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Long Distance II

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.


'My father still reads the dictionary every day.

He says your life depends on your power to master words.'


Sunday Times, 10 January 1982


This graveyard on the brink of Beeston Hill's

the place I may well rest if there's a spot

under the rose roots and the daffodils

by which dad dignified the family plot.

If buried ashes saw then I'd survey

the places I learned Latin, and learned Greek,

and left, the ground where Leeds United play

but disappoint their fans week after week,

which makes them lose their sense of self-esteem

and taking a short cut home through these graves here

they reassert the glory of their team

by spraying words on tombstones, pissed on beer.

This graveyard stands above a worked-out pit.

Subsidence makes the obelisks all list.

One leaning left's marked FUCK, one right's marked SHIT

sprayed by some peeved supporter who was pissed.

Far-sighted for his family's future dead,

but for his wife, this banker's still alone

on his long obelisk, and doomed to head

a blackened dynasty of unclaimed stone,

now graffitied with a crude four-letter word.

His children and grandchildren went away

and never came back home to be interred,

so left a lot of space for skins to spray.

The language of this graveyard ranges from

a bit of Latin for a former Mayor

or those who laid their lives down at the Somme,

the hymnal fragments and the gilded prayer,


Which is, I grant, the word that springs to mind,

when going to clear the weeds and rubbish thrown

on the family plot by football fans, I find

UNITED graffitied on my parents' stone.

How many British graveyards now this May

are strewn with rubbish and choked up with weeds

since families and friends have gone away

for work or fuller lives, like me from Leeds?

When I first came here 40 years ago

with my dad to 'see my grandma' I was 7.

I helped dad with the flowers. He let me know

she'd gone to join my grandad up in Heaven.

My dad who came each week to bring fresh flowers

came home with clay stains on his trouser knees.

Since my parents' deaths I've spent 2 hours

made up of odd 10 minutes such as these.

Flying visits once or twice a year,

And though I'm horrified just who's to blame

that I find instead of flowers cans of beer

and more than one grave sprayed with some skin's name?

Where there were flower urns and troughs of water

And mesh receptacles for withered flowers

are the HARP tins of some skinhead Leeds supporter.

It isn't all his fault though. Much is ours.

5 kids, with one in goal, play 2-a-side.

When the ball bangs on the hawthorn that's one post

and petals fall they hum Here Comes the Bride

though not so loud they'd want to rouse a ghost.

They boot the ball on purpose at the trunk

and make the tree shed showers of shrivelled may.

I look at this word graffitied by some drunk

and I'm in half a mind to let it stay.

(Though honesty demands that I say if

I'd wanted to take the necessary pains

to scrub the skin's inscription off

I only had an hour between trains.

So the feelings that I had as I stood gazing

and the significance I saw could be a sham,

mere excuses for not patiently erasing

the word sprayed on the grave of dad and mam.)

This pen's all I have of magic wand.

I know this world's so torn but want no other

except for dad who'd hoped from 'the beyond'

a better life than this one, with my mother.


'She didn't talk like you do for a start!'

I shouted, turning where I thought the voice had been.

She didn't understand yer fucking 'art'!

She thought yer fucking poetry obscene!

I wish on this skin's words deep aspirations,

first the prayer for my parents I can't make,

then a call to Britain and to all nations

made in the name of love for peace's sake.

Aspirations, cunt! Folk on t'fucking dole

'ave got about as much scope to aspire

above the shit they're dumped in, cunt, as coal

aspires to be chucked on t'fucking fire.


'The only reason why I write this poem at all

on yobs like you who do the dirt on death

's to give some higher meaning to your scrawl.'

Don't fucking bother, cunt! Don't waste your breath!

'You piss-artist skinhead cunt, you wouldn't know

and it doesn't fucking matter if you do,

the skin and poet united fucking Rimbaud

but the autre that je est is fucking you.'

Ah've told yer, no more Greek...That's yer last warning!

Ah'll boot yer fucking balls to Kingdom Come.

They'll find yer cold on t'grave tomorrer morning.

