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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 faзade 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.


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?


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.


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.


The cafй 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.


The cafй 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.


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.


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.


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.


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 cafй 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


The last coal wagon

Has gone to the tower

At Nevill Hill to be

Hauled high and drenched

And dropped from the sky.


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?”


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.


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



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.


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



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.”


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 cafй; walk with me by the Aire’s side, past

A dipping pride of swans and find the path is

Blocked on every side.


I sit alone drinking my coffee, as once Picasso

Sat in a Sheffield transport cafй 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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


No one could

Reach me

Or touch me

Or teach me;

Grief that you

Were not

With me.


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.


‘The Princess’ cinema with its Saturday matinйes

And you, Margaret, queen of my ten year old heart,

Those images fused to make the dreams –

I was too obtuse to realize.


Margaret I want

To know where you

Are, near or far

By the town hall clock

Or distant as a star


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.


Time after time

Time out of mind

I have searched for you,

Unending as my song

The search is going on.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)

Bridge Over The Aire Book 1