I have searched for you, Unending as my song The search is going on.
53 They have washed the town hall walls and made new The stones; Back Lane was demolished a week after I found it; The gas lamp anchored to the wall is gone, the cobbles Sold off, the steel base of an office block already raised.
Upper Accommodation Road no longer forks in two, one way Had Deidre’s mother’s shop, with odds and ends, combs and Cotton reels and hairgrips on cards; the road and the Shop have gone and Deidre has died and on the other side The Co-op is long gone where we got your mother’s Shopping once a week from.
54 Sugarbag blue I called the colour Of your knickers As you stood over The basket We struggled Back with.
Your eyes reflected The image of me at ten In my tomato-red tee-shirt Looking at you in your Washed-out flower-patterned Frock.
55 Margaret, Leeds is bound with fog This Friday in late March, in search Of you I went to Kirkstall where the Monks once paced a passage underground To the nunnery and in the museum I walked the cobbled streets of memory.
56 They will place you in a sedan chair Wearing your diadem of stars And bear you everywhere, candles aloft With gold light smoking in fluted stems And gems of vine and ivy leaves And columbine, O Margaret mine.
57 Margaret, the wind is howling Round the edge of Bridgewater Place Or the space where once it stood.
After forty years I remember The first kiss I gave you And most that you did not Turn away or flinch or make Conditions about any kisses To follow but took my kiss Simply as a gift.
58 It’s been a problem ever since With everyone, no-one else was So simple, always wanting more or Less than I could give, when all There was to follow was more of The same but this is not meant As a treatise on the epistemology Of kissing but more on its Metaphysics so sadly lacking.
59 You were the only girl who Did not insist the conditions Of kissing be written in tablets Of stone, that I be not affianced Elsewhere, be scrubbed to the bone, Certified free of STD, solvent and Holding a current contract of Employment.
60 Margaret, I realize you had only Yourself to offer, not a career prospect, Mortgage partnership or pre-nuptial Agreement, just your ten-year old self Wearing a washed-out flower-patterned Frock, navy-blue knickers and black Laceless runners.
61 Equally poets at fifty-four don’t Have that much going for them, White hair and beard and bags under My eyes but with some surprise I can Still make love with passion.
62 I guessed you’d be a single parent Like your mam, in a Seacroft tower Block with lifts that don’t work and Graffiti the nearest thing to poetry And close to your grown up daughter And her kids over on Whinmoor.
63 Arriving like that I must have Given you a shock; of course you Remembered me but time’s gone by And why after all etcetera but I Said to forget it, my visit instead Of a letter, bringing out of the blue Reams of poetry about you who never Knew what became of me with my Stories and dreams.
64 We sat and smoked through the evening With no telephone to interrupt, just The wind wailing round Seacroft Towers; Your ex-brother-in-law’s ex-wife called Round with a book but you told her to Sling her hook and we sat on the worn couch Counting the years with their bits of luck.
65 At midnight you said I’d have to stay Night buses don’t run anymore anyway And you didn’t give me a funny look Or make anything out of anything, you Just took off your top and asked me to Unhook your bra, letting everything else Fall to the floor.
66 Forty years went Out of the window Of the twenty-third floor Of Seacroft Towers.
You had your ten Year old smile and I was holding your hand, Walking the fields of Knostrop, Dandelion crowns, threaded Lupins and the forecourt By the petrol pumps Where I first kissed you.
67 When I kissed you again It was forty years on, I stroked your crystal hair And your eyes shone.
When I put my tongue Inside you, your body Shook with all the tears Of forty years.
68 “Don’t leave me again I’ve not got another Lifetime to lose, touch My face with your hand, Kiss me better.
” Making love again Entering every orifice With penis and tongue We tried to heal and sweal Away our pain, as it came Again and again And again.

Poem by Barry Tebb
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