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Bridge Over The Aire Book 2


Poetry claimed me young on Skegness beach

Before I was born I answered her cry

For a lost child still in the womb still

As the seawave journeying green upon green

Swollen in my mother’s side lashed and

Tongue-tied on a raft of premonition

Trying to survive my birth as the soul

Survives death turned in on the tide high

Watermarked as a bride to my beginning.

In April rain the banks were white narcissi

Yellow daffodils in Chapeltown alyssum at the

Foot of every tree white bands round the boles

Against the blackout still after fifty years

In the copse at Chapeltown the fences down the

Undergrowth cleared the bark exposed with scars

Like stars.

I am grounded in Chapeltown from dawn to dusk

Curfewed by my body’s husk I dream of ‘Swan Lake’

Car after car swan after swan across the stage

The mad conductor’s baton raised dying swans

Flying from the wings fading on the last chords

In the hyaline air by the crystal river where

We surrendered to its flow.


In Roundhay’s Canal Gardens go a pair of black swans

Scarlet beak to scarlet beak bend by the willow

Necks arched like the great bow of Odysseus;

Ithaca, I have returned, my Penelope lost, the tapestry

Of my journey torn, Troy long gone, a blind memory

In Homer’s song: I sing of where I was born, war-torn,

Blitzed, the iron railings stripped, the munitions

Factory at Barnbow closed.


There is a photograph in the archives

Of the city museum marked ‘Shed, Falmouth

Place, 1937’; it is your street, Margaret,

The creosoted palings and cart turned on

Its end, the shafts raised like a memorial

Stone, our last memory gone.


For fish and chips

We went past ‘The Mansions’

Half a dozen enormous

Victorian houses abandoned

To the poorest of the poor

With front steps missing

Holes in the halls so big

You had to jump and

Rats the size of cats.

The children who lived there

Pushed coal in broken prams

Their jerseys had more

Holes than wool

They had impetigo

We passed them quickly

On the other side.


In the chemist’s shop

Stood the huge retorts

Of red and green

In the coal fire glowed

‘The Burning Fiery Furnace’

Against the binyard wall

Margaret played ball

Deftly lifting her leg

Passing the ball beneath

Catching it again

In faultless rhythm.


Behind the colonnade

Under the bridge

Margaret and I

Took off our clothes

In wonder and swam

In the crystal river.

A patchwork quilt

Of mossed stones

Crossed beneath

The bridge

Light strobed

Twilight enfolded us

Our tent well hidden

We stood in Eden

With the stars.


Causey stones for pack horse roads

Cut and stacked have waited two

Hundred years for the horse sledge

To drag them over Todmorden top

Untouched by hoof or foot they are

Shaped and polished by the rain

And wind.

They are the North

And cannot be altered

The surfaces of change

Transient, the gloss

Cannot last, the wind

Says no.


Item: one photograph

Of South Accom

Taken by the City

Engineers, relating to

A cycling accident,

June 3rd.


The grate that trapped

The cyclist’s wheel

Is still in place

But nothing else

Except the vast

Brick wall dividing

The road in two.


A novelty then

The camera drew

Crowds from the Bridgefields

A boy in an Eton collar

His bowler-hatted father

Girls with braided curls

Dresses to their ankles

A delivery boy

With a brimming basket

A man with a beer pail

In either hand.


The long exposure

Caught every movement

In a single frame

The pensioner shuffling

With his stick

The girl tying

A ribbon

In glowing sepia

A tiny kingdom

Swept away before

I was born.


Unnoticed and unwatched

We clambered over the remains

Of the Bridgefields gathering

Jamjarfuls of dandelions

Placing them with reverence

By broken grates

In Pompeii’s streets.

One hot summer night

Terry boasted with

Ten year old knowingness

That he’d fuck Mary

Who was six but strangely

Experienced in sex

Both slipped away

Behind the hillocks

Of the Hollows.

He reappeared grinning

“I put it up her

Ask her if you

Don’t believe me”

Shyly Mary put down

Her head in passive



Leaning over the wall

Staring at the cables

Reeled on giant drums

I looked at Margaret

Laying back, pillowing

Her head against a

Grassy mound, pulling

Clover leaves for luck,

Her eyes distantly

Dreaming while I

Made up stories.


We ran together

Holding hands

Up and over

Round and down

In front and behind

The hills of the Hollows

With the spirits

Of the children

Of the Bridgefields

The boys in Eton collars

The girls in long

White dresses with

Pails of milk.


Even the Hollows

Are gone now

The Go Kart’s Stadium’s

Wire mesh set in concrete,

Placards round the concourse,

The Readymix factory’s

Dumb towers, the DIY yard

And ‘Beer Paradise’ board,

The street sign

‘Bridgewater Place’

Lying on its side.



Lost and faded

Beige and sepia

Orange and maroon

Old-fashioned flowers

For a tired mind.


“Millionnaires of Leeds!

You are your brothers’ keepers.

Finders keepers, losers weepers

Loidis in Elmete

Leeds upon Aire

The smell of molten tar

On a May morning

Puts the road back

Forty years.


The Bridgewaters and the Falmouths

Are scheduled for clearance

The word has gone out

From the City Fathers

In the Council Chamber

To the City Engineer

The last photograph ever

Has been taken by order

Half the houses boarded up

Half with chimneys smoking.


Grass is growing

Between the cobbles

Clotheslines are empty

The props have fallen

Our mams raised up

Like a draw-bridge

For the coal-carts

To pass under.


Beneath the City Station

Under the dark arches

The river rushes

Through the catacombs

Of vaulted stone.

By the new museum

The weir is cold and clear

Howarths’ timber yard’s

Sawdust smells

Hang in the trembling

Currents of air.

On Hunslet Road

A heat haze:

Walk with a lighter tread

I hear an angel’s

Heartbeat overhead.


The wind holds my hand

Diffident, tremulous,

Margaret, I sense your

Fingers touching mine

Tip to tip.

Nancy came too

And I had to kiss

The both of you

On the cheek

Behind the wagon

Wanting to get you alone

On a slow boat to China

Get you and keep you

In my arms evermoreAuntie Nellie’s hands

Thrummed the tunes

On the black and white

Upright, sheet music

From Banks in County Arcade

Gleaming in Burmantofts

Faience tiles, marble and onyx.


May blossoms hang

In Mill Hill churchyard

Over the ultramarine

Signboard; in Trinity Church

I share God with no-one

Stained glass

Colours the silence.


Margaret, Nancy and I

Had always played together

When we went walking

In Knostrop, climbing

The ruined walls

Of Knostrop Hall

We went to wee

Together, it seemed

So natural, we had

Nothing to hide

But I would never

Tell a soul.

The other boys

Bored me with

Their talk of cricket

Len Hutton and Leeds United

I learned motherhood

From Margaret25

Margaret, I miss you,

Forty years on

I kiss you.


Margaret, there is a plantation east of Eden

With saplings and shrubs where the Falmouths

And Bridgewater Place once stood; the Council’s

Transpennine Trail begins by the Aire’s side

Where we walked and talked and learned to love.

In the Sunday stillness a chaffinch calls

“Are you there? Are you there?”

Hurling its shaped sounds in ecstasy across

The river from the haunted mill.

“I am here, I am waiting”

Replies the song-shadow of my dream.


I am part of the green

I am the answering voice

I am the parting in the cloud

I am the leaves of spring.


Here is the last remnant of Hunslet’s goodsyard,

The immovable buttresses in timber and stone,

The bridge and the rails are gone but still seven

Arches stand like Rome’s seven hills, nothing can

Shift them, there is no road beyond the barbed-wire

Fence, they are a shelter for memory and Margaret and me

The Hunslet-haven-heaven of our love to be

I taste the mist in the morning

Utterly alone in this deserted ending.

I am the loneliest man on earth.

The last and first, alpha and omega,

Beginning and end.


Margaret, I will pluck you from the crowd,

Together we will walk by the Aire again

I will never leave it, it is the only place

On earth where I can breathe, red hot pokers

Still grow in the abandoned gardens of Knostrop,

Lupin valley will glow again with blossom,

Late narcissi bend in the wind.


In Golden Acre Park no more

The miniature Railway, boating

On the lake with motor launch

Or self-propelled boat,

No more the water chute,

Pitch and puff golf, aviary

Paddling pool, aeroflight,

Bathing pool, music tower,

All, all are gone.

The winter garden Dance Pavilion

Is gone from Golden Acre Park

Only the kingfisher’s blue flash

As it rides to its island hide

Where white swans glide.


The house I was born in

Is long gone

Steel and concrete bones

Of a container base

Rise from the ruins.


Wholesale markets

Straddle the fields

Of Snakey Lane

By the Red Road

By the Black Road.


Footpaths unwalked

Are decked with weeds;

Factories for frozen foods

And car batteries

Edge the silence.


The piggeries no more

Than corrugations

Of rust and wood

Sigh in the

Ravening wind.


A tethered horse

Is pawing the tired grass

Among the fork lift trucks

And oil-skinned scavengers.


Over the Hollows

Weeds on filled-in cellars

Cracked window-sills

At crazy angles

Are megaliths to memory.


By the railway cutting

Chained and padlocked

Rusty gates made

My private garden

Of threaded lupins

Pink and blue.


My Madeleine

Was Angel Cake

In Marks and Sparks.


By what was once

Ben’s Cycle Shop

I stop and stare

Across Leeds Nine

A broken wall

By Crossgreen is

All that’s left

To build on.


I speak like the dumb

Hear like the deaf

I have the blindman’s vision.
How do I see you?

How and where?

The glow of lamplight

On your hair.


I am waiting for the knock

Of your hand on my heart

Too long apart it is time

To play out under the gaslight,

Under the starlight, under the

Summer sun.


Margaret, I am your before-dawn

Knocker-up, tapping my stick

Across your darkened window-pane.


I am the Capstan Caf?’s

First customer of the day

The last child ever to play

On the Hollows; Margaret, hear me,

I know on Eden Street

Your spirit is near me.


In the May dawn silence

I walk the cobbled road,

The houses gone for sixty years.

A single wallflower grows

On the ravaged bank.

I pluck the last leaf

Of the mauve forget-me-knot,

The market-man’s mis-spelling

Got to the matter’s heart,

Folding the leaf in my book

With the melody of Gl?ck.


The maze in Roundhay Park

Near Soldiers’ Field

Was the labyrinth I cried

To be released from:

Margaret, you ran and

Brought me out.

The maze memory grew

Into the road across

The Hollows, forty years

On I ran to meet you in

Your worn-out flower-

Patterned frock and

Black, laceless runners.


Reality is cold

And hard

And beautiful.

Summer’s running

Like a river

Into Crossgreen.

Euridyce, Euridyce,

Margaret, will you

Marry me?
Written by: Barry Tebb