Another poem featuring Tony Earnshaw by Ian Duhig

Omni

William Barnes proposed that we call buses “folkswains”, which sounds folk kitsch, or even völkisch. ‘Bus’ has stuck: from ‘omnibus’: ‘for all’,
for us ― kin to ‘omnium-gatherum’,
a ragbag, like Leeds and this ragtag bin
of labyrinthine thoughts from my home since its‘MotorwayCity’days ―amazethen,
but the place to get your threads made. No more,
its tailors’ chalk and pins are history;
our rag trade’s gone for a burton, a phrase
from Leeds terse talk which Tony Harrison
thought naturally fell into blank verse —
that term suits me well: my mind’s often blank:
I’ll lose the thread, bear no comparison
with Calvino’s Ersilians who wound
their threads through city streets to indicate
relationships with colour-coded clues
and weave their state into a life-size text
of unity until, like refugees
from who they’d grown, their interpersonal
complexities, they’d rise and leave as one
to found their next Ersilia elsewhere.
The UK’s imagined community
has nowhere else: it snapped the threads that mapped
its maze and gets lost following its bent
or buses with big lies along their sides.
Reflecting its predicament therefore,
its ruling chaos, U-turns, disarray,
by public transport or on Shanks’ pony,
with connections missed, timetables spurned,
lines crossed, I’ll dérive, veering here and there,
digress and stray — so think straight away
of Leeds’ Surrealist, Tony Earnshaw 

(worked in engineering: more threads stripped)
who skipped from bus to train as chance might link, unstitching what fixes how we see Leeds.
Now, from outside the library where Earnshaw
learned his new trade, art (not cyber-y),
I start my Earshavian state-of-the-nation
hack waiting at the stop for 36s,
red and black as Tony’s anarchism,
like John Quail’s, the movement’s historian
who I knew at Leeds Federated
Housing Association. They’d house the needy,
will do now, when capital allows
(others in that game are just greedy blight-
ers). My bus has come through Gledhow: ‘kite hill’ — ‘gled’ still means kite in Scots, proverbially
greedy; we lost the word, Scotland too —
maybe Northern Ireland, Wales the same.
The UK cannot hold: its centre’s sold, anarcho-capitalist appetites
are fed: new kites turn in widening gyres
above our local hospital, school, library . . .
The 36 aspires to ‘libraries’ —
in truth, a shelf for passenger donations
where, from duty, I left a Sterne myself,
being grateful for good wi-fi and the joys
of writing while being carried through green beauty — Poetry’s not born in noise, in crowds, oronabus.Therehavetobefourwalls … Szymborska’s wrong here: Brodsky’s nomad song
of poetry opposed to settlers’ prose
gets closer to the truth. I ride today,
but not through God’s Own Countryside: to town,
by sites of knocked-down pubs, the lost Hayfield whose wall once read ‘REMEMBER OLUWALE’, Empire migrant who learned its ‘family’ lie, 

the cost of this tuition being his life.
Both pub and wall are gone, but those words hang
in the air. Some of us remember him,
in different ways, with poetry and plays
from many hands, steel plaques, steel bands —
I saw here, during Carnival, King David
dance again with “migrant masqueraders”,
raising spirits: crowds’, street traders, mine, his.
In my mask now, I see we’re near the house
of great folk musicologist Frank Kitson;
I bow to him and those whose songs he saved,
a working class still told their culture’s rank,
their dignity a joke. No shock some broke
ranks, hearts, traditions. I wish them all well
and those who lied to them cold Hell. We pass
the Roscoe’s site next up, old Irish pub
where I could hear Ó Catháin sing sean-nós,
a style since Petrie linked with India —
how Satnam Galsian renders the air
‘She Moves Through the Fair’ proves he had a point. For more signs of the Jewel in the Crown,
I cut back down to board a 99
that runs by closed-down stations and lost lines,
but can afford from its top deck a view
into a garden with Ganesha’s statue,
tusk snapped off, replacing the pen he broke
in taking Vyasa’s epic dictation
of the Mahābhārata, greatest poem . . .
Divine Reprover of my Sloth, I pray
Ganesha, O Obstacle Remover:
no poet needed you as much as me;
no country needed you so much as this! 

But, silently, Ganesha waves goodbye. Near fields of rotting crops, I spot a park 

where lorries come to cark like elephants
then, up the ridge, beneath a creaky bridge,
the Wharfe, where weeping kings nurse seeping thighs and turn their leaky fishing boats in rings
beneath thin skies we’re burning off like dew
above a sea too high for us each year, 

too near to where flood walls could fail again. The bus pulls in to Wetherby too late, Bielsa’s terminus, Kop god. He’s seen
in local restaurants, the coffee shop, 

will sign each autograph with patient grace where I’ll swill ale with mangelwurzel pie for half a groat, or will do in some future heaven of folkswain Merrie Englanders, with Pearly Kings, Faerie Queens, Emperor Boris clothesless . . . Early for the 7, 

time allows a visit to the arch
of Huguenot réfugiés inscribed
‘Aimez votre prochain comme vous-même’.
A martyr to his anal fistula,
the Sun King exiled them: I could say too, “L’état, c’est moi” in my state all at sea
with refugees from who they really are.
Believe: their past’s a lie they’ve long been sold, a foreign country with its borders closed.
Old Huguenots could train us to reweave
the national tapestry, tie in rogue threads,
not hide a stain but set it in the pattern —
were we open to real history:
for most, that’s country miles too rational: surrealism’s now a better guide
and Tony Earnshaw’s ghost smiles at my side. 

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