So don't speak Greek. Don't treat me like I'm dumb.


Covet not thy neighbour's wife, thy neighbour's riches.

Vicar and cop who say, to save our souls,

Get thee beHind me, Satan, drop their breeches

and get the Devil's dick right up their 'oles!

It was more a working marriage that I'd meant,

a blend of masculine and feminine.

Ignoring me, he started looking, bent

on some more aerosolling, for his tin.

'It was more a working marriage that I mean!'

Fuck, and save mi soul, eh? That suits me.

Then as if I'd egged him on to be obscene

he added a middle slit to one daubed V.

Don't talk to me of fucking representing

the class yer were born into any more.

Yer going to get 'urt and start resenting

it's not poetry we need in this class war.


Though I've a train to catch my step is slow.

I walk on the grass and graves with wary tread

over these subsidences, these shifts below

the life of Leeds supported by the dead.

Further underneath's that cavernous hollow

that makes the gravestones lean towards the town.

A matter of mere time and it will swallow

this place of rest and all the resters down.

I tell myself I've got, say, 30 years.

At 75 this place will suit me fine.

I've never feared the grave but what I fear's

that great worked-out black hollow under mine.

Not train departure time, and not Town Hall

with the great white clock face I can see,

coal, that began, with no man here at all,

as 300 million-year-old plant debris.


The bus to the station's still the No. 1

but goes by routes that I don't recognise.

I look out for known landmarks as the sun

reddens the swabs of cloud in darkening skies.

Home, home, home, to my woman as the red

darkens from a fresh blood to a dried.

Home, home to my woman, home to bed

where opposites seem sometimes unified.

A pensioner in turban taps his stick

along the pavement past the corner shop,

that sells samosas now, not beer on tick,

to the Kashmir Muslim Club that was the Co-op.

House after house FOR SALE where we'd played cricket

with white roses cut from flour-sacks on our caps,

with stumps chalked on the coal-grate for our wicket,

and every one bought now by 'coloured chaps',

dad's most liberal label as he felt

squeezed by the unfamiliar, and fear

of foreign food and faces, when he smelt

curry in the shop where he'd bought beer.

And growing frailer, 'wobbly on his pins',

the shops he felt familiar with withdrew

which meant much longer tiring treks for tins

that had a label on them that he knew.

And as the shops that stocked his favourites receded

whereas he'd fancied beans and popped next door,

he found that four long treks a week were needed

till he wondered what he bothered eating for.

The supermarket made him feel embarrassed.

Where people bought whole lambs for family freezers

he bought baked beans from check-out girls too harassed

to smile or swap a joke with sad old geezers.

But when he bought his cigs he'd have a chat,

his week's one conversation, truth to tell,

but time also came and put a stop to that

when old Wattsy got bought out by M. Patel.


Home, home to my woman, never to return

till sexton or survivor has to cram

the bits of clinker scooped out of my urn

down through the rose-roots to my dad and mam.

Home, home to my woman, where the fire's lit

these still chilly mid-May evenings, home to you,

and perished vegetation from the pit

escaping insubstantial up the flue.


Hanging my clothes up, from my parka hood

may and apple petals, browned and creased,

fall onto the carpet and bring back the flood

of feelings their first falling had released.

I hear like ghosts from all Leeds matches humming

with one concerted voice the bride, the bride

I feel united to, my bride is coming

into the bedroom, naked, to my side.

The ones we choose to love become our anchor

when the hawser of the blood-tie's hacked, or frays.

But a voice that scorns chorales is yelling: Wanker!

It's the aerosolling skin I met today's.


Victory? For vast, slow, coal-creating forces

that hew the body's seams to get the soul.

Will earth run out of her 'diurnal courses'

before repeating her creation of black coal?

If, having come this far, somebody reads

these verses, and he/she wants to understand,

face this grave on Beeston Hill, your back to Leeds,

and read the chiselled epitaph I've planned:

Beneath your feet's a poet, then a pit.

Poetry supporter, if you're here to find

How poems can grow from (beat you to it!) SHIT

find the beef, the beer, the bread, then look behind.