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, 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 Cafй

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.

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Bridge Over The Aire Book 4