william bedford

five poems

i.m. Florence Winifred Bedford
20.10.1915 – 09.09.2008

‘Through the open doors of foundries you see fiery serpents of iron being hauled to and fro by redlit boys, 
and you hear the whizz and thump of steam hammers and the scream of iron under the blow.’
George Orwell
The Road to Wigan Pier

for William Sargeant

You reckoned William Blake stayed here,
fellow-travelling in his imagination,
though when you asked at the library
they thought you were taking the piss.

Or ‘mekking things up,’ they said, like a poet,
him with his fancy songs of innocence
and so-called experience. But Furnace Hill 
was Biblical for us from that day on, 

like Moses Jones walking down the Wicker 
with his tablets and Old Moore’s Almanac. 
You’d be better off with the Telegraph & Star
the librarian said, getting all sniffy.

‘I know he stayed here,’ you went on shouting,
‘and if he didn’t, his words damn well did,’
bright angels burning the winter frost.


Stumbling from the park like a ghost on sticks
the cripple boy chased after the crowds,
dodging the trams like a coin in pitch-and-toss,
flying down the cobbled unsteady stones . . . . . 

but wanting to play, whatever the cost.
‘Wait for me’ were ghosting words for months
after he ran too slow for the Wicker tram,
blue sparks like lonely angels far from home.

They buried him with his two wooden sticks
and a daisy chain made from old newspaper.
Ink ran on the white flowers. Rain did the rest,
mulching the hymns and memories with tears.

His mother stayed behind beside the grave,
trying to mouth the words on the stone.
Then walked away. She never learned to read. 


Nobody told you you were born to serve,
feeling down, feeling blue just the moods
we’re all in line for, the dreary daily round
of muck and slack-heaps and elementary school,

then factory gates to Jessop’s furnace glare
or kitchen maid to some tight-fisted scold:
butter for the family, margarine for you. 
You lay in bed at night and heard the lice

rustling behind the rotting wallpaper,
the mice scuttling beneath the kitchen sink.
You make do, look on the bright side,
dream a wretched now into a better future,

like all the citizens of Dante’s northern waste,
the gaslit gloom of Carbrook’s Dunlop Place,
and Brightside, a bright name for a dark place. 


The Green ‘Un and a cup of tea at five,
that’s all you asked, all you reckoned you’d get,
home and aways and a cigarette
to make of every Saturday a perfect day.

You’d nowt to say of Sunday’s ‘day of rest,’
that posh m’larky rich ‘uns reckoned on.
I thought the ‘green ‘un’ was a fish, live cod
threshing in the net, a trawler’s kingdom.

‘Well what’d you think the Green ‘Uns for?’
you laughed. Not football results, but wrapping
God’s own hot food in yesterday’s bad news:
that’s better than a home win any day:

fried cod and chips, and mushy peas and scraps,
results not mentioned in the Book of Psalms,
your own salt and vinegar provided.


Halloween’s black faces aren’t all witches.
They’re miners on strike and slack heap climbers,
the coal-dust collectors making bricks of coal
for the fire, children with painted eyes, 

unless they’re bruises. Shadows don’t smile. 
There won’t be fireworks next week,
and the pumpkin in the kitchen is for eating.
There’s nowt else. Sparklers, you say,

but you already know the answer to that.
Lean men with ferret faces and raincoats
slide in and out of the ginnels,
dodging the workhouse means testers.

Your job is to hide the jam. Jam’s a luxury
Dunlop Place can’t afford. Sparklers?
‘You must be joking,’ your mother cried.