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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.
2 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? 3 Great timbered escarpments over green and grey Terraces to the rolling sky following the shiny way To the Cimarron in the purple distance.
4 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.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
10 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.
11 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.
12 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.
13 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.
14 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.
15 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.
16 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.
17 Your hair, your touch, your laughter Running over the water, spilling Down the steps to the Aire.
18 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.
19 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.
” 20 John Dion, I prefer Wordsworth’s daffodils To your’s, they are More rare and far Less dear.
21 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.
22 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.
23 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.
24 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.
25 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.
26 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.
27 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.
28 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.
29 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.
30 ‘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! 31 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 32 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.
33 Dip, dip, dip My blue ship Sailing on the water Like a cup and saucer Dip, dip, dip 34 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.
35 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.

Poem by Barry Tebb
